From Marginalization to Martyrdom

The Nazi Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • James N. Pellechia
  • Jolene Chu


‘The prisoner August Dickmann does not regard himself a citizen of the German Reich, but a citizen of the Kingdom of God.’ Thus charged with high treason by Camp Commandant Hermann Baranowski, the 29-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from Dinslaken, Germany, was executed by firing squad in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His brother Heinrich and about 400 other Witness inmates were made to stand a few yards away and watch the shooting. World War II was just two weeks old.


Concentration Camp Nazi Party Political Neutrality Firing Squad Nazi Ideology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Christine E. King, The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Nonconformity (New York: The Edwin Meilen Press, 1982), p. 149.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    King, p. 190. Other small groups opted for a more cooperative stance by deleting references to ‘Zion’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Hallelujah’, in their liturgies and hymnals. See Christine King’s exhaustive analysis of five smaller religious groups, note 2 above. For a discussion of the Witnesses’ views of the Nazi attack on the Jews, see Jolene Chu and James Pellechia, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews: Diverse Paths, Parallel Journeys, Common Terminus’, in The Burdens of History: Post-Holocaust Generations in Dialogue, ed. Sharon Leder and Milton Teichman (Merion Station, PA: Merion Westfield International Press, 2000), pp.41–59.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Doris L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996), p.32.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    John Weiss, Ideology of Death — Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996), p.313.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Brian R. Dunn, ‘The Death’s Head and the Watchtower. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Holocaust Kingdom’, edited by Jack Fischel and Sanford Pinsker, The Churches’ Response to the Holocaust, Holocaust Studies Annual, vol.11 (Greenwood, FL: The Penkevill Publishing Company, 1986), pp.158–9.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    ‘Persecution in Germany’, The Golden Age, 25 April 1934, p.451; Ernst C. Helmreich, The German Churches Under Hitler — Background, Struggle, and Epilogue (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1979), p.392.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    Balzereit was arrested and put on trial in Halle on 17 December 1935. According to the articles ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, and Nearer Home’, The Golden Age, 12 February 1936, p.306, and ‘Obadiah (Part 1)’, The Watch Tower, 15 June 1936, pp.181–182, Balzereit at that point publicly abdicated his responsibility to be subject to God before secular authorities. Balzereit later renounced his membership in the religious community by signing the famous declaration of renunciation. Recent research by Waldemar Hirch has revealed that Balzereit and his son went on to act as informants for the Stasi, who had clamped down on the Witnesses beginning in 1950. Some survivors of both Nazi and Stasi persecution rate the Stasi persecution of Witnesses as even more severe than Nazi brutality. See also Gerald Hacke, Zeussen Jehovas in der DDR: Verfolgung und Verhatteneiner religiosen Minderheit, ‘Berichte und Studien’ series, no. 24 (Dresden: Hannah-Arendt-Institut, 2000).Google Scholar
  8. 28.
    Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage (New York: Anchor Books, 1994), p.26; ‘29 Bible Students Cleared in Reich’, The New York Times, 28 March 1934 (midnight edition), a wireless dispatch from Darmstadt, 27 March regarding Witnesses released by an emergency court, quoted in The Golden Age, 25 April 1934, p.463, as follows: ‘Prosecuted on arguments curiously similar to those pressed by the authorities of ancient Rome against the early Christians…. The court took pains to point out today that they were acquitted only because there were not yet in present-day Germany legal grounds for their conviction. The court found on the evidence that the Bible students were, in fact, inimical to the Nazi State.’Google Scholar
  9. 30.
    Paragraph 57 of the Civil Servants Legislation, dated 26 January 1937, read: ‘Whoever refuses to take the oath of allegiance required by law, is to be dismissed.’ Among German Witnesses, at least 1,687, many of them civil servants, lost their jobs (Watch Tower History Archive, Germany). See also Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart, fourth printing (Glencoe, II.: The Free Press of Glencoe: 1963) pp.290–91.Google Scholar
  10. 41.
    See Wolfgang Benz, ‘Widerstand aus christlicher Überzeugung’, in Informationen zur politischen Bildung 2 (1994): 21.Google Scholar
  11. 68.
    It appears that this offer of freedom was unique to the Witnesses as a group, though a few other individuals were offered freedom in exchange for pledges of compliance with specific Gestapo orders. Confessing Church minister Paul Schneider, incarcerated in Buchenwald, refused to sign and was murdered on 18 July 1939. French Protestant minister André Trocmé of Le Chambon was released from the Saint-Paul d’Eyjeux camp on 16 March 1943 despite his refusal to sign a declaration of loyalty to Marshal Pétain. See François Rochat and André Modligliani, ‘The Ordinary Quality of Resistance: From Milgram’s Laboratory to the Village of Le Chambon’, Journal of Social Issues 15:3; Claude R. Foster, Paul Schneider — The Buchenwald Apostle: A Christian Martyr in Nazi Germany (West Chester, PA: SSI Bookstore, 1995), p.773. See also The Golden Age, 10 March 1937, p.373.Google Scholar
  12. 71.
    See the case of Ernst Hassel in Kristian Ottosen, Natt og take — Historien om Natzweiler-fangene (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1989).Google Scholar
  13. 72.
    Anna Pawelczynska, Values and Violence in Auschwitz: A Sociological Analysis (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1979), p.89.Google Scholar
  14. 77.
    Hermann Langbein, Against All Hope: Resistance in the Nazi Concentration Camps 1938–1945 (New York: Paragon House, 1994), p. 179.Google Scholar
  15. 80.
    See Kirsten John, Mein Vater vird gesucht… — Häftlinge des Konzentrationslagers in Wewelsburg (Essen, Historische Schriften des Kreismuseums Wewelsburg 2, 1996).Google Scholar
  16. 84.
    Margarete Buber, Under Two Dictators, translated by Edward Fitzgerald (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1950), p.224.Google Scholar
  17. 85.
    Kristian Ottosen, Kvinneleiren — Historien ont Ravensbrück-fangene (Oslo: Aschehoug & Co., 1991).Google Scholar
  18. 92.
    Martin Niemöller, Of Guilt and Hope (New York: Philosophical Library, 1947), p.58.Google Scholar
  19. 93.
    Hanns Lilje, Im fintern Tal (Nuremberg, 1947), p.47.Google Scholar
  20. 95.
    Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel, ‘The German Churches Face Hitler: Assessment of the Historiography’, Tel Aviv er Jahr-Buch für Deutsche Geschichte, 23 (1994): 439.Google Scholar
  21. 96.
    Asger Dan Werge, Kirke kontra Kœtter (Copenhagen, 1952), pp.80, 84–85.Google Scholar
  22. 97.
    Gabriele Yonan, ‘Spiritual Resistance of Christian Conviction in Nazi Germany: The Case of the Jehovan’s Witnesses’, Journal of Church and State 41:2 (Spring 1999): 322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • James N. Pellechia
  • Jolene Chu

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations