« Main Search

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust:


Early during their development, the Nazis began to suppress several Christian minorities whom they felt were subversive to their goals. Even before the war, Jehovah's Witnesses had been considered heretics by other Christian denominations and individual German states sought to limit their activities. In the early 1930's, Nazi storm troopers broke up their meetings and beat up individual Witnesses. After the Nazis came to power, the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses intensified.

On July 27, 1933, the Gestapo--the Nazi street police--closed the printing operation of the Watchtower Society, an organization of the Witnesses. The Gestapo ordered all state-police precincts to search regional Witness groups and organizations. The Witnesses, however, defied Nazi prohibitions by continuing to meet and distribute literature smuggled in from Switzerland.

For defying the ban on their activities, many Witnesses were arrested and sent to prisons and concentration camps. They lost their jobs in both private industry and public service and were denied their unemployment, social welfare, and pension benefits.

On April 1, 1935, Jehovah's Witnesses were banned by law. However, they refused to be drafted into the military services or perform war-related work and continued to meet. In 1935, some 400 Witnesses were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. By 1939, an estimated 6,000 Witnesses were detained in prisons and camps. Some were tortured by police to force them to renounce their faith. Few did so. The children of Witnesses also suffered. They were ridiculed by their teachers because they refused to give the "Heil Hitler" salute or sing patriotic songs. They were beaten up by their classmates and expelled from schools. The authorities took children away from their parents and sent them to reform schools and orphanages, or to private homes to be brought up as Nazis.

In the concentration camps, Jehovah's Witnesses were required to wear a purple triangle to distinguish them from other inmates. Many of them died from disease, hunger, exhaustion, brutal treatment, and exposure to the cold. About 10,000 Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps during the Nazi period. An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 died.

Source: Dr. William L. Shulman, A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. Bayside, New York: Holocaust Resource Center and Archives.


The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity:

Chapter VI: A Triumph of Will: The Jehovah's Witnesses
Chapter VII: Some Conclusions

Jehovah's Witnesses: Victims Under Two Dictatorships, a book review.

Survival and Resistance: The Netherlands Under Nazi Occupation by Linda M. Woolf, Ph.D.

Jehovah's Witnesses: Victims of the Nazi Era is a booklet published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. View the full booklet in PDF format here.

Read the story of Simone Liebster, a Jehovah's Witness who at the age of twelve was sent to a penitentiary school for Nazi re-education.

Timeline of the Jehovah's Witnesses during the Nazi Era.

John Conway (Newletter Editor of the Association of Church Historians, University of British Columbia) reviews Detlef Garbe's new book Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium. Die Zeugen Jehovahs im Dritten Reich.

Spiritual Resistance of Christian Conviction in Nazi Germany: The Case of the Jehovah's Witnesses by Gabriele Yonan.

The Fascist Repression of the Jehovah's Witnesses by Matteo Pierro.

Female Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Women’s Concentration Camp in Moringen: Research on the Resistance of Women to Nazism by Jürgen Harder and Hans Hesse

Purple Triangles: A Story of Spiritual Resistance by Jolene Chu

Books concerning Jehovah's Witnesses and the Nazi Period

More books concerning Jehovah's Witnesses and the Nazi Period

Watchtower Library Archives:

Sustained Through Terrible Trials
Jehovah's Witnesses: Courageous in the Face of Nazi Peril

Jehovah's Witnesses Russia Archives:

What Historians Say About Jehovah's Witnesses and Nazi Germany
Letter from the State Commissioner for the Police System in Hessen, Carmstadt, April 1933
Letter from the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council. Stuttgart, June 20, 1933
Ban of Jehovah's Witnesses by the Prussian Minister of Internal Affairs. Berlin, June 24, 1933
Indictment of the Special Court of Saxony in Freiberg against 39 Jehovah's Witnesses. Freiberg, August 7, 1935
Report from Secret State Police Office. Darmstadt, October 15, 1936
Newspaper National Zeitung, Basel (Switzerland), January 14, 1937: Crime Development in Germany
Newspaper Herner Zeitung, January 14, 1937: "Jehovah's Witnesses" on Special Trial. Religion as cover for anti-state goals. Exemplary punishments
Newspaper Westdeutscher Beobachter, August 21, 1938: Messengers of Jewish Bolshevism. National thinking for them a "sin against Jehovah"

Other Study Links:

Holocaust Teacher Resource Center
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
United States Holocaust Museum
The Fascist Repression of the Jehovah's Witnesses
Victims of the Nazi Regime
Standfirm (English and German)
Stand Haft (German)

Selected Bibliography:

Friedman, Ina R. The Other Victims: First-Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis (Boston, 1990), pp. 47-59.

King, Christine E. "Jehovah's Witnesses under Nazism," in Michael Berenbaum. ed., A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis (New York, 1990), 188-193.

King, Christine E. The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity (New York, 1982).

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. Jehovah's Witnesses: Proclaimers of God's Kingdom (Pennsylvania, 1993).

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses (Pennsylvania, 1973).

On Video: Purple Triangles, the story of the Kusserow family. A Starlock Pictures Production for TVS, 1991. English version distribution by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Bibliography source: Jehovah's Witnesses: Victims of the Nazi Era, published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Used with permission.

    Previous Top
© 1999 - 2007 Jehovah's Witnesses United. All rights reserved. Terms of Service
home-icon.gif (1K) Home:
General News
Human Rights
Study Tools
Site Search
Web Search
genexe-icon.gif (1K) EXEGESIS:
Study Links
genexe-icon.gif (1K) GENERAL:
resources-icon.gif (1K) Resources: