Scrapbookpages Blog

June 10, 2012

Jehovah’s Witnesses sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:23 am

I’ve been reading the news about the football players on European teams going to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.  Most of the stories mention that victims in the Auschwitz death camp included Gypsies, homosexuals, political prisoners, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  For example, the news article here has this statement:

Most of the Auschwitz victims were Jews but the Nazis also killed many Poles, Soviet prisoners of wars, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political opponents there.

The following information is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website which says that the total number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany was 20,000:

In the Nazi years, about 10,000 Witnesses, most of them of German nationality, were imprisoned in concentration camps. After 1939, small numbers of Witnesses from Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland (some of them refugees from Germany) were arrested and deported to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and other concentration camps. An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 Witnesses died in the camps or prisons. More than 200 men were tried by the German War Court and executed for refusing military service.

The Nazis referred to the Jehovah’s Witnesses as “volunteer” prisoners because they could leave at any time if only they would change their minds about serving in the Army or stop distributing pamphlets against the German government.

So why would Jehovah’s Witnesses be sent to Auschwitz, which was a death camp?

Jehovah’s Witnesses were sent to all the camps because they were selected to work as servants in the homes of the SS men who were running the camps.

The movie The Boy in the  Striped Pajamas shows a scene in which a Jewish doctor is working in the kitchen in the Commandant’s house, using a knife to peel potatoes.  That’s not what happened in real life.  Jewish doctors were put to work in the camp hospitals, and it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were allowed to use knives in the homes of the SS men, because they were considered to be trustworthy.

The main camp where Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bibelforscher) were sent was Sachsenhausen, which is near Berlin.  In 1936, after the Bibelforscher were banned by law in Germany, there were 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses sent to Sachsenhausen.

At the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site, there is a memorial stone in honor of a prisoner named August Dickman who was executed because he was a member of the International Bible Students Association, who refused to serve in the Germany army. The memorial stone says that he was a “conscientious objector.”

According to Rudolf Höss, who was the adjutant in the Sachsenhausen camp at the time that Dickmann was executed, there were a large number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sachsenhausen; he wrote in his memoirs that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were sent to the camps beginning in 1937, because they were “using religion to undermine the will of the people for military preparedness,” by recruiting others to their beliefs about not serving in the military. Höss claimed that only those who were actively preaching against the state and recruiting others were imprisoned.  Höss would later become famous as the first Commandant of Auschwitz.

When World War II started, all concentration camp prisoners, who were fit for military service, were drafted. Höss wrote in his memoirs: “A large number of them (the Jehovah’s Witnesses) refused to serve in the military and were, therefore, sentenced to death by Himmler as draft dodgers.”  Those who were willing to renounce their ideas against the military, or to serve in the army were released.

In America, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Japanese-American prisoners in the internment camps, who refused to serve in the American army, were sent to federal prisons where they were forced to work at hard labor, but none were executed.

Mauthausen was a Class III camp where the worst criminals were sent. The first Jehovah’s Witness to be registered at the Mauthausen camp was Franz Bräuchle, who was Prisoner No. 337.   By August 1939, a year after the Mauthausen camp was opened, there were 143 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were prisoners there.

Jehovah’s Witnesses who were prisoners at the Niederhagen camp

Niederhagen was a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen. The photo above shows Jehovah’s Witnesses who were prisoners in the Niederhagen camp. Some of them were over 40 years old when they were sent to the camp, so they could not have been imprisoned just because they refused to serve in the Army.

Hermann Pister, the Commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp, claimed in his testimony before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned in the concentration camps “not for their religious convictions, but for their Communist tendencies.”

In all of the news articles about Auschwitz, it is implied that the prisoners in the camp, regardless of their category, were sent there, and murdered, for no reason at all.

February 16, 2010

Jehovah’s Witnesses – mistreated by the Nazis?

Jehovah's Witnesses at the Niederhagen camp near Wewelsburg

The photo above appears on my web site on this page.

Under the photo, I wrote this sentence:

“Note that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the photo above appear to have been well treated.”

Recently, I got an e-mail from a woman who claimed that I was wrong in saying that the prisoners in this photo look like they were well treated.  She claims that the photo was taken long after the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the photo had been released and had recovered from their torture and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis.

It is possible that some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Niederhagen camp kept their striped prison shirts and posed years later for a photo.  It is also possible that their prison shirts still fit them when they gained weight after being released.

There is nothing that indicates the date of the photo.  Most of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Niederhagen camp were over 40 years old when they were sent there. They were selected from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp because of their building skills.  The Niederhagen camp was set up to house prisoners who were working on restoring the  Wewelsburg castle.

North tower of Wewelsburg Castle

The following quote is from my own web page about the Jehovah’s Witnesses at Niederhagen concentration camp:

After several escape attempts by the German criminals at Niederhagen, they were replaced by Jehovah’s Witnesses, called “Bible students,” who were considered to be more trustworthy and not likely to escape. The Nazis called the Bible students “volunteer prisoners” because they could have been released at any time if they would only renounce their religion and join the German Army. Note that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the photo above appear to have been well treated.

According to a book by Hans Hesse, entitled “Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi Regime,” published in 2001, there was a total of 306 Jehovah’s Witnesses sent to the Niederhagen-Wewelsburg camp and 19 of them died. Other sources say that there were 21 Jehovah’s Witnesses who died in the camp.

Hans Hesse attributed the low mortality rate among the Jehovah’s Witnesses to group cohesiveness and their willingness to help and support each other. By way of comparison, there were 903 German prisoners in other categories at Niederhagen-Wewelsburg and at least 357 of them died, according to Hans Hesse’s book.

Hans Hesse wrote that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were selected from prisoners at Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald for their professional skills in building construction. Although younger workers were preferred by the Nazis, 65% of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at Niederhagen-Wewelsburg were over 40 years of age, according to Hesse’s book.

Hermann Pister, the Commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp claimed in his testimony before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned “not for their religious convictions, but for their Communist tendencies.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses who were sent to the Niederhagen camp when they were over 40 years old could not have been imprisoned just because they refused to serve in the Army.  Could they have been arrested because of their “Communist tendencies?”

My e-mail correspondent also claimed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were separated in the camps and were not allowed to live together.  So how did they support each other with “group cohesiveness” as Hans Hesse wrote?

In the early days at the Dachau concentration camp, visitors were brought to see the “model camp”  including some prison wardens from America.  According to a book written by Paul Berben, a former prisoner who wrote the official history of the camp, the visitors were always shown the barracks of the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they were the neatest and cleanest barracks of all.

Typically, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were given jobs in the homes of the SS officers because they were considered trustworthy.  In the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” there is a scene where a Jewish doctor is peeling potatoes with a knife in the home of the Commandant of a camp that is supposed to be like Auschwitz.  There is no way that the Commandant of Auschwitz would have allowed a Jew to use a knife in his home, at least not while there were trustworthy Jehovah’s Witnesses available.

So what is the truth?  Were the Jehovah’s Witnesses mistreated by the Nazis or not?

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany and during the Nazi years, around 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, mostly from Germany, were imprisoned in concentration camps. The USHMM estimates that 2,500 to 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses died in the concentration camps or prisons; more than 200 men were tried by the German War Court and executed for refusing military service.

According to the USHMM:

“After 1939, small numbers of Witnesses from Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland (some of them refugees from Germany) were arrested and deported to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and other concentration camps.”