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Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust

Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany were persecuted between 1870 and 1936. They went by the name Ernste Bibelforscher (Earnest Bible Students) at that time. Because Jehovah's Witnesses would not give allegiance to the Nazi party, and refused to serve in the military, they were put in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Unlike Jews and Gypsies who were persecuted for racial reasons, the Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted on political and ideological grounds. If they were to submit to the state authority, serve in the military and renounce the Bible as "false doctrine" they would be free to go. Nevertheless, approximately 2500 Jehovah's Witnessess (about 10% of the pre-War total in Germany) were sent to concentration camps where they were forced to wear a purple triangle that specifically identified them as Jehovah's Witnesses. All lost their employment, many were sent to regular prisons. So intense was the persecution that the German leader of the Bible students, Paul Balzereit, caved under the pressure and renounced his faith.

As early as 1921, political and religious factions accused the Witnesses of being linked with the Jews in subversive political movements. Bible Students were branded as the dangerous, Bolshevik, "Jewish worm." In response, the April 15, 1930, German edition of The Golden Age (forerunner of Awake!) stated: "We have no reason to regard this false accusation as an insult—as we are convinced that the Jew is at least as valuable a person as a nominal Christian; but we reject the above untruth of the church tabloid because it is aimed at deprecating our work, as if it were being done not for the sake of the Gospel but for the Jews." Swiss theologian Karl Barth later wrote: "The accusation that Jehovah's Witnesses are linked with the Communists can only be due to an involuntary or even intentional misunderstanding."

In spite of the evident hostility of the Hitler regime, Jehovah's Witnesses organized a convention in Berlin, Germany, on June 25, 1933. Some 7,000 persons assembled. The Witnesses publicly made their intentions clear: "Our organization is not political in any sense. We only insist on teaching the Word of Jehovah God to the people, and that without hindrance." In 1934, In a document intended to clarify their neutral stance, the leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses told Hitler that they believed that the "It has been the commercial Jews of the British-American empire that have built up and carried on Big Business as a means of exploiting and oppressing the peoples of many nations." and that Jehovah's Witnesses "have no interest in political affairs, but are wholly devoted to God's Kingdom under Christ His King." After intensified persecution of this group, a world-wide body of Jehovah's Witnesses passed a resolution in 1936 again strongly condemning the Nazi regime.

During the same time period this group was also persecuted in the United States and many other countries for similar reasons, mainly because they refused to serve in the military or help with war efforts. In Canada during that time, Jehovah's Witnesses were interned in concentration camps along with political dissidents and people of Japanese and Chinese descent. In the United States, the Supreme Court issued a series of landmark First Amendment rulings that confirmed the Jehovah's Witnesses right to be excused from military service and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.