Friday, September 23, 2011

Christian stands
towards the Nazi regime:
A focus on Jehovah's Witnesses
(James Irvin Lichti,
in The Routledge History of the Holocaust) /

Χριστιανικές θέσεις
έναντι του Ναζιστικού καθεστώτος:
Η περίπτωση των Μαρτύρων του Ιεχωβά
(James Irvin Lichti,
στο The Routledge History of the Holocaust)

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany

James Irvin Lichti

During the military court proceedings, the captain asked him: “What would be the case if all people were like you?” He responded: “This would be the end of the war.”

This was the response of a man on trial for a capital crime. The defendant—a cobbler named Gustav Stange—had refused to perform military service for the Nazi state. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he would have refused this service for any state. Today, few Christians share Stange’s conviction against military service, and presumably no one did in the courtroom. But Stange’s logic must have caught the cross-examining captain off guard: If all people were like Stange, then all war would end.[1]

Stange’s behavior epitomizes the manner in which the response of Jehovah’s Witnesses—as Christians—stood apart. True, there were other Christian opponents of Nazism in Germany, and there were other Christian communities in Nazi Germany with principles against military service. But only the Jehovah’s Witnesses were in the Nazi concentration camp system in sufficient numbers to merit a distinctive badge—the Lilawinkel, or Purple Triangle.[2] No other Christian community in Nazi Germany stood by their convictions more steadfastly or faced and endured a more systematic persecution.

This assessment is not new. The Lutheran Bishop of Hanover offered it as early as 1948,[3] and during the ensuing decades, various church and mainstream scholars have echoed it. For example, Detlev Garbe, author of the most comprehensive study of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany, asserts that the “courageous attitude [of the Jehovah’s Witnesses] in the Third Reich merits respect and recognition.” Yet in almost the same breath, Garbe also acknowledges that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ attitude cannot serve
as a model for a democratically oriented society. […] This position should be reserved for Herbert Baum, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mildred and Arvid Harnack, Helmuth Hübener, Julius Leber, Max Josef Metzger, Carl von Ossietzky, Sophie and Hans Scholl, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Hilda Monte, and others.[4]
Garbe’s list is compelling, but it is a list of individuals, not of a community. Do we have to abandon communities in search of models? Were there no “democratically-oriented” communities in Nazi Germany that could serve as such? More to the point, why can the Jehovah’s Witnesses not serve as a model?

In the first monograph on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany by a mainstream historian, which appeared in 1969,[5] Michael H. Kater advanced the notion that the confrontation between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Nazi regime was that of two totalitarian systems. In 1982, Christine Elizabeth King summarized this dynamic as a face-off between “two non-democratic, anti-liberal and uncompromising bodies.”[6] This characterization of Jehovah’s Witnesses as totalitarian has persisted and surfaces also in sociological analyses of Jehovah’s Witnesses.[7] And indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses openly adhere to a theocracy; they possess no democratic or liberal pretensions, and are uncompromising in their convictions. Although none of the above scholars would suggest that, despite their use of the term “totalitarian,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses are as objectionable as the Nazis, this characterization raises fundamental questions as to how to assess their response to Nazi Germany. Are they a model denomination or a totalitarian sect?

The characterization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as totalitarian is in some respects understandable but analytically problematic, as Garbe pointed out in his study.[8] The landmark totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century were utopian, human-created, and murderously coercive societies; the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a voluntary and millennialist sect utterly lacking in worldly political ambitions. Labeling the Jehovah’s Witnesses as totalitarian trivializes the term totalitarian and defames the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Nonetheless, if our aim is, as Garbe suggests, to hold up models for a “democratically oriented society,” we cannot turn to Jehovah’s Witnesses. How, then, did “democratically oriented” Christian communities fare under Nazi Germany, and can they serve as models on a par with the Jehovah’s Witnesses? For example, the Confessing Church, as a body, did not match the bravery of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But there were several democratically-oriented denominations in Nazi Germany that, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, possessed teachings or traditions against bearing arms on behalf of the state.

To consider their witness in comparison with that of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a review of the history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Third Reich is in order. This will provide a basis for a contrast between the response of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that of other Christian communities with traditions against military service. This will be followed by closer consideration of the “democratically-oriented” denomination that most closely approaches the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response—the very small community of German Quakers.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Nazi Germany
Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of a number of millennialist movements that arose in the United States during the nineteenth century. Their founder, Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916), developed his doctrines in the 1870s after his encounter with an Adventist community, and the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses still bear an Adventist imprint. The followers of American Adventism believed that they were living in the “Advent” of the apocalypse; for them, the end of history was near and the authority of the coming Kingdom overshadowed everything else. As a consequence, they placed their primary allegiance in the imminent Kingdom and viewed all worldly allegiances as secondary. As one New England Adventist put it in 1861: “We are a nationality of ourselves.”[9] The totality of this commitment has endured among Jehovah’s Witnesses. There was, for them, no confusion of loyalties as experienced by many Christians in Nazi Germany.

But Russell never called himself an Adventist, and pursued his own analysis of scripture. He established a network of congregations and founded Zion’s Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in 1884; this same incorporated body persists as the organizational focus of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. From the start, Russell was intent on avoiding all churchly trappings. His followers described themselves simply as “Bible students”—Bibelforscher. Until 1933, German followers of the movement described themselves as associated with the International Bible Students Association.

After Russell’s death in 1916, his successor Joseph Franklin Rutherford (1869–1942) transformed Russell’s comparatively decentralized network of congregations into a tightly managed theocracy. He did this gradually, but the process was largely complete by about 1930. In 1931, he chose the designation “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for his followers.

As a consequence of Rutherford’s centralization, his views on government predominated. Henceforth, the Jehovah’s Witnesses condemned “financial, political and ecclesiastical power groups” as the “visible organization of the devil.” This gave their refusal to perform military service an ironclad logic, but Bible Student opposition to bearing arms had begun during World War I on the basis of specific biblical passages.[10]

By the 1930s, Germany had the largest community of Jehovah’s Witnesses—about 25,000—outside of the United States. Rutherford was understandably concerned when Hitler became chancellor in 1933. But during the first two years of Nazi rule, government policy on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was inconsistent. To be sure, Nazi literature had long condemned the International Bible Students as part of a wider Jewish–Bolshevist conspiracy. And a month after Hitler became chancellor, the regime already had the means for targeting the Jehovah’s Witnesses with the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State, often referred to as the Reichstag fire decree.[11] But the decree’s immediate target was Communists, not Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But just a few weeks later, Jehovah’s Witnesses stood out during the 5 March 1933 parliamentary elections. During the Weimar Republic, voting had been voluntary; now, Nazi canvassers roamed from house to house, calling all Germans to the polls and taking note of those who stayed home. Based on their convictions, Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to vote. This started a pattern of Nazi harassment during ensuing elections. Jehovah’s Witnesses set themselves apart further by refusing to use the Hitler greeting or salute the Nazi flag. Such expressions of non-conformity led not only to harassment but also to loss of employment and even arrest.[12]

On a more systematic level, four German states used the Reichstag fire decree to outlaw the Jehovah’s Witnesses as early as April 1933. Also in that month, the police occupied the Magdeburg Bible House, the publishing and organizational center for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. When the US State Department intervened, the regime backed off. Nonetheless, it proceeded to enact a federal ban on 24 June based on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’“cultural–Bolshevik activities.”[13]

Oddly, a convention of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Berlin was scheduled for the very next day. It proceeded to take place, and 7,000 members heard an address that suggested a certain compatibility between Nazi and the Watch Tower viewpoints. Some statements even appeared to agree with Nazism’s antisemitic rhetoric. This apparent attempt to “curry favor” with the regime, as M. James Penton puts it, ranks among the most controversial incidents raised by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany.[14]

The address did not resonate with the regime, but the regime’s position on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was far from clear. Over the summer of 1933, government officials occupied the Magdeburg office again on 28 June, but assured the US consul that they would not appropriate any American property; then, at the end of August, truckloads of Watch Tower literature were burned outside Magdeburg.[15] But a complaint by Secretary of State Cordell Hull in September led to the return of Watch Tower property, and a decree by the Prussian minister later that month even permitted limited resumption of Watch Tower activities. While an order from Reinhard Heydrich—at this point leader of the Bavarian Political Police—called for increased surveillance in December 1933, “the authorities seemed to be more accommodating” by the middle of 1934. By fall, Jehovah’s Witnesses were permitted to print and distribute Bibles “and other unobjectionable publications,” although “all other activities of the Earnest Bible Students” were prohibited.[16]

At the outset, both the American and German Watch Tower leaders advised patience and moderation. By contrast, the German rank and file was divided. Their independence is striking: some agreed to make the best of things, while others were anxious to “confront the ‘powers of Satan.’” As a result, not all adhered to the restrictions set down by their leaders.

Initially, Rutherford’s statements to the regime were conciliatory. He maintained that the Watch Tower Society had “never accepted Communists or Marxists,” did not “include any Jews,” and appreciated “the National Socialist government because of the fact that Hitler and his State profess to be Christians.”[17] At face value, Rutherford’s position approached that of German nationalists in the mainstream churches who were pressuring their own church leaders to exclude Jews if not from the pews, at least from the pulpit.[18] But Rutherford’s position soon fell in line with the dissenting and more radical sector of German Jehovah’s Witnesses.[19]

Eventually, the Nazi regime also lost patience. Over the course of 1935, they shifted to systematic and state-wide persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Hitler’s reintroduction of conscription on 16 March provided yet another point of conflict. But the most frequent basis for arrest was the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ door-to-door mission. Increasingly, they employed greater discretion, restricting the first visit to more general biblical topics and introducing their specific teachings only on later visits with responsive households. As surveillance and repression increased, they devised methods to surreptitiously import, reproduce, and distribute their literature. Their tactical ingenuity rivaled that of any underground movement; their code for the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn, for example, was “mother.”[20]

This persistence led to increasingly severe persecution. This included public harassment, loss of employment, loss of and/or limitations on pensions and public assistance, removal of their children to Nazi foster homes,[21] mass arrests, detention in concentration camps, and execution. By wartime, the enactment of Special Penal Regulations during War and a State of Emergency (Kriegssonderstrafrechtsverordnung, KSSVO) provided yet another framework for persecution. Article Five of the KSSVO made “any efforts of demoralizing ‘the armed forces’” punishable by death. On this basis, Helene Delacher was sentenced to death for acting as a courier between Austria and Italy, Emmi Zehden for hiding Jehovah’s Witnesses evading military service, and Martha Hopp for indicating “to a fellow worker and acquaintance that Germany would lose the war and that the loss in lives would surpass our imagination.”[22]

The severity of Nazi repression had incremental success. Three waves of mass arrests—during August/September of 1936, March/April of 1937, and August/September of 1937—seriously curtailed the functioning of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Germany. Dissatisfied with the length of sentences meted out by the Nazi court system, the Gestapo began selectively holding Jehovah’s Witnesses through “protective detention” in the Nazi concentration camp system.[23] By 1938–39, the regime had destroyed organized resistance activity, although extant groups—consisting mostly of women— gradually re-established contact and created a cell network. In the summer of 1943, there were still printing operations in Berlin, but the Gestapo put a stop to this network during January and February of 1944.[24] By the final year of the war, no effective organization was possible outside of the camps. Astonishingly, however, effective organization arose and persisted within the camps. This was due to two key factors: first, the extraordinarily tight-knit network maintained by Jehovah’s Witness inmates; second, a decline in the severity of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camps just as this increased outside of the camps.

At first, Jehovah’s Witnesses ranked among the most brutally treated inmates. Until 1939–40, they were often singled out for lower rations, beatings, standing at attention holding signs of self-ridicule, and executions. Not all killing was formal, however; in Sachsenhausen, 25 Jehovah’s Witnesses were stuffed into a broom closet with the intent of suffocating them; after 12 hours, 15 had died.[25] Such “special treatment” had two aims: first, to coerce Jehovah’s Witnesses into signing statements recanting their faith; second, to punish them for refusing to follow all orders imposed on them. Their intransigence was always principle-based. In particular, they refused to perform labor that would assist the Nazi war effort (since, increasingly, the camps were engaged in the manufacture of war-related materials).

But the SS eventually began treating Jehovah’s Witness inmates with less severity. Since they never made attempts at escape, they could be entrusted with tasks without supervision. Increasingly, they were sent to locations—for example, as laborers on agricultural estates, or as servants for the families of SS officials—where the living conditions facilitated their survival. But they remained of enormous value in the camps; as the number of non-German inmates in the camp system swelled, the SS increasingly needed to manage the camps through German-speaking inmates whom they could trust. In isolated situations, some Jehovah’s Witnesses even became camp functionaries.[26]

It was as if the Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrated that they were worthy of the Nazis’ trust. To be sure, top Nazi officials came to admire their “fanaticism”; Heinrich Himmler even entertained the fanciful notion of using Jehovah’s Witnesses to convert the non-German Christian ethnicities of the future Nazi empire. This strategy would provide—in Himmler’smind—the master race with pliant and pacific subject populations.[27]

While pacific, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were never pliant. Seizing the opportunity provided by the trust vested in them, they resumed within the camps the resistance activities that had been abandoned outside of the camps. Publications were smuggled in, reproduced, and sent out for distribution. Secret baptisms were performed, and preaching activity was organized. Toward the end of spring 1944, the Gestapo attempted a system-wide search to stop these “prohibited activities.” Ultimately, however, their interest in making use of these otherwise model inmates prevailed, and “concentration camp life went back to its normal routine.”[28]

Comparison with denominations with traditions
against military service
One of the convictions that put Jehovah’s Witnesses decisively at odds with the Nazi regime was their refusal to bear arms. Few Christians in Germany shared these religious qualms. But in the early church, avoidance of military service was the Christian norm.[29] And for the first thousand years of Christianity, church leaders still traditionally regarded the soldier’s profession as “utterly sinful and secular.” It was only in the eleventh century that military service was “‘Christianized,’ that is, integrated into a Christian ethical structure and given a morally positive purpose.”[30] Opposition to military service continued to resurface on Christendom’s periphery during the next thousand years. Even in Nazi Germany, isolated Catholics and Protestants within the provincial churches refused to bear arms,[31] and a handful of clergy raised their voices against warfare.[32]

Alongside Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were a number of small Christian communities with traditions against military service. A glance at their various responses to Nazi Germany reveals a clear line of demarcation. Those that would typically—and dismissively—be labeled as sects demonstrated a far greater consistency in their responses to Nazi Germany, while those closer to the modern denominations failed to show any pattern of response.

The term “sect,” however, bears a pejorative burden that the terms “church” and “denomination” lack. For their part, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject designation as a church.[33] As author of the most comprehensive study of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany, Detlev Garbe chooses to refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a denomination.

But is the designation fitting? The term “denomination” emerged during the seventeenth century in the English and English–Colonial setting to imply “that the group referred to was but one member, denominated by a particular name, of a larger group to which other Protestant denominations belonged.” As Samuel Willard, minister of Old South Church in Boston, put it in 1688: “Through our knowing but in part [an allusion to First Corinthians 13:9], it is come to pass that professors of Christianity have been of diverse opinions in many things and their difference hath occasioned several denominations, but while they agree in the foundation they may be saved.” In line with this sentiment, Jeremiah Burroughs—a contemporary English Puritan—declared: “God hath a hand in these divisions to bring forth further light.”[34]

The term denomination thus arose to denote a post-churchly, modern, and pluralistic framework for Christianity.[35] It designated a new and protoliberal institution that differed radically from the premodern “church” but also from the sect, which—like the church—laid claim to a monopoly on both Christian “truth” and the means of salvation. But if the denominationalist believes that God’s truth is so vast and complex that it cannot be contained by one human institution, then s/he must also make some room for variations in personal beliefs. Returning again to the seventeenth-century origins of the term, Praisegood Barebones asserted that “though the truth and true measure be one, yet the persons measuring are very various and much differing.”[36] For the denominationalist, then, the seat of charismatic authority—if located anywhere other than in scripture—lies in the heart of the individual. As a consequence, true denominations rely on institutional forms that permit a greater respect for variations of conscience. They tend toward a liberal and “democratically-oriented” polity.

By contrast, the sect—in the typologies of Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch—strives for something quite different. It aims at the realization of the “visible church” that the churches themselves could never achieve. That is, members of sects should be readily recognizable because they maintain a distinctive and relatively uniform level of piety. This collective conformity to a visible virtuosity secures for them their status as the “faithful remnant.” In other words, a sect is an elite based on religious merit, and it is their collective merit that secures their salvation.[37] It would be impossible for the sect to maintain its rigorous standards of virtuosity with the more tolerant and permissive standards of the denomination.

Self-professing elites do not always arouse admiration and sympathy, but they are an integral component of modern society. Indeed, liberal modernity is based on both meritocracy and democracy; as typologies of Christian community, the sect emphasizes the former and the denomination the latter. The typological categories as advanced by Weber and Troeltsch are thus neither pejorative nor anti-modern.

It is, in part, the sectarian characteristics that have led to the characterization of Jehovah’s Witnesses as “totalitarian.” Meritocracies draw clear boundaries as to who is inside and who is outside. Also, Nazism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses share authoritarian frameworks and “millennialist visions.” But as Garbe aptly pointed out, while the Nazis sought to create their thousand-year Reich through war, terror, and genocide, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a voluntary body that rely on God for the realization of His Kingdom.[38] The spirit of twentieth-century totalitarianism was utopian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are no utopians.

But the Weber–Troetlsch typology of the sect possesses analytical utility in comparing the response of Christian communities with teachings against bearing arms to Nazi Germany. To be sure, even among the “sects,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses still emerge as “the most stridently outspoken conscientious objectors” in Nazi Germany.[39] Still, Nazi executions extended to the ranks of Reform Adventists—who had broken away from Seventh-day Adventism during World War I—and the isolated Christadelphian congregation in Esslingen.[40]

But some Jehovah’s Witnesses chose the more moderate course of evading military service. Along these lines, the small Hutterite community known as the Rhönbruderhof shuttled its draft-age men out of the country before it was dissolved by the Nazis—on the basis of the Reichstag fire decree mentioned above—in April 1937. A more moderate but still consistent course, which Jehovah’s Witnesses advised for followers who were not yet baptized, was non-combatancy within the military. Evangelical Baptists (Gemeinschaft evangelisch Taufgesinnte) held to this consistently, arranging for draft-age male members to be trained as medics, and with this strategy preventing them from having to bear arms.[41]

All of the above communities stood closer to the typology of sect. But there were also three denominations in Nazi Germany with histories of opposition to military service: Mennonites, Seventh-day Adventists, and Quakers.[42] All three displayed a greater toleration of internal heterogeneity and usually presented themselves as democratic.[43] But unlike the sects described above, they did not present a unified front against Nazi militarism.

The response of German Mennonites stood at one extreme. As an active teaching, their “pacifism” had largely expired by the time of Nazi Germany. Arising from the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement, many Mennonites had emigrated from central Europe—especially to Russia and North America—in search of countries that would tolerate their distinctive teachings, including their opposition to military service. Those who remained tended to be more open to assimilation; and the more they assimilated, the more they shifted away from sectarianism and toward denominationalism.

This shift took the form of congregations weakening their “virtuosity.” While congregations did not abandon their opposition to military service all at once, they moved— one by one—toward transforming a community-binding norm into a matter of individual conscience. Most still pledged to support individuals who refused to bear arms. This process took place during the nineteenth century under the influence of German liberal thought. But by World War I, there were only scattered congregations—concentrated in southwestern Germany—in which a significant proportion of members chose to serve as non-combatants.[44]

Nonetheless, it was only with Hitler’s reintroduction of conscription that the largest association of German Mennonite congregations officially cut themselves off from this historical teaching. The association even declared that its draft-age youth were “enthusiastically ready” to serve in combat alongside their fellow Germans. While some individual German Mennonites kept the principle alive, and isolated Mennonite congregations may have supported such individuals, opposition to military service was not a component of the collective Mennonite response to Nazism. (More disturbing was the extent to which German Mennonite periodicals expressed sympathy for Nazi racial ideals.)[45]

The second denomination, Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs), did not abandon their long-standing opposition to military service. However, their teaching on this matter— which endorsed non-combatant military service—was not binding: SDAs had always left the decision of how to respond to conscription to the individual conscience. As a consequence, a noteworthy minority of conscripted SDAs sought and obtained non-combatant positions, but most served as combatants.[46]

Interestingly, SDAs—like Mennonites—proved vulnerable to Nazi ideology. Ironically, it was one of their more distinctive teachings that provided the ideological bridge. SDAs view physical and spiritual health as fundamentally indivisible; this has long linked the denomination to the field of medicine and led to their abstinence from meat, tobacco, and alcohol. With the rise of Nazism, they finally had a national leader who shared their health-conscious habits, as Hitler was a vegetarian and neither smoked nor drank. Further, Nazism used medicine to legitimize its murderous policies of racial hygiene. Given their own bond to this academic field, SDA periodicals absorbed elements of Nazi racial hygiene.[47]

While Mennonites in Germany numbered more than 20,000 and SDAs approached 40,000, there were only 250 Quakers in the German Yearly Meeting. Of the three denominations, the Quaker response stood closest to the sectarian: its conscripted members all secured non-combatant positions within the military.[48] This raises the question of whether they should be considered a sect. But Quakerism arose in England exactly during the emergence of the notion of the denomination, and its doctrines intrinsically express denominational liberalism. The sanctity of conscience is enshrined, so to speak, in the Quaker teaching of the “inner light,” which resides in every human being. This led to an embrace of democracy as a principle; commentaries to this effect surfaced regularly in the German Quaker journal Der Quäker.

Did, then, the Quakers in Germany present the “democratically oriented” model that Garbe called for? This question merits a closer comparison between Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses in their respective responses to Hitler’s Germany. If a “non-democratically oriented” community can fare better than a democratically oriented community, then the original question may merit re-examination.

In one regard, both communities were remarkably successful: maintaining a clear ideological distance from Nazi ideology. True, the Jehovah’s Witness leadership has been criticized for the early attempts to suggest some compatibility with Nazi ideology, as described above. Soon enough, however, it turned 180 degrees. Indeed, their periodicals waged a public campaign against Nazism. This campaign has been rightly criticized for its inaccurate portrayal of Nazi Germany as no more than a pawn of the Vatican.[49] This linking of the papacy to the forces of the Antichrist, however, also typified many Protestant millennialists. Moreover, the mainstream German churches clearly supported not only the regime’s position against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but other key Nazi tenets—especially its anti-Bolshevism. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses portrayed the link between the Vatican and Hitler inaccurately, the perception of an ideological link between the churches and the regime—especially from their perspective—was hardly inaccurate.

While Quakers also maintained a steady ideological distance from Nazi ideology, they did not proclaim this as adamantly. Indeed, Der Quäker remained legal and circulated in Germany until 1941 when the regime closed virtually all confessional periodicals. One may ask whether their commentary was so muted that it provided no real statement against the regime. In an arguably democratic fashion, content in Der Quäker served as a dialogue between the moderate and activist sectors of the German Yearly Meeting. Advocating moderation, Hans Albrecht—the clerk of the German Yearly Meeting—in 1940 recalled Quakerism’s most famous founder, George Fox (1624–91), who always refused to doff his hat in court, but offered no resistance when the hat was removed for him.[50] (Regardless of this, however, Fox repeatedly found himself in prison for his convictions.) Advocating action, Emil Fuchs—a former Lutheran pastor—declared in the November 1934 issue that those who simply look on and do nothing “as the state thinks, acts, conducts war, etc., in an unchristian manner” contribute to “the ruin of this state and nation.”[51] Both sides were, then, able to voice their opinions, at least early in the regime.

But commentary hostile to Nazi ideology, and especially Nazi practice, grew increasingly circumspect. It was, nonetheless present, and surfaced regularly in muted forms; for example, an article in January 1935 cited the Jüdischer Rundschau, in which the Jewish philosopher Carl Joël corrected a currently popular citation from Goethe’s Faust: “Blood is a very special kind of sap.” The racial potential of this quote is obvious, but Joël noted that these words were spoken not by Faust, but by “the tempter Mephisto.”[52] Occasionally, bolder statements appeared: in 1937, Der Quäker published “Emil Fuchs’ protest against the prohibition of interracial marriage in the 1935 Nuremberg Racial Laws.”[53]

In maintaining this ideological distance, the German Yearly Meeting—founded in 1925—followed an anti-nationalist and pacifist course set by non-German Quakers. During World War I, American and British Quakers had challenged anti-German propaganda, and British Quakers had assisted German internees. After the war, they protested the continued British naval blockade that prolonged hunger within Germany, and administered the postwar Quäkerspeisung that provided over five million German children with free meals.[54] American and British Friends had also consistently denounced the Treaty of Versailles as punitive. During the 1923 French occupation of the Ruhr, British Friends intervened on behalf of imprisoned Germans. Once the Nazis were in power, British and American Quakers continued to speak on behalf of the rights of Germans as minority populations in non-German countries and participated in feeding programs for destitute Sudeten Germans. British Quakers even aided the families of Nazi internees in Austria and negotiated the release of Nazi activists from Lithuanian prisons in their quest to stand by and protect all political prisoners.[55] They refused to take sides; as Carl Heath—one of the foremost Quaker spokespersons of the period—put it, “there is neither You nor I as victor, only the path of persuasion and ‘boundedness’ between us.”[56]

While some will admire this list of actions, others may ask whether the Quakers were out of touch with the realities of history. Did the Friends really understand the nature of Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism? And Quaker historians have indeed acknowledged that liberal Quakers of the 1920s and 1930s succumbed to an excessive confidence regarding their capacity for historical impact, thereby leaving themselves open to manipulation.[57] A failure to assess the historical situation accurately was thus not an error unique to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Nonetheless, those Germans attracted to Quakerism during the 1920s joined specifically because of the manner in which American and British Quakers had dealt with their German “enemies.” This inspiration buttressed their Yearly Meeting against the intrusion of nationalist or racial sentiment. It also paralleled the firmly cemented “boundedness” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to a wider religious community beyond Germany’s borders.

But Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses differed dramatically in the expectations placed by leaders on each member. This was a function of their diverging democratic, as opposed to meritocratic, orientations. While the executive committee of the German Yearly Meeting openly called on members to render assistance to those suffering in Nazi Germany, it advised members not “do more than is within your resources.”[58] It is not surprising, then, that meetings housed both quietist and activist sectors.[59] By contrast, the top leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses—which, unlike the leadership of German Quakers, was located outside of Nazi Germany—called for far bolder actions on the part of each member.

Their boldness is universally admired by commentators. Nonetheless, M. James Penton asks whether it was “often an example of fanatical foolhardiness driven by J. F. Rutherford’s teachings.” He agrees that on many points their stance was consistent with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ principles, but argues that Rutherford unnecessarily inflated the persecution of his followers—subjecting them to hunger, deprivation, and torture aimed at obtaining the names of other Jehovah’s Witnesses—through poorly thought-through campaigns that could have little positive impact.[60]

Penton is here putting Rutherford and the theocratic structure of Jehovah’s Witnesses on trial. This is entirely legitimate and certainly points to the potential dangers of theocracy. The question of when suffering is necessary is also important.

At the same time, his challenge also raises questions. First, are foolhardy actions sometimes called for? While Penton himself acknowledges the integrity of suffering when Jehovah’s Witnesses were adhering to their principles—such as refusing to use the Hitler greeting or perform military service—others may consider that same adherence foolhardy. Some of the actions by individual German Friends could be judged foolhardy, such as Gerhard Halle—in full view of passers-by—tearing to shreds a sign forbidding Jews to enter a Berlin store, soon after the Kristallnacht pogrom.[61] And when the Protestant pacifist Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze called on his church publicly to denounce Nazi abuses of “Jewish shopkeepers and minor civil servants,” which he witnessed from his vantage point as a settlement worker in the slums of east Berlin, his proposal was dismissed as “reckless.”[62] Had the church listened to Siegmund-Schulze, could Hitler ever have got as far as he did? The line at which to designate an action as foolhardy has many determinants, and cannot always easily be drawn.

Second, separate from the judgment of the theocratic leader, did the theocratic framework contribute to the degree of consistency in the response of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Nazi Germany? This consistency should not be overstated. There were many who must have left the community, and there were doubtless those who compromised and conformed in various ways. But while a visible proportion of German Friends became anti-Nazi activists, the steadfastness of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is more compelling: approximately 250 were put to death by military courts, and this equals the number of the entire German Yearly Meeting at that time. An estimated one-third of Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested in Nazi Germany; for Quakers, the proportion probably lies somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.[63]

On the other hand, it is also possible to overstate the role of theocracy in maintaining the resolve of the rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses. To be sure, given their isolation, any contact with the Watch Tower Society must have been immeasurably sustaining. But this was also a “believers’ community.”[64] Members had joined—and remained—of their own volition. Further, accounts of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camps or on trial do not suggest a robotic or subservient conviction; they were repeatedly confronted with a range of situations that demanded dynamic responses. In the camps, Jehovah’s Witnesses held their own in arguments with Communist inmates, creatively circumvented camp regulations, and thoughtfully drew lines as to when to conform and when to defy. Such boundaries were not always clear-cut, and led to confrontations and arguments among Jehovah’s Witness inmates.[65] Much of what they were forced to deal with had to be undertaken at their own initiative. Very little was under close supervision of the Watch Tower Society. In all of this, they demonstrated profound resourcefulness and resolve.

Does this suggest that the theocratic framework was absent among Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany? It is worth remembering that, during the early years of the Third Reich, many Jehovah’s Witnesses failed to conform to their theocratic authority, adopting a more radical response to Nazi Germany to which the theocratic leadership later conformed.

I am still convinced that the theocracy structure helped reinforce the sectarian—that is, meritocratic—character of the community. But in the setting of Nazi Germany, the practical functioning of the community did not easily fit the “totalitarian” mold, since so much relied so often on the initiative of decentralized cells or groups that had to function and innovate on their own.

By contrast, the German Yearly Meeting harbored a far more heterogeneous collection of convictions. Arguably, the “quietist” sector of the German Quakers acted as a drag on the community as a whole and inhibited a more appropriately bold response. But it did not keep a good number of German Friends from becoming engaged in a range of anti-Nazi endeavors. As an expression of a corporate body of Christians, the extent of the Quaker outreach to Jews in Nazi Germany is without parallel. Such outreach was also in evidence among Jehovah’s Witnesses,[66] but it was pursued more systematically among Quakers.

While the mainstream churches and denominations focused on assisting their own members who had converted from Judaism, Quakers reached out to the wider Jewish population. On an open and corporate basis, German meetings sought to counter the social and economic isolation of Jews, participate in the creation of alternatives to the Nazi public school system, and assist with emigration. During wartime, a number of German Quakers—acting as individuals—did not shirk illegality in their attempts to help Jews.[67]

This comparison between the response of Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses to Nazi Germany, then, does not lend itself to a tidy assessment. If we are to restrict ourselves to “democratically-oriented” models, the German Yearly Meeting provides significant inspiration, particularly in its efforts on behalf of Jews and other targets of the regime.[68] Their conception of democracy could not be twisted or contorted to fit the Nazi ideological context since it was based in their most fundamental principles. One of the co-editors of Der Quäker, Lilli Pollatz, described the central Quaker teaching of the inner light as “the democratic sense of the equal worth of all humans before God,”[69] and a November 1933 article called for a “more deeply” conceived democracy that would achieve “the triumph of the divine in humanity.”[70] The democratic principles of both Mennonites and SDAs lacked this same resolve and doctrinal coherence.

But there are respects in which, as a model, the response of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to Nazi Germany remains without parallel. It affirms the value of sectarian meritocracy. In particular, the works recording their experiences and steadfastness should be reviewed closely by those of us who are Christian. Their model should lead us to scrutinize very closely just who and what we aim to be.

  1. Stange was executed on 20 February 1942. A military prison’s chaplain, Rudolf Daur, conveyed Stange’s witness in a letter to Stange’s widow. Daur had “truly wanted…to save the life of this exceptional man. But [Stange] was completely convinced that he did the right thing.” Detlef Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Third Reich (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), 378.
  2. It was only in 1938 that the SS established a system-wide regulation for marking prisoners. Before that, Jehovah’s Witnesses were already being “marked” in different camps due to their numbers. During 1936–37, Jehovah’s Witnesses made up about 5–10 percent of the population in the entire system. In May 1938, they were 12 percent of the prisoners in Buchenwald; also in 1938, every fifth or sixth prisoner in Neuengamme was a Jehovah’s Witness; in May 1939, 40 percent of those at Schloss Lichtenburg. As the number of prisoners increased, their proportion declined. The unified system of placing colored triangular patches on the left side of the chest emerged in 1938. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 394, 460, 480–81.
  3. “‘…no Christian community can stand even the slightest comparison with the number of their martyrs…they also served with us and undeniably, carried an element of humanity into the dark house…They can claim to be the only large-scale rejecters of military service in the Third Reich, who did this openly and for the sake of their conscience.’” Hanns Lilje, Im finstern Tal, 2nd edn (Nuremberg, 1948), 58, 59, cited by Christoph Daxelmüller, “Solidarity and the Will to Survive: Religious and Social Behavior of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Concentration Camps,” in Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah’s Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime, ed. Hans Hesse (Chicago: Edition Temmen, 2001), 29–30.
  4. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 541.
  5. Michael H. Kater, “Die Ernsten Bibelforscher im Dritten Reich,” Vierteljahrshefte für Geschichte, vol. 17, no. 2 (April 1969).
  6. Christine Elizabeth King, The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity (New York: Edwin Mellon Press, 1982), 176.
  7. For a fairly recent example, see Andrew Holden, Jehovah’sWitnesses:Portrait of a Contemporary Religious Movement (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).
  8. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 517–20.
  9. Peter Brock, Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1968), 847.
  10. For much of this background, I have relied on James M. Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985).
  11. On 28 February 1933, a Dutch Communist burned down the Reichstag (German parliament) building. For the Nazis, this act of arson justified the issuing of the decree mentioned above. It eliminated a number of fundamental democratic rights, including freedom of assembly and of expression. It is worth noting, however, that the decree was issued in the name of the Reich President, Paul von Hindenburg, who was not a Nazi. Hitler did not assume the office of President until after Hindenburg’s death in August 1934.
  12. The fact that, with the 5 March election, the Nazis still fell short of that mark may have fueled hostility toward a Christian community that refused to vote. An example of Nazi harassment during voting occurred already during the 12 November 1933 plebiscite: the SA forced Jehovah’s Witnesses to march around with placards asserting their betrayal of the fatherland. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 139–55.
  13. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom,73–75.
  14. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom,87–90; Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 148–9. Some details of this episode remain contested; for example, M. James Penton continues to favor the assertions that the Berlin convention opened with the Deutschlandlied and that swastikas decorated the hall. M. James Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics under Persecution (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 68–71. Garbe, while initially in agreement, has come to distance himself from such assertions.
  15. Also, by the end of July 1933, the regime decided to hold Watch Tower property hostage to ensure no propaganda “be made by this society abroad against the German government.” Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom,97–95.
  16. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 95, 100, 108, 109.
  17. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 104–5.
  18. On 9 April 1933, Nazi Germany enacted the Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, which aimed at the removal of Jews from the civil service. Protestant pastors had been civil servants until the end of World War I. Many German nationalists within the Protestant provincial churches sought to extend this new Nazi policy to the churches, calling for the imple-mentation of an “Aryan Paragraph” to remove all pastors or church officials with Jewish ancestry from office: Richard Guttridge, Open Thy Mouth for the Dumb! The German Evangelical Church and the Jews, 1879–1950 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976), 91–131. Garbe is sharp in his criticism of such statements by Rutherford, yet argues that, due to their anti-racist stance, the German Jehovah’s Witnesses should not be characterized as anti-Semitic. Penton cites such evidence, but argues for the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism among German Jehovah’s Witnesses, presenting his own evidence: Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich,76–88. In an earlier work, Penton had asserted that the ranks of the Witnesses—while free of neither racism nor anti-Semitism—have been “amazingly tolerant ethnically and racially,” and Witnesses probably identified more strongly with Jews than with any other single group. See Penton, Apocalypse Delayed, 126, 129, 130, 284–86.
  19. Penton argues this shift had taken place as early as fall 1933, citing Rutherford’s article in the 1 November 1933 issue of The Watchtower. Rutherford did not coordinate his move toward a more anti-Nazi position with German Watch Tower leaders such as Balzereit and Dollinger, who continued to seek accommodation with the regime, but faced arrest in May 1935. In April 1935, the regime dissolved the German branch office in Magdeburg, justifying the move in part with the activities of those Jehovah’s Witnesses who had failed to observe the state’s imposed restric-tions. By 30 January 1936, Jehovah’s Witnesses could not even distribute “unobjectionable materials.” Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich,66, 116–17.
  20. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 326.
  21. The Nazi courts determined that parents “have to be deprived of custody if they alienate their children from the National Socialist ideology by teaching them religious fanaticism.” There were 860 known cases of the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses being taken away from their parents on this basis. As a believers’ community, Jehovah’s Witnesses only baptize adults. Yet many children refused to perform the Hitler salute, sing Nazi songs, or observe Nazi holidays in school. As a consequence, they faced state-sanctioned and sometimes violent harassment from both their fellow students and their teachers. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 169–91.
  22. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 341–48.
  23. Since this was an affront to the judicial system, a regulation by Heinrich Himmler on 5 August 1937 provided some “relief.” As a means of less visibly demonstrating its disregard for the courts, the Gestapo began taking released Jehovah’s Witnesses into custody only after they had left the courtroom. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 243, 250, 274, 284–85.
  24. In some cases, Jehovah’s Witnesses released from the camps during wartime assisted with developing networks during wartime, although this could lead to their return to the camps. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 319, 337–40.
  25. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 404–13.
  26. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 418, 428, 439–47, 465.
  27. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 453.
  28. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 434–39.
  29. Adolf von Harnack, Militia Christi: die christliche Religion und der Soldatenstand in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten (Tubingen: Mohr, Paul Siebeck, 1905); Roland Bainton, Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace (New York: Abingdon Press, 1960).
  30. Joseph H. Lynch, “The First Crusade: Some Theological and Historical Contexts,” in Must Christianity Be Violent? Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology, ed. Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2003), 31–32.
  31. For an overview, see Albrecht and Heidi Hartmann, Kriegsdienstverweigerung im Dritten Reich (Frankfurt am Main: Haag und Herchen, 1986).
  32. For example, the Catholic priest Stephan Rugel chastised his congregants in strong terms after the 5 March 1933 election: “If in the foreseeable future a much more horrible World War comes, then I beg you already today: don’t complain because it was you who voted for it!” Georg Denzler, Widerstand is nicht das richtige Wort: Katholische Preister, Bischöfe und Theologen im Dritten Reich (Zurich: Pendo Verlag, 2003), 21.
  33. This designation would also be a problematic in the German setting. The German term for church—Kirche—applies only to institutions that enjoyed a state–church status prior to 1918. James Irvin Lichti, Houses on the Sand? Pacifist Denominations in Nazi Germany (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 11n.
  34. Winthrop S. Hudson, “Denominationalism,” in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 292–94.
  35. Ernst Troeltsch, for one, articulated this position for German Protestantism of the early twentieth century. In responding to Adolf von Harnack’s seminal essay “The Essence of Christianity,” Troeltsch rejected the notion that Christianity possessed only one true “essence,” arguing that each epoch possessed its “own” Christian essence. In line with such pluralism, Troeltsch called for a positive regard for the richness and diversity in the Christian tradition. See Sarah Coakley, Christ Without Absolutes: A Study of the Christology of Ernst Troeltsch (Oxford: Clarendon Paperbacks, 1994; first published 1988), 112, 117. Troeltsch also believed that different modes of community constituted legitimate expressions of Christianity. For example, all three of Troeltsch’s classic forms—church, sect, and mysticism—had their “germ” in early Christianity. See Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1960; first published in German in 1911), 733.
  36. Further, Barebones’ contemporary Jeremiah Burroughs asserted that “the things of religion are hidden mysteries. They are the secrets of God. They are hard to be understood. God reveals them in a differing way.” Winthrop Hudson, “Denominationalism as a Basis for Ecumenicity: A Seventeenth Century Conception,” in Denominationalism, ed. Russell E. Richey (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon, 1977), 30, 33.
  37. Troeltsch associated (passively received) “grace” with the church and (actively obeyed) “law” with the sect. For his part, Weber specified that sectarian membership was restricted to the “qualified,” that is, those who meet the sect’s specified expectations of virtuosity. Weber also recognized the sectarian imperative to maintain an even and consistent level of religious virtuosity throughout the community. “The [sectarian] community is the instrument of selection that separates the qualified from the unqualified.” This implied a charismatic authority at the level of the sect as a whole. It was not the individual who determined whether he or she belonged to a sect, but the sect that possessed a charismatic capacity to recognize the requisite level of religious virtuosity for membership. Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie, ed. Johannes Winckelmann (Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 1954), 917 (also 880, 920–21); Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, 2: 993; Max Weber, Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964; first published in German in 1922), 65, 179.
  38. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 513–20.
  39. Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 170.
  40. Close to 20 Reform Adventists were executed for refusing to perform military service. See Hans Fleschutz, Und Folget Ihrem Glauben Nach (Jagsthausen and Heinbronn: Internationale Missionsgesellschaft der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten-Reformationsbewegung). In the Christadel-phian congregation, one member, Albert Merz, was executed in Brandenburg military detention prison on 3 April 1941; his brother Rudolf was also incarcerated. Both refused to bear arms. Photocopies of Albert Merz’s final letter to his family are available through the Christadelphian congregation in Esslingen. The case is also discussed by L. Roy Waddoup, “Unpublished manuscript on history of Christadelphians in Germany” (Avon, 1983).
  41. On the Hutterite community, see Emmy Arnold, Torches Together: The Beginning and Early Years of the Bruderhof Communities (Rifton, New York: Plough Publishing House, 1964). On the Evangelical Baptists, see Hermann Rüegger, Aufzeichnungen über Entstehung und Bekenntnis der Gemeinschaft evangelisch Taufgesinnter (Nazarener) (Zürich: Bücherverlag der Gemeinschaft Evangelisch Taufgesinnter, 1961).
  42. For their part, Mennonites and SDAs actively pursued a denominational status in Germany at this time. Both actively sought to distance themselves from the label “sect,” and instead sought public designation as “free churches” (Freikirchen).
  43. Of the three, Quakers may most readily be viewed as democratic in that they adhere to consensus. However, some may question whether this is really a form of democracy. Most German Mennonite congregations had explicitly democratic structures, although a smaller number retained older hierarchal and patriarchal forms. The extent to which SDA is internally democratic is a matter of debate. SDA leaders insist that the SDA administrative structure is “representative”; however, critical commentators both inside and outside the SDA community assert that authority ultimately resides in SDA’s administrative structure and institutions. Individual congregations enjoy considerable autonomy in many matters, but “it is also clear that the local church is modeled on the same hierarchical plan as Adventism in general.” Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart, Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventists and the American Dream (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), 99–103.
  44. A classic on this process was written quite early: Wilhelm Mannhardt, Die Wehrfreiheit der altpreußischen Mennoniten: eine geschichtliche Eröterung (Marienburg: Im Selbstverlage der altpreußischen Mennonitengemeinden, 1863). See also Dieter Götz Lichdi, Über Zürich nach Addis Abeba: die Mennoniten in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Maxdorf: Agape Verlag, 1983); Horst Penner, Horst Quiring and Horst Gerlach, Weltweite Bruderschaft (Weierhof: Verlag mennonitischer Geschichtsverein, 1984).
  45. The most thorough account of Mennonites in the Third Reich is still Diether Götz Lichdi, Mennoniten im Dritten Reich: Dokumentation und Deutung (Weierhof: Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein, 1977). For a thorough analysis of German Mennonite periodical content, see Lichti, Houses on the Sand?
  46. Christine Elizabeth King offers a concise overview of the SDA response in The Nazi State and the New Religions,89–119.
  47. On SDA susceptibility to Nazi racial hygiene, see Roland Blaich, “Health Reform and Race Hygiene: Adventists and the Biomedical Vision of the Third Reich,” Church History, vol. 65, no. 3 (September 1996). For a thorough review of periodical content, see Lichti, Houses on the Sand?
  48. For a thorough review of Quakers in Nazi Germany, see Hans A. Schmitt, Quakers and Nazis: Inner Light in Outer Darkness (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1997).
  49. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 231–34, 330.
  50. Hans Albrecht, “Wo stehen wir?” Der Quäker, July 1940, 108.
  51. Emil Fuchs, “Jesu Botschaft für unsere Zeit,” address to the German Yearly Meeting, Der Quäker, November 1934, 265. Fuchs lost his position as a pastor soon after Hitler came to power; he had been active in the German Yearly Meeting prior to that time.
  52. Der Quäker, January 1935, 25.
  53. As Fuchs put it, neither völkisch nor racial theory may serve as the framework for the “choice of a life companion, the elevating experience of love.” See Emil Fuchs, “Geist und Körper im Erleben der Liebe,” Der Quäker, April–May 1937, 122.
  54. E.A. Otto Peetz, Allen Bruder Sein…Corder Catchpool (1883–1952), ein englischer Freund in deutscher Not (London, Berlin, Bad Pyrmont: Society of Friends German and British), 31–32. Regarding an American Quaker who visited Germany during World War I to bring, with Jane Addams, a token offering of milk for German children, see “Portrait eines Quäkerbotschafters, Claire Carriere on Carolena Wood,” Der Quäker, July 1936, 172–74. Already by 1914, Germany had become significantly dependent on importation of foreign foodstuffs. According to some estimates, as many as 750,000 Germans died of starvation during World War I. But the armistice (11 November 1918) did not bring relief: the allied blockade of Germany continued until 12 July 1919. Some have argued that hunger in Germany was greater during the postwar blockade than before the armistice. Individual British and American Friends managed to get some supplies through the blockade. James A. Huston, “The Allied Blockade of Germany 1918–19,” Journal of Central European Affairs, vol. 10 (1950): 161–62; Suda Lorena Bane and Ralph Haswell Lutz, eds, The Blockade of Germany after the Armistice 1918–1919: Selected Documents of the Supreme Economic Council, Superior Blockade Council, American Relief Administration and Other Wartime Organizations (Stanford, 1924), 558–60, 670–71, 796–98, as cited by Peter Lowenberg, Decoding the Past: The Psychohistorical Approach (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), 254–59. In November 1919, the American Relief Administration entrusted the American Friends Service Committee with the administration of a massive program for feeding German children. The American Relief Administration was sponsored by the United States government, and was headed by the future US president Herbert Hoover, who was himself of Quaker stock. British Friends also became involved. The program became known as the Quäkerspeisung, the “Quaker feeding.” The Quäkerspeisung continued from the immediate postwar period through the years of the Weimar Republic’s spiraling inflation. John Ormerod Greenwood, Quaker Encounters. Volume One: Friends and Relief (York: William Sessions, 1975), 221–24; “Das Hilfswerk nach dem Kriege,” Monatshefte der deutschen Freunde, January–March 1929, 14–15; Heinrich Otto, Werden und Wesen des Quäkertums und seine Entwicklung in Deutschland (Vienna: Sensen-Verlag, 1972), 215–16.
  55. Peetz, Allen Bruder Sein,24–25, 31–32, 65–71; Greenwood, Quaker Encounters, 232–34.
  56. Carl Heath, “Schöpferische Ideen im internationalen Leben,” Der Quäker, February 1935, 43. Early in 1938, leading German Quakers felt compelled to explain this ideological posture in regard to American and British Quaker efforts to ease suffering in the Spanish Civil War. Hans Albrecht clarified that, “as far as I have been informed, this work is supported from official [Quaker] position on the Franco side as well as on the other side”: Hamburg Gestapo Report, 4 February 1938. Captured German Records Group T-175, Roll 645 (frames are unnumbered on this roll), Item No. EAP 173-b-16–14/51, Provenance: Geheimes Staatspolizeiamt/II A 2.
  57. “In different ways and to different degrees [influential Quaker writers in the early years of the twentieth century] were influenced by the idealistic Neo-Hegelian philosophy which colored theological thinking in the later decades of the nineteenth century. This resulted in an optimistic view of human life and a high opinion of man as akin to God. Since then two world wars and their results in the form of totalitarian states have afforded a grim revelation of the evil that men can perpetrate.” Howard H. Brinton, Friends for 300 Years: The History and Beliefs of the Society of Friends since George Fox Started the Quaker Movement (Wallingford, Pennsylvania: Pendle Hill Publications, 1994), ix.
  58. E. Brenda Bailey, A Quaker Couple in Nazi Germany: Leonhard Friedrich Survives Buchenwald (York: William Sessions, 1994), 40.
  59. Michael Seadle, “Quakerism in Germany: The Pacifist Response to Hitler” (unpublished dissertation, University of Chicago, June 1977). I have heard this critical tone also among some German Quakers, while others have strongly defended the accomplishments of their community during the Nazi period.
  60. One example of such an activity was the distribution of anti-Hitler broadsides. See Penton, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Third Reich, 175–80.
  61. Margarethe Lachmund provides another example, when she demanded that the Nazi Party’s deputy chief for Mecklenberg end the harassment of a Jewish doctor. Seadle, “Quakerism in Germany,” 143; Schmitt, Quakers and Nazis, 125.
  62. John S. Conway, “Between Pacifism and Patriotism—a Protestant Dilemma: The Case of Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze,” in Germans Against Nazism: Nonconformity, Opposition and Resistance in the Third Reich: Essays in Honour of Peter Hoffmann, ed. Francis R. Nicosia and Lawrence D. Stokes (Oxford and Providence, Rhode Island: Berg, 1990), 90–91. Siegmund-Schultze relatively soon abandoned the pursuit of open opposition in pursuit of a seemingly more pragmatic approach of ecumenical cooperation in assisting Jewish emigration, which— interestingly—aligned with the German Quaker approach. Yet his efforts came to naught, and he faced exile already in June of 1933. Had the provincial churches spoken out persistently with the “recklessness” that the situation called for, could Hitler ever have proceeded as far as he did?
  63. The German Yearly Meeting numbered between 200 and 250 members during these years; according to one source, at least 16 German Quakers served varying terms of incarceration, some in prisons and others in concentration camps. Peetz, Allen Bruder Sein, 55.
  64. Believers’ communities do not baptize infants. They operate on the principle that membership entails an informed and conscious decision. On the significance of believers’ Christianity, see Donald F. Durnbaugh, The Believers’ Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism (New York: Macmillan and London: Collier-Macmillan, 1968).
  65. Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom, 385–91, 481, 483.
  66. Jolene Chu provides some striking examples of assistance to Jews by Jehovah’s Witnesses in “Purple Triangles: A Story of Spiritual Resistance,” Judaism Today, Spring 1999, 15–19.
  67. The corporate efforts on behalf of Jews were coordinated in part by International Centres in Germany; these were funded and managed by British and American Quakers, but the involvement of German Quakers was open and direct. For a concise overview of German Quaker assistance to Jews, see Lichti, Houses on the Sand? 185–96.
  68. The German Yearly Meeting also did outreach to political prisoners who had been released from prison or concentration camps. See Lichti, Houses on the Sand? 135.
  69. Lilli Pollatz, “Aus den großen Jahresversammlungen,” Der Quäker, July 1931, 187. To be sure, access to that light is not automatic and must be nurtured. But its universal presence leads Quakerism toward the denominational mold, and Quaker decision-making—which is consensus based—is often considered a form of democratic process. See Brinton, Friends for 300 Years.
  70. Roger C. Wilson, “Quäkertum und Demokratie,” Der Quäker, November 1933, 285.

* James Irvin Lichti,
"Model denomination or totalitarian sect? Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany"
Πρότυπο θρήσκευμα ή απολυταρχική αίρεση; Οι Μάρτυρες του Ιεχωβά στη Ναζιστική Γερμανία»],
Jonathan C. Friedman (ed.),
The Routledge History of the Holocaust
(Routledge Histories)
Routledge 2011,
pp./σσ. 358-374.

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