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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


The Fight for Liberty to Preach

TOM: John, you said the radio work of the Watch Tower Society played an important part in the struggle that developed during the 1930's between Jehovah's witnesses and the prominent religious organizations. But what about the work in Fascist and Nazi countries?

JOHN: As might be expected, the preaching of the good news in Catholic-dominated Italy and Germany was bitterly opposed. Little headway had been made in Italy since 1891, when Pastor Russell made his first European tour. In 1903 the Society arranged to have the Watch Tower translated and published there in Pinerolo, Turin, but it was distributed through a news agency. In 1905 the book The Divine Plan of the Ages was translated into Italian with the result that, in 1912, when Pastor Russell made another visit to Italy, he found a congregation of about forty meeting in a village near Pinerolo.

The work developed slowly, though. Five pioneers came in from Switzerland during the early years of Fascism, 1922 to 1927, but a national convention in Pinerolo in 1925 brought out only seventy delegates from Italy and Italian Switzerland. A. H. Macmillan from the Society's headquarters attended that convention. Then, in 1932, the Society opened a depot and began one of its most active campaigns. The booklet The Kingdom the Hope of the World was printed locally and twenty capable workers from Switzerland distributed 200,000 copies in twenty cities of northern Italy. Then the trouble started. Cardinal Schuster's newspaper, L'ltalia, came out with a strong denunciation of this activity, with the result that the Fascist police made a sudden move against the Society's office and closed it in July, 1932. The police admitted that the clergy were responsible for the harsh measures against this Bible-booklet distribution, compelling the Fascist government to act on the Concordat signed with the Catholic Church in 1929.

The work in Germany, however, was showing considerably more progress. In fact, during a special campaign in 1933, there were almost as many Witnesses in the field in that country as there were in the United States. This campaign was one of a number the Society conducted during the 1930's that were called "International Testimony Periods" and that were of eight days' duration. It was a concerted effort of the Witnesses all over the world to demonstrate their unity by spending every day that week giving the same testimony and distributing the same publication.

According to the reports for this particular campaign called "The Remnant's Thanksgiving Period," April 8-16, there


were 58,804 workers in seventy-seven countries. a A booklet called "Crisis" was being distributed. There were 20,719 workers that reported in the United States, and in Germany there were 19,268 Witnesses in the field. The German Witnesses distributed 2,271,630 pieces of literature, whereas in the United States 877,194 pieces were placed.

Catholic opposition, though, was strong and by the time of this campaign Hitler had come into power. But it had not prevented an intensive witness from being given. During the years 1931 and 1932 there was reported a total of 2,335 legal actions pending against the German Witnesses; b yet, in the period from 1919 to 1933, they had distributed into the hands of the German people 48,000,000 books and booklets and 77,000,000 copies of the German edition of The Golden Age. c

Now, in the United States, the real fight over the use of the air waves began. Pope Pius XI had declared 1933 a "holy year" that was to usher in an era of Catholic action designed to bring peace to the nations. Simultaneously, in the spring of 1933, American Catholics organized a nationwide campaign under the leadership of their cardinals, bishops and priests to "drive Rutherford off the air." Their plan was to intimidate owners of radio stations under threat of boycott into refusing to sign contracts with the Witnesses for the use of their broadcast facilities for their recorded lectures. You will recall that by this time the international broadcast voice of the Society was being heard through 408 radio stations. d In spite of the threats of boycott, however, the radio work continued to expand and the Society poured millions of dollars into this feature of the service, although these years, 1929-1935, found America in the grip of its great depression. e

At this same time another feature of service was being developed aside from the radio broadcasts. Public and private gatherings were held where 33⅓ rpm transcription recordings were played. These were the same as those used for the radio broadcasts. During 1933, 4,646 such meetings were held, with a total attendance of 240,434 persons. f Furthermore, sound cars were used to cruise along the streets and play the recorded public lectures wherever people might hear. g In the years that followed, this sound service proved an effective means of reaching the public.

Then, following as a climax upon "The Remnant's Thanksgiving Period" in April, on the 23d of the month, the Society's president broadcast his historic radio lecture entitled "Effect of Holy Year on Peace and Prosperity." This talk laid bare the vain hopes set out by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy for the people, branding them as a counterfeit of the peace and prosperity promised through the Kingdom of God. The talk was broadcast over fifty-five radio stations.

Two months later, on June 25, arrangements were made to broadcast the full-hour lecture by transcription over 158 stations. In preparation for it and to stir up the radio audience, five million invitations in leaflet form were distributed in the house-to-house work. h The reaction was immediate, bitter and intense on the part of the Hierarchy. Catholic intimidation increased and certain radio managers fell victim, refusing to carry any further Watch Tower programs.


Meanwhile, in Germany an overt act of the government induced Judge Rutherford


to make a hurried trip to that country. With Hitler now dictator there since January, 1933, opposition had become severe. Early in April the police occupied the Society's large factory and Bethel home in Magdeburg, Germany, closed it up and put a seal on the Society's printing machines. Originally the Society's Branch was established in Barmen-Elberfeld in the Rhineland area. But in 1926 it was decided to move the headquarters nearer to Berlin. Magdeburg, a large city about fifty miles northwest of Berlin, was chosen as the site and the Society had built new, spacious, well-designed buildings for an excellent printing plant and for the Bethel family. Hitler's government closed the Branch because of a charge that had been made that the Society was subversive and, pending an investigation, no work could be done by the brothers. Since no real evidence could be found, the Society was allowed to resume control of its property on April 28. This allowed the brothers at the headquarters office to compile the special report for the April testimony that they had carried forward with such great zeal.

Judge Rutherford had been watching the German situation closely and was well acquainted with its development as it affected the witness work. With this serious turn of events he lost no time in going to Germany, accompanied by N. H. Knorr, to see what could be done. On June 25, the same date scheduled for the rebroadcast over 158 radio stations of the lecture "Effect of the Holy Year on Peace and Prosperity" in the United States, a convention was called in Berlin. There a prepared Declaration of Facts was presented to the 7,000 in attendance in protest against the Hitler government for their highhanded interference with the witness work of the Society, and was unanimously adopted. The declaration was mailed to every high officer of the government from the president down to the members of the council, and 2,500,000 copies were given public distribution. Retaliation came quickly. Three days later, on June 28, for the second time the Society's property was seized and occupied, and by government decree its printing plant was closed. There were 180 members of the Bethel family that were compelled to leave the premises.

A clue to the real cause of the trouble is found in the following statement that was written by a Catholic priest in Berlin and published in The German Way under date of May 29,1938:

There is now one country on earth where the so-called "Earnest Bible Students" [Jehovah's witnesses] are forbidden. That is Germany! The dissolution of the sect which, at that time, had found a strong foothold in Germany, did not come to pass under Brüning [chancellor of the German Reich before Hitler], although the Catholic Church in Brüning's time urged to have this done. However, the "most Catholic chancellor" Brüning answered that he had no law which authorized him to dissolve the sect of the "Earnest Bible Students".

When Adolph Hitler had come to power and the German Episcopate repeated their request, Hitler said: "These so-called 'Earnest Bible Students' are trouble-makers; they disturb the harmonious life among the Germans; I consider them quacks; I do not tolerate that the German Catholics be besmirched in such a manner by this American 'Judge' Rutherford; I dissolve the 'Earnest Bible Students' in Germany; their property I dedicate to the peoples' welfare; I will have all their literature confiscated." Bravo!

However, the American Episcopate, even Cardinal Mundelein, is not able to have Rutherford's books, in which the Catholic Church is slandered, to be taken away from the book-market in the United States! i

Seizing the Society's property at Magdeburg was a flagrant violation of international property rights, because title was held by our American corporation. In an effort to regain control of the property, an


appeal was made to the United States Department of State urging a protest against this highhanded action of the German government. As a result of the negotiations that ensued between the State Department of the United States and Germany, the German government entered an order for the release of all the Society's property and turned it back into the possession of the brothers there.

However, the order that had been entered in June at the time that the property was seized had also placed a ban on the preaching activities of the Society. This was not lifted, and in the period from June to October the government police had seized and carried away and burned over $25,000 worth of literature, books, booklets, Bibles and other materials belonging to the Society. Meetings of the Witnesses were forbidden and distribution of the literature halted. j This did not stop the energetic German Witnesses, however. Accepting their God-given commission above all orders of men, they continued to press the battle to the gate of the enemy throughout this entire period of Nazi control in Germany. They were mightily strengthened to faithfulness by the publication of the leading article, "Fear Them Not," in the Watchtower issue of November 1, 1933.


TOM : Were there any other developments as a result of Rutherford's talk exposing the Holy Year?

JOHN: The opposition was rapidly becoming more heated, especially in New Jersey. In July, 1933, while the results of Hitler's seizure of our German property were still in the balance, the Society's president decided to hold a public meeting in Plainfield, New Jersey, because of the persecution being experienced there. Rutherford's subject "Intolerance" was well-chosen for the occasion because of the Catholic strong-armed tactics that were revealed at that assembly. k

Plainfield was the very center of the Catholic battleground in New Jersey. For this special program, Sunday, July 30, the Society engaged the two largest theaters in Plainfield and arranged for wire communication between them. One theater, as the key hall, was to provide facilities for a chain broadcast in which WBBR would participate as well. Many of those used as attendants or ushers at this meeting were members of the headquarters staff at Brooklyn, and this incident has been related:

Each of these attendants had been given a package, well-wrapped and sealed, with instructions not to open it until told to do so later. Shortly before Judge Rutherford arrived, more than fifty police swept in to "guard" both theaters. They noticed that every attendant had one of these packages of uniform size. This made them extremely nervous. One officer asked an attendant what he had in his package. The brother responded that he didn't know. Not believing him, the officer ordered him to open it. But the attendant refused, explaining the instructions he had received with the package. The officer went back to report. He returned with his superior who took charge and, himself, commanded the brother to open the package, which he again refused to do. Thereupon, the senior officer told his subordinate to pick it up. He did so, obviously shaking as he carried the package away. They opened it and found that it contained not a bomb, as they had supposed, but only fifty harmless copies of the Golden Age magazine containing the lecture that Brother Rutherford was going to deliver that afternoon. The police re-wrapped the package and returned it sheepishly to the attendant.


When Brother Rutherford arrived at the theater, to his amazement he found that the police had taken over the entrance to the stage at the front of the theater auditorium. As he walked onto the platform he saw that the police had two machine guns behind the drapes. These machine guns were so placed that he would be forced to speak directly in front of them, as they were trained on him and the audience. This made Judge Rutherford extremely angry, but his vigorous protests failed to budge the police or their guns. They said they had been tipped off that there was going to be a riot and they were there to maintain order. But, regardless of what their intentions might have been, the talk was delivered without incident and enthusiastically received as was the booklet Intolerance later published and widely distributed.

Arrests continued. At first statistics were not kept, but in 1933 throughout the United States 268 arrests were reported; in 1934 there were 340; in 1935, 478, and in 1936, 1,149. l Kingdom publishers were brought into the courts and charged with selling without a license, disturbing the peace, peddling without a permit, violating Sunday sabbath laws, and they were being classed as solicitors or itinerant merchants rather than as ministers of the gospel. m The main defense against this action, of course, was in the courts of the land, and since Jehovah's witnesses were within their constitutional rights in practicing their religion by calling at the homes of the people, they fought this battle to a finish.

To assist the brothers throughout the country, the Society established a legal department at headquarters to render aid and counsel in this all-out fight that was clearly developing. Judge Rutherford, of course, was a lawyer himself, but as president of the Society he was far too busy with his administrative work, his writing and his travels to care for these details himself. Therefore brothers who were lawyers were made members of the headquarters staff in order to operate this new department.

An "Order of Trial" was printed by the Society under Brother Rutherford's able legal direction. n This was provided to encourage and instruct the brothers in handling their own cases in court. Furthermore, acquainting them with their legal rights as it did, it encouraged them to continue in the work and enabled them to hold their own with those community officials who tried to bluff them out of their legal rights. A regular campaign of training was given the brothers at the service meetings, where mock trials were conducted. The brothers would take turns defending themselves on this issue of freedom of worship. This proved to be a real defense, especially for those who lived in the battle areas. But it also provided an answer for others when questioned by hostile or curious persons encountered in the field.

TOM: It would seem to me that if local officials were hostile enough to arrest you or to stand with machine guns in front of a public meeting as they did in Plainfield, New Jersey, you wouldn't have much of a chance in the lower courts. Most community feeling runs high on issues like this. At least that's been my experience.

JOHN: That's true. Most of the cases tried in the lower courts were lost by Jehovah's witnesses. But from the outset the policy


of appeal was adopted. Had we not done so, such a mass of adverse judgments would have accumulated against us that it would have been impossible for us to carry on our work at all. The battle in the courts was long and hard fought. But the position Jehovah's witnesses had taken in their stand on freedom of worship was vindicated and has secured benefits for persons of all religions up to this present time. There's much more to tell about this legal battle in the courts and we'll get back to it later.


About this same time another means was found of getting the preaching done in these "hot spots." In 1933 volunteers were called for from all over the United States to report for special preaching duty. Here again Jehovah's witnesses went on the offensive. The 12,600 publishers who volunteered for this special service were always ready upon quick call to engage in house-to-house field service on special missions in areas where trouble had arisen or was anticipated. Special tactics of witnessing had to be employed in these instances because these servants were sent into territory where some of their brothers had been arrested in the regular field work. When a report of such arrests came to Brooklyn Bethel headquarters, a call to action was flashed to the nearest division to proceed to the trouble spot and perform their special work.

Throughout the United States there were seventy-eight divisions. o Each division was composed of ten to two hundred automobiles with five workers in each. Whenever an emergency call was sent out for a division to respond for duty, all the car groups would report at a specially announced rendezvous, generally in the country some miles away from the town where the trouble had arisen. Here detailed instructions were given and individual car groups were assigned. The territory was so divided among these groups that when they were in action the entire "trouble spot" would be covered within a period of thirty to sixty minutes.

If an individual was arrested he was immediately to call a previously designated number when he arrived at the police station. Attorneys were on hand with bail money to come to the rescue of such ones. While the witness work was proceeding a committee of brothers would also call on the police to provide them with a list of all the Witnesses that were visiting the people in their community that morning. By the time this visit was over the witness work was generally almost finished.

This arrangement made it possible to overwhelm the opposers by sheer numbers so that, no matter how "hot" the territory was, practically every house was reached with the good news of the Kingdom. The only thing the enemy could do in such circumstances was to arrest twenty or thirty or whatever the local jail would hold and let the rest go. If the local congregation tried to do this, half of them would be put in jail, where they would have to spend from ten to ninety days, and the field would be left practically untouched. It was by using all these means available to them that the Witnesses were able to keep the work going in the face of the intense opposition being encountered on all sides.

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