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Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


Christian Neutrals During World War II

TOM: I'm glad you could come over today instead of next Wednesday evening because we'll have all afternoon this Sunday and, as I told you on the phone, Lois and I both want to know what happened during World War II. In view of what the Society experienced during the first world war I don't see how you survived and—

LOIS [interrupting]: Yet you said a world-wide expansion program followed the twenty-year development of your theocratic organization. Did that begin during the war? Another thing. You spoke of a sort of climactic encounter with the Catholic Fascists here in America. Are you going to tell us about that?

TOM: From what Judge Rutherford expressed in his talk "Fascism or Freedom" this country must have been in greater danger from Fascist rule than most people realized. But what I'd like to know, John, is what position the Society took in Europe during the war. How did Jehovah's witnesses manage to escape annihilation by the dictators?

JOHN: Well, we'll try to answer as many of your questions as we can this afternoon, although I don't know how far we'll get. But I will say this first: Certain elements of our expansion program did begin to operate immediately, even before the year 1938 was over. And they developed within the theocratic structure throughout the war, although our opportunity to put them into wide-scale effect did not come until after the war was over. However, by that time our advanced preaching techniques were so thoroughly established, and within those few short years the organization had so matured, that expansion came rapidly.

Organizing the New World society as a completely theocratic arrangement was just what was needed. I want to go more into detail on certain features of the organization later. This theocratic structure was unquestionably a strengthening factor for Jehovah's witnesses in facing the severe trials that were already becoming a part of their daily activity. As an example, the Catholic-Fascist encounter Lois spoke of was almost as though in fulfillment of Judge Rutherford's warning to the American people in his talk "Fascism or Freedom." In the summer of 1939 a mob of Fascist-minded followers of Charles E. Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest well known for his "rabble-rousing" radio broadcasts, attempted a serious breach of the peace against an orderly assembly of Jehovah's witnesses at Madison Square Garden in New York city. This was the most brazen attempt yet by Catholic-


Fascist action in opposition to the public proclamation of the good news because it was aimed at disrupting completely the key assembly in an important chain of convention programs in America and abroad. Briefly this is what happened:



In 1939 a multicity convention was scheduled for June 23-25. Madison Square Garden in New York city was to serve as the key center for twenty-eight conventions, in Australia, Britain, Hawaii and the United States. Extensive advertising of the public talk "Government and Peace" in New York city had produced evidences that a concerted effort would be made by Catholic Action groups to prevent this meeting from being held. In view of this advance warning a large detail of police were on hand at Madison Square Garden, assigned to keep peace in the event of a disturbance. Listen to this report in the Yearbook:

More than 18,000 persons were assembled lawfully at Madison Square Garden to praise and worship Jehovah God. These were eager to hear the program. The public address began promptly at 4 p.m., and within ten minutes thereafter about 500 deluded Roman Catholics and Nazis, led by several Catholic priests, entered the Garden and found seats immediately back of the speaker's platform. When the speech had proceeded about twenty minutes those opposers, without any cause or excuse, set up a terrific howl, wildly crying out such expressions as "Heil, Hitler!" "Viva, Franco!" "Kill that damn Rutherford!" thus clearly showing that they had come to the Garden for no good purpose, but that they were there wickedly bent on doing wrong and to disturb and break up a lawful assembly of Christian people. . . . and they indulged in all manner of vile language, vituperative expressions, threats, cursings and yells, and assaulted many of the ushers who attempted to quell the disturbance. They did not succeed in breaking up the meeting, but the speech was delivered in its entirety and fully and completely recorded. a

Although the rioters failed to break up the meeting, the disturbance was clearly audible over the microphone and heard by the entire international audience of 75,000 throughout the world. The disturbance also became a part of the permanent sound recordings, which have since been played to thousands of persons throughout the world. Applause after applause by the Garden audience gave the speaker lusty support as he continued without fear to speak over the microphone and ride out the storm. Because of the failure of the police to handle this situation, Judge Rutherford wrote a letter to New York city's Mayor La Guardia, dated July 11, 1939, and since he received no response to the letter, it was published and given a wide distribution. b This letter reads, in part:

About twenty minutes after the speech began, and at a given signal from some one of them in the gallery, that company of fanatical persons began a loud disturbance of yelling, shouting and cursing. Ushers called upon the police to quell the disturbance, to which de-


mands the police officer in charge replied: "That is your job." This statement was made in the face of the facts that the policemen at the time were hearing and seeing the unlawful action of the disturbers.

Ushers lawfully in charge of the meeting hurriedly rushed to the point of disturbance and demanded of the disturbers that they cease interruption or else leave the meeting place. Instead of obeying, the Catholic fanatical disturbers violently assaulted a number of the ushers, and some of the ushers in turn defended themselves. The police did not even attempt to arrest anyone for unlawfully disturbing that lawful assembly, but they did arrest several of the ushers who were acting lawfully in the performance of their duty. Two weeks have passed and no one of the disturbers has been arrested for an attempt to break up a lawful assembly. Law-abiding citizens have been arrested for doing what the police are sworn to do but which they failed to do. c

The trial against the three ushers charged with felonious assault came before three judges of the Special Sessions Court of the city of New York on October 23 and 24, 1939. A report of this trial makes these disclosures:

True to their custom ... a part of the technique of those who described themselves as "for Father Coughlin" and as 'members of the Christian front' or 'Christian mobilizers', who are definitely associated with the Nazi "Bund" and other totalitarian radicals, and who act specifically under the command of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy, has been street fighting. It is not the ordinary type of fighting, where two men become angry and have an altercation and fight, but the custom is that which was introduced in Nazi Germany and especially used in the pogroms or riots against the Jews. Their system is to hit somebody or to cry out as though the offender himself had been hurt; to call up a sympathetic policeman and charge the actual victim with assault. . . . In New York city the so-called "Coughlinites", according to circumstantial evidence set forth in many publications, have definitely been using this technique on Jews for several months past. A refinement of the same system was planned for Madison Square Garden. Witnesses at the trial of the three ushers above mentioned plainly presented the facts to the court, that a group of several hundred Coughlinites walked from radio station WMCA, after they had finished picketing that station for refusing to broadcast Coughlin's speeches, . . . that this marauding group brought along with them copies of Social Justice magazine and shook them in the faces of the ushers, saying, "This is what you will get." d

Witnesses for the prosecution against the brothers in this trial made so many contradictory statements that the three-judge court, composed of two Roman Catholics and a Jew, not only exonerated the three ushers but commended them for reasonably exercising necessary firmness against the mobsters when the city police wholly failed to do their duty to preserve order. e


The British assemblies that were scheduled to carry the talks from New York also received advance threats of violence. Listen to this report from the British Branch servant in London as published in the 1940 Yearbook. Maria, would you read it, please?

MARIA [reading]: On Saturday, June 24, the I.R.A. (the Irish Republican Army, a Catholic terrorist movement which had been carrying out a campaign of bombing through-


out Britain for the past several months) phoned an "official" threat to the London offices of the Society, saying they would take action if the London-Belfast circuit were not canceled for Judge Rutherford's overseas lectures. This information was immediately given to Scotland Yard, and the halls in both Belfast and London were closely guarded by police and detectives. Quickly following the Saturday evening session of the convention five bombs exploded in the center of London near to the Kingsway Hall, where Jehovah's people had been meeting. This was their worst bomb outrage, causing much property damage and injuring many persons; however, their dirty work did not touch a hair of Jehovah's people. This was the third threat received from these maniacs signing themselves as the I.R.A., in the course of four months. f

The following day more than 200 policemen plus many plainclothesmen surrounded the entire vast convention hall, the Alexandra Palace, engaged for the public lecture on Sunday. Similar protection was given to the entire Belfast assembly hall both inside and outside the buildings. There were a few tense moments when sounds of the rioting in Madison Square Garden came over the air waves to the London assembly, since many, including the police, thought this might be the signal for the I.R.A. in Britain to follow suit. However, nothing happened, either in London or Belfast, and every word of this powerful public witness was heard in these two countries.


Now a more serious difficulty confronted the Witnesses, especially in Europe. Hard on the heels of this Fascist demonstration in the United States events of an international nature were developing abroad. On September 1, 1939, German troops aggressively invaded Poland. This proved to be the spark that set off World War II. Quickly Poland was subjugated and on September 3 Britain and France declared war on Germany. For several months activity seemed to halt and many began to speak of the war as a "phony" war. Such hopes were dashed, however, when in April, 1940, Hitler rapidly advanced to occupy Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Then by quick maneuvers he moved into France, forcing that nation to sign an armistice on June 22, 1940. British troops on the Continent found themselves in an impossible position and were forced to withdraw across the English Channel from Dunkirk, June 4, 1940. Britain now stood alone in the war against Italy and Germany, with all of Europe in the hands of these totalitarian forces. Across the width of the Atlantic Ocean the United States remained still uncommitted. g

As the Nazi-Fascist-Catholic war drive stampeded throughout Europe, legal restrictions and imprisonment came upon Jehovah's witnesses, crushing branch office after branch office of the Watch Tower Society, forcing them to close down. Connections with Brooklyn headquarters were severed. Following the pattern already established in Germany, Nazi occupation forces in country after country banned the Witnesses, as had been done in Austria and Czechoslovakia. This flood of Catholic-inspired action swamping in upon Jehovah's witnesses now became overwhelming and seemed about to engulf them completely. Only Sweden and Switzerland in Europe remained neutral, providing suitable headquarters from which Jehovah's witnesses could radiate their activities through underground methods. France, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Finland, Denmark and Norway all came under dictator rule. The strangling arm of the war reached down into Africa, where restraints were placed upon the Witnesses in Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Nigeria and Gold Coast.

In faraway Asia and the Pacific area


Jehovah's witnesses were opposed when the Japanese steam roller was set in motion in 1941. Banning and bitter persecution of the Witnesses ensued in Japan, the Philippine Islands, Burma, Malaya, Straits Settlements, Netherlands East Indies, Fiji, New Zealand, India and Ceylon. A global attack on Jehovah's witnesses was taking shape that appeared as though it might completely blot out the world-wide preaching of these Kingdom publishers. h


What position did the Witnesses take in this time of severe crisis? During World War I the issue had not been clear, and the results to Jehovah's servants had been disastrous. In a timely maneuver, The Watchtower of November 1, 1939, provided its readers in western Europe with strengthening counsel before the collapse of democracy there that following spring. This consisted of a full and Scriptural study of the subject "Neutrality" as practiced by God's people in olden times. This apostolic course of neutrality adopted by the Witnesses enabled them to stand firm and prepare for the hard times now setting in under German and Japanese occupation.

An extremely interesting experience came to us from Albania that specifically and dramatically illustrates this point. The brothers in Albania were persecuted from four sides, by the Greeks, the Fascists, the Nazis and the Communists. Throughout the rivalry between these groups the brothers maintained a stand of strict neutrality. In one instance at least, this stand saved a brother's life.

One time while the Nazis and Fascists were in control in the southern seaport of Bologna, a brother was visited by the Communists, who asked him to give money to aid the Communist party. The brother explained his neutrality, pointing out that he could not help the party in their underground activity. A year later the Communist that had asked the brother for help changed his political views and joined the National party. The National party used him to expose all the Communists in Bologna because he had become acquainted with them through his activity while a member of the Communist party. When they came to the house of the brother the ex-Communist said: "No, not this house; because when I asked here for help for the Communist party, this man refused to give me any because he said he was neutral." All those who had assisted the Communists were arrested, but this brother was allowed to go free.

Compromising on the part of some of the Albanian people was fatal to them. No matter which of the parties would come into town, Fascists, Nazis or Communists, some of the Albanian people would always claim to be favorable toward that particular party. But sometimes the Communists would put on the emblem of the Fascists and come into the town and ask the people their views. Those who would say, "We are Fascists like you are," would be arrested or killed by the Communists. The brothers, on the other hand, always took a position of neutrality and gave the same answer to all, whether Communists, Fascists, Nazis or some other political party.

In advance of the Japanese aggression in Asia, in fact, before the war broke out in Europe, Judge Rutherford made his first visit to Australia. That was in 1938. He had been in the Hawaiian Islands in 1935 when a new Branch was established in Honolulu and arrangements were made for the construction of an assembly hall in connection with the new Branch building that was being erected. i This meeting hall was called "Kingdom Hall," which was the


beginning of the practice of Jehovah's witnesses the world over of calling their congregational meeting centers Kingdom Halls. j

Judge Rutherford was well received by the general public in Australia on his first visit in 1938, although here, too, extreme religious prejudice and pressure tactics manifested themselves. k An extensive advertising campaign was conducted to notify the nation of his personal visit and of the public lecture "Warning," which was to be delivered at Sydney's Sports Ground as a climax to the convention held during his visit. The assembly was attended by Kingdom publishers from every corner of the territory covered by the Australian Branch: Malaya, Java, French Indo-China, Shanghai, New Zealand and all states of the Commonwealth. Although arrangements had been made to broadcast the talk, pressure exerted by local religious leaders on the Postmaster General's Department prevented it. A petition of protest signed by 120,000 persons in ten days was ignored.

Following this talk by the Society's president, which was enthusiastically received by the 25,000 persons present, a copy of the speech was delivered that same afternoon to the newspaper office that had contracted some weeks previously to print it. Here again fear of religious pressure resulted in a violation of an agreement to carry this important lecture to the public at large. However, the talk was recorded and made available to thousands of persons throughout the world in this way. l On his way back to the United States, the Society's president stopped at New Zealand, Fiji Islands, American Samoa and Hawaii. m


In Britain, too, the brothers prepared to weather the storm of World War II and zealously followed a strict course of neutrality. At the beginning of the war Jehovah's witnesses were in the news in Britain due to the wide distribution and discussion of the White Paper (Germany No. 2), issued October 30,1939, and entitled "Treatment of German Nationals in Germany." The facts presented in this White Paper were based on a report compiled by Sir Neville Henderson, British ambassador to Berlin up to the declaration of war, September 3, 1939, and included experiences of Jehovah's witnesses in Germany. Here is a quotation from this White Paper:

There were 1,500 Jews and 800 Ernste Bibelforscher [International Bible Students] . . . Each man wore a badge—Jews yellow with the star of David, Bible Students violet, etc. . . . Jewish prisoners wrote and received letters twice a month. The Bible Students were allowed no communication with the outside world, but, on the other hand, their rations were not cut down. Herr X spoke with the highest respect of these men. Their courage and religious faith were remarkable, and they professed themselves ready to suffer to the uttermost what they felt God had ordained for them.

. . . the "Bibelforscher", a religious sect taking its doctrine from the Bible and having a considerable membership in every part of the country, but proscribed by the Gestapo since its members refuse military service; these unhappy people were almost as badly treated as the Jews. n

On November 15, 1939, the Society's London office issued the following statement to all members of Parliament, religious leaders, local officials and the press:

Jehovah's witnesses, wherever they reside, are loyal to the laws and customs of the countries, seeking to serve God and are of goodwill to all men. If they are judged by men as disloyal it is only when a human law is enacted which interposes a human instruction contrary to the Scriptures, or would give to a man the worship which belongs only to Almighty God. That the position of Jehovah's witnesses in relation to present events may be clear, a pamphlet


republished from The Watchtower is enclosed. At the same time this makes plain the reason for their NEUTRALITY in all cases, and why they are unable to take part in anything military.

On behalf of the thousands of Jehovah's witnesses in Britain we wish to make this position clear. As servants of the Most High God, our position is identical with that of our German brethren, namely, that of strict NEUTRALITY. Our devotion, service and loyalty are consecrated to Jehovah's THEOCRATIC GOVERNMENT, and according to John 17:16, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." We also enclose a copy of our publication Government and Peace for your perusal. o

This statement also made reference to the recognition by the British government through its White Paper that Jehovah's witnesses in Germany were also persecuted for failure to take up military service. As a result of this bold stand publicized throughout the land, a foundation for a year of uninterrupted theocratic service was laid. The authorities and the people learned that Jehovah's witnesses were not pacifists and had no connection with the many pacifist movements that were causing trouble in Britain. The only opposition received came from the Catholic-controlled press, which endeavored to brand Jehovah's witnesses in that land as subversive.

Many were the harrowing experiences of the brothers in Britain due to the repeated Nazi bombing attacks. Here is one of the Branch servant's reports:


An incendiary bomb pierced the roof of Central London Kingdom Hall, Craven Terrace, and set up a blaze inside amongst the furnishings. This fire was quickly brought under control by the Bethel brethren on fire watch duty. That same night seven fire bombs fell on the Society's premises where the Bethel home and office are located. To show how the demons made the London Bethel a target, in three months twenty-nine high-explosive bombs have fallen within a few hundred yards of the Society's office, the nearest being across the street thirty yards away. One of the largest bombs which caused a city record for damage dropped only seventy yards to the rear of the Bethel. The office was twice threatened with raging fires consuming buildings fifteen feet in back of Bethel. The Bethel home has rocked many a time just as in an earthquake. Cracks in the walls have had to be repaired. There have been nights of horror and death which no members of the family will ever forget. In spite of all this the "strange work" in London and throughout Britain progressed as never before, bringing hope, consolation and comfort to thousands who are seeking true refuge. p

In the "Battle of Britain," including its terrible ordeal of air war, less than a dozen of the more than 12,000 witnesses of Jehovah residing in the British Isles lost their lives. Many of the Witnesses suffered injury and lost their homes and Kingdom Halls in the Nazi air raids. Nevertheless, the true worship of Jehovah continued on and house-to-house preaching was maintained at a high level. Congregational meetings were transferred to Sunday afternoons to avoid dangers of night air attacks. But the meetings were held regularly. Much hope and comfort were brought to thousands of honest-hearted British nationals by the extensive preaching campaign carried on by Jehovah's witnesses throughout all the war years.

Large zone assemblies were held on schedule as if no war existed. Some sessions were held even during actual bombing raids. In a night raid Manchester's large Free Trade Hall was demolished, just after Jehovah's witnesses had completed their 1940 national convention in that city. Most amazing, though, was the convention held at Leicester, September 3 to 7, 1941, where some 12,000 Witnesses assembled for a five-day theocratic convention amid war's hardships and regimentations. In the face of unfriendly forces, almost insurmountable obstacles at every turn had to be overcome as to feeding, accommodation and transportation in order to assemble such a vast number. The recordings of Judge Rutherford's principal lectures at the St. Louis, Missouri, convention, Au-


gust 6-10, 1941, in the United States had been sent by airmail to London just in time for the censors to clear them for this British convention. This was indeed a spiritual lift to the brothers in Britain, demonstrating the unity and loving co-operation manifested by Jehovah's witnesses even during these trials of the war years. q

Because of an embargo placed on shipments of literature from Brooklyn, the brothers in Britain were forced to undertake fairly large printing operations inside Britain in order to keep up the flow of publications into the field, where a large band of active pioneers were serving the need of thousands. Later, importation of the Watchtower magazine was banned to subscribers in the British Isles. However, the main study articles were printed locally, since these were not prohibited; so no interruption was necessary in the hundreds of weekly Watchtower study meetings.

In Britain there was total regimentation of both males and females. Military exemption was refused to the brothers by many of the judges, which meant that 1,593 convictions followed with total prison sentence time exceeding six centuries. Of those convicted, 334 were women who were required to spend time in prison along with their brothers for failing to accept national direction to perform war duties. In Britain, too, serving as pioneers, were Witnesses who had fled as refugees from Poland, Germany, Austria, Belgium and France. These had come to England prior to the war, but as the war intensified, the government interned them in a camp on the Isle of Man for the duration of the war. American and Swiss nationals who were Jehovah's witnesses were deported.

So despite heavy restrictions and war limitations, Jehovah's witnesses in Britain maintained their neutrality and their integrity to God. The fight for freedom to worship Jehovah did not subside or die out in Britain. Rather, it was waged more intensively than ever before as in other parts of the world.


Throughout the British Commonwealth Jehovah's witnesses were subject to restrictions and, in some places, total ban. In Canada, for instance, the brothers persevered during the war amid great hardships. In the earlier years of the Society the work in Canada had developed under the Brooklyn office along with the American congregations. But, as you will recall, in 1918 a separate branch office was established in Winnipeg. r After the close of World War I and shortly after the ban against the Witnesses in Canada was removed, January 1, 1920, the Society's Canadian office was transferred to Toronto. s In 1925 the charitable corporation named International Bible Students Association of Canada was organized and became the owner of the Branch headquarters' property. t

The work advanced well through the years. But in 1936 some in prominent positions deflected from the truth, requiring administrative changes. The lack of spiritual insight that made these changes necessary had temporarily slowed up the work, but with a new administrative force operating, spiritual conditions improved and a greater forward movement in the witness work resulted. u

Throughout all this time, in Catholic Quebec strong opposition was encountered, including continued arrests. But the real "Battle of Quebec" was reserved for later years, as we are going to see in our further


discussion. The arm of Catholic Quebec was long, however, and on July 4, 1940, at the peak of Hitler's European conquests, the Quebec Catholic who was Minister of Justice at that time, namely, Ernest La Pointe, passed an order in council that placed a total ban on the activities of Jehovah's witnesses' corporation, the I.B.S.A. of Canada. v

With war reversals at their peak for the democracies, Jehovah's witnesses were made easy scapegoats, and a modern inquisition followed. Spying upon neighbors was encouraged, homes were raided, private libraries seized, Bible meetings broken up, Memorial celebrations interrupted and even copies of the well-known King James Version of the Bible were confiscated and ordered destroyed. The public press, too, was bitter in its attack, and these outrages swept from one end of the country to the other. w

All this came upon the Canadian Witnesses suddenly and by surprise, but they by no means took it lying down. Immediately they began to build up an extensive and efficient underground system that enabled them to meet in small groups for Bible study and to carry on their preaching activity. These Witnesses, the same as their brothers under totalitarian rule, were determined to serve God, not man, and refused to allow man-made laws or interferences to prevent them from fulfilling their God-given commission. At length some 5,000 publishers were on their feet carrying on back-call and Bible study work.

One morning in November, 1940, the brothers rose very early and flooded the country from end to end with copies of a special booklet entitled "End of Nazism." The booklets were left under the doors of the people and, when they awakened, they found on their doorsteps this bold and courageous declaration that shortly God's kingdom under the Lord Jesus Christ would assert itself and destroy all opposition and would put an end to all totalitarian power. Although more than 7,000 Witnesses participated in this special campaign, less than ten were arrested and not one was charged with distributing subversive literature, although the message was similar to that which had been delivered in the country for many years. x

Halfway around the world in another part of the British Commonwealth, the brothers were suffering further restrictions on their work. In Australia the religious leaders began to encourage political action against the energetic Witnesses from July, 1940, onward. As a result, on January 16, 1941, Prime Minister Menzies prematurely announced in Parliament his government's proposal to ban Jehovah's witnesses. The next day, January 17, the order in council was gazetted, restraining the activities of the Society and its legal corporations, including the Adelaide company of Jehovah's witnesses, which owned a Kingdom Hall, which the government soon took over. Bethel headquarters was also seized and occupied by the government. y

But in all these countries Jehovah's witnesses were not deterred from their God-given commission to preach this good news of the Kingdom. In all parts of the earth the Kingdom witness continued, and some of the accounts of courage and ingenuity displayed by the brothers under totalitarian rule are thrilling beyond measure.

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