Due to various electronic necessities, insignificant formatting, punctuation, capitalization, etc. and other minor editing has taken place. Spelling has been addressed especially where scanning has caused errors.

Navigation is at the bottom of the page

Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose


Preaching Underground amid War's Intense Heat

JOHN: During these dark years of World War II, wherever Jehovah's witnesses were to be found, their one aim was to preach God's kingdom as the only hope for the world! Far away in the Philippine Islands, communications with the Society's headquarters in America ceased after the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941. But the work went right on! The last report from the Branch office in 1941 showed that there were 373 publishers. The work they did under Japanese occupation is a record of faith and perseverance. Here is part of the Branch servant's report after his release from prison:

The Japanese entered the city January 2, 1942, and soon established the harsh military government. Censorship began immediately. All radio receiving sets were sealed and confiscated, and there went out a decree that all publications must be submitted to the Japanese military command for censorship before they could be released to the public. Bibles from the bookstand were censored. However, not a single brother submitted the publications in his possession for censorship. They kept on witnessing with the Kingdom message uncensored. Regular house-to-house searching was done by the Nipponese in Manila and suburbs, for arms and ammunitions. They have not bothered themselves with the Lord's arms and ammunitions exhibited in the homes of the brethren in shelves.

I was interned January 26, 1942, with all other aliens considered enemies of the gloating invaders. At first under the civilian administration we were given fair treatment. But when the administration was transferred to Japanese military the internees encountered hardships. . . . The three years of internment found our health waning. We were bones and skin when the American forces took the camp. In the last months there was acute starvation. A bowl of thin rice water with salt to every person was given every day. Anything, such as camote peelings, weeds and other greens that could be gathered in the camp yard, found its way to our empty stomachs to lessen at least the horrible feeling of hunger. . . .

During the years of the Japanese oppressive military rule the friends at large pushed the Theocratic work forward. As ambassadors of the Kingdom, which is the only hope of the world, they could not wait till war was done to feed those that hunger and thirst for truth and righteousness, although faced with many kinds of jeopardies. As opportunity permitted they made good use of their few pieces of sound equipment which were not confiscated and opened model studies.... They organized thirty-one new company organizations during said Japanese' harsh rule, composed of around 2,000 publishers. Under the protecting hand of the ever-victorious King seven zone assemblies were held in different parts of Luzon island. The peak attendance was 2,000.

When the meager supply of publications was being felt the brethren resorted to a method of distribution which was found to be helpful: that of lending the books to the good-will for a week's time; which resulted in a wholesome number of back-calls, model studies and new company organizations. In this way they were able to continue in the house-to-house witness, because the supply always came back.

During the last year of the Nipponese occupation when the American forces were storming Manila and the Japanese began the massacre of innocent civilians, the publishers in the


provinces were still at it, joyfully serving Jehovah the Almighty. A house-to-house witnessing was going on. A company of brethren encountered an interesting experience while obeying the Lord. While witnessing they passed a small village inhabited by guerrillas and their families, to which they had previously witnessed. The brethren were on their way to the next town to do "our Father's business". On the way they were warned that Japanese soldiers were in town. There was no turning back now, and they continued in their usual door-to-door preaching. They saw Japanese soldiers and guerrillas bristling with guns. They were wondering why these did not start shooting, when they were supposed enemies. They were merely staring at each other. The publishers did not bother to stop, but finished their territory. On their way home they found the same small village already burning and the people bayoneted: men, women and children. How they escaped certain death, although the Japanese could get at them, there was no way of knowing except that Jehovah had protected his own peoples


In Japan itself, of course, the witness work was banned during the war. Progress had been slow in this basically pagan land from the days when the message of God's kingdom first reached its shores. That occurred in 1912 when C. T. Russell arrived there as head of a committee of the I.B.S.A. investigating the religious field in the Orient. Brother Russell and his companions made a 700-mile trip through Japan from Yokohama to Nagasaki. Noticing that the missionaries of orthodox Christianity were considerably discouraged, he concluded that "what the Japanese need is 'the gospel of the Kingdom,' announcing the second coming of Jesus as the Messiah of glory, to rule, heal and instruct all the families of the earth."

Colporteurs visited Japan about 1913 and planted further seeds of truth. In 1927 an American Japanese was sent to Japan to open a Branch. b This he did in Kobe. However, this was soon moved to Ginza, Tokyo and then to Ogikubo on the outskirts of Tokyo, where a printing plant was set up. Until the outbreak of World War II considerable work was done by a group of Japanese colporteurs, whose number reached a peak of 110 in 1938. Emphasis was laid on street meetings and distribution of the Japanese edition of The Golden Age, of which 1,125,817 copies were placed in 1938 alone.

However, with war clouds gathering, the Japanese dictators took steps to stop the work of Jehovah's witnesses. Arrests and mistreatment of the Kingdom publishers started as early as 1933, but they continued preaching, and spread into neighboring Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. One of the charges laid against the Witnesses was that they were "advocating a Jehovah monotheism." There were long trials behind closed doors, accompanied by tortures, lasting as long as two to three years. Sentences for those who refused to renounce their belief were for five or more years, and those who remained faithful were resentenced when the first term expired.

In Korea, too, the harsh hand of Japanese oppression was felt. The first witness work reported in Korea was that of a sister from England who traveled to Japan, China and Korea at her own expense and with the approval of the Society's first president, Brother Russell. Her work as a colporteur was confined to visiting English-speaking people in Korea, including many Korean nationals. During this trip, in 1915, she placed more than 600 volumes of Studies in the Scriptures.

In 1926 the Society set up a translating staff and small printing plant in Korea to prepare Korean publications for the field. Further publications in the Korean language were printed in Brooklyn and sent into the country. By 1931 two brothers were caring for the work in the depot, one handling the translation work and another supervising the work of congregations


in distributing literature. Representatives from the Society's Branch in Tokyo came to Korea for speaking tours and to instruct the local brothers. In 1933 the Japanese government seized some of the Society's property in Seoul, and on June 17, 1933, it seized 50,000 pieces of literature, including bound books and booklets. Eighteen coolie carts were required to move all of it, as reported by the Tong-A Ilbo Newspaper, Issue No. 4493. On August 15, 1933, the government seized 33,000 pieces of literature at the home of one of Jehovah's witnesses in Pyongyang. This was reported in Tong-A Ilbo No. 4452.

Japan's war lords were then embarking on conquests of Asia and they used the Shinto religion, the national religion of Japan, to weld the peoples of the huge empire together. All Koreans were forced to bow to the Shinto shrine in worship of the emperor. The refusal of Jehovah's witnesses to bow down in idol worship brought them into early conflict with Japanese authorities, but the organization itself was able to continue until 1939.

On June 18, 1938, Jehovah's witnesses in Japan and Korea began to be arrested. On June 29, 1939, the brothers at the Korean office were arrested and the same day literature was seized that amounted to 1,000 square feet of storage space. It was taken to the River Han and burned, as reported by newspapers the following day. Many Witnesses in Korea were arrested. Those refusing to bow down to the Shinto shrine were imprisoned. More than thirty received long prison terms. Many died in prison. One elderly sister was chained to a stone in a perpetual bowing position for more than two years. Our work was banned.

On this issue of idol worship, Protestants in Korea were given an easier road when their churches ruled that bowing to the Shinto shrine was a civil matter and not a matter of religion and so it could be considered as "doing unto Caesar." Even many church members could see that this was compromising, and as a result the Presbyterian church, for one, was split into sects over this issue.


In Poland, hunting for the "other sheep" was highly organized and effective, especially as carried on by the zealous pioneers:

There were also pioneers in Poland during the war. In Warsaw, for instance, whole parts of the town were worked by them. Under the cover of peddling they went from house to house with little cases selling tooth paste, shoe polish, and other little things. However, they were not too keen to get rid of their goods; on the contrary, they were pleased if they did not have to replenish their stock too often. Their purpose was to talk to the people in order to tell them of the Kingdom. The high prices of provisions and lack of money were the most favorable topics with which to begin a conversation. When the people complained, it was easy to lead the conversation into the right direction, and to tell them of the little booklet that one had already read before the war and which was so interesting. In this way they had the witness. When the brothers saw that there was interest for the truth, they "happened" to have a copy with them and lent the people No. 1. The addresses were given to other brothers, who made back-calls. They then became acquainted with these people and those who were really interested were brought together, after a few back-calls, into little groups of 5-10 persons, with whom model studies were conducted according to a fixed study plan. c

In Greece, too, the shortage of literature presented a problem that was overcome by judicious use of what was available. Witnessing in that country assumed the nature of incidental preaching:

When, in October, 1940, the war broke out between Italy and Greece many brethren who were called to service refused to serve either in combatant or in noncombatant service. Because the martial law was strict and no exemption on account of conscience was provided for conscientious objectors, the brethren passed through the martial court, and three of them


were sentenced to death, and others to sentences of imprisonment for life, and to imprisonment from 20 years to 7 years. The Lord caused to be given a tremendous testimony; the conditions developed in such a way that until now no sentence to death was executed, and all the sentenced brethren are out of prison.

When, in 1941, all communication between Greece and America was cut off we put forth all our efforts to see what could be done for the "other sheep" of the Lord and the brethren generally. So the secondary articles of The Watchtower were translated and given to them; also the books Salvation and Religion and the booklet Refugees were translated and multiplied by mimeograph to the number of 2,500 copies and given to the brethren everywhere we could reach them. Hence the meetings were not interrupted at all, but became a great blessing to the brethren.

Seeing that the books and booklets were becoming scarce, we tried to do the work by meeting the people in the parks and public gardens, sitting on the benches and giving them the testimony about the Kingdom. If the hearers were interested, we offered them one booklet as a loan and told them that we would visit them again to take the booklet and discuss with them the things they did not understand. On the second visit we offered them a second booklet and proposed that, if they appreciated these good things, they have a regular study in the booklets with other interested ones. After the study went on for two or three booklets, they were invited to follow the studies in the Tower and the large books. In this manner, by the provision of the Lord, there was established a method of making back-calls, and the number of "other sheep" has increased since 1941. d


Due to the large numbers of Jehovah's witnesses in Germany, there was more activity in that country. Also there were correspondingly more arrests. The Nazi concentration camps were notorious for their harsh and sadistic commanders and guards, yet the German Witnesses did not slacken their hands for fear of internment. Nor would they compromise their Scriptural position of neutrality for the sake of expediency. These brothers were determined to find and feed the Lord's sheep, as well as to provide spiritual assistance to one another.

By 1934 Jehovah's witnesses began to be dismissed from their jobs in Germany, not only for not going to the polls and not using the Hitler greeting, but also for not participating in the celebrations of the first of May. In October, 1936, the Angriff, fighting organ of the National Socialist party, demanded that all of Jehovah's witnesses be dismissed from their jobs throughout Germany. e

At the time of celebrating the "Lord's evening meal" special efforts were made to locate and arrest Jehovah's witnesses, as indicated in this secret order issued in 1935:

Secret state police IRI 3637-35 Berlin, March 20, 1935. From a confiscated publication of the Bible Students it can be seen that the groups of the anointed will probably assemble on April 17, 1935, after six p.m. for a memorial celebration of the name of Jehovah and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. A surprise action against the known functionaries of the Bible Students at the time stated might perhaps be successful. A report about the result of the action is requested. (Signed) Hardtmann. f

Not only "functionaries" were arrested while celebrating the Memorial of our Lord's death, but anyone who was caught attending one of these meetings. Even where only two or three assembled in their own homes, they were spied upon by the secret police and betrayed by their neighbors. In such cases even these were judged by the German courts as having violated the ban upon Jehovah's witnesses and were punished. g

For the Witnesses who refused to undertake military service lengthy sentences in prisons were imposed and the brothers were banished to concentration camps. Likewise those who refused to "heil Hitler" were viewed as committing acts against the State and given harsh sentences. Even


to have in one's possession any of the Society's publications meant sure detention. Those of the children of Jehovah's witnesses who were taken away from their parents to be adopted into Nazi homes refused to enter the Hitler youth movement and maintained their integrity in spite of severe pressure put upon them. Hitler's dragnet attempts from 1933 to 1945 succeeded only in imprisoning or banishing about half the Witnesses at any one time. This meant that about 10,000 were incarcerated while equal thousands were free on the outside to maintain underground activity and an energetic, though cautious, witness work. Funerals would be taken as opportunities for large public gatherings of the Witnesses still free to hear Bible talks and have a short session of fellowship. Small secret gatherings were held at night or out in the forests. Also, portions of the latest spiritual food published in the American Watchtower magazine would reach them in mimeographed form through round-about channels. h

Throughout all the trials of the brothers in these war-torn countries they still remembered that their first obligation was to find and feed the other sheep. This meant not only maintaining their integrity to Jehovah God because of their faith but also walking out in the face of the enemy, exposing themselves to arrest and prosecution. Even those of good will who were located and spiritually fed and strengthened by the truth themselves recognized the need to preach and join in heralding the glad tidings of God's righteous new world.

A brother in Germany reported that during the years 1934 and 1935 he found a couple who manifested great interest in the truth and studied with them in their home. He visited them regularly every week to study The Watchtower with them. When he was arrested in 1936 his wife continued the study, but she too was soon arrested and sentenced to three years.

This newly interested couple, hungrily yearning for the Word of God, were left alone, with only an address of a brother who lived some 250 miles away. The wife went there to obtain a mimeographed copy of The Watchtower and took a few copies for others and, later on as she gained strength, even participated in spreading copies over vast territories of Germany after almost all the known brothers had been arrested. The brother who first contacted them reports that after his release in 1945 he went to visit them, only to find their house had been hit by a bomb and burned completely. Upon inquiry he learned that this woman who had so zealously cooperated was later apprehended herself and arrested along with her husband. Both of them were taken to the police prison in Munich, where the husband was literally beaten to death for his steadfast attitude and his wife sentenced to death and beheaded. As far as circumstances reveal, these two faithful persons had not even had an opportunity to symbolize their dedication to Jehovah God by water immersion. Yet they were so filled with the desire to serve God and their fellow men that they literally gave their lives to that work.


The brother relating this experience himself had many narrow escapes in supplying Jehovah's witnesses with literature and spiritual food. His responsibility was to care for all the congregations in southwestern Germany. During 1935 he was arrested twice but was released and was required to report to the police every other day. Between these visits this brother would often travel from six hundred to eight hundred miles by train, visiting a


number of congregations, and then return within forty-eight hours to report to the police. He said:

Thereby exciting situations developed quite often, for on several occasions I had to take to flight and change my itinerary suddenly because I was pursued. Repeatedly I escaped arrest as by a miracle. Once I was already in a flat, caught like a mouse in a trap, for there were already three policemen there in the rooms, and despite this I managed to escape. I do not need to emphasize that during that time I could hardly ever sleep in a bed; I slept almost exclusively in railroad carriages. i

Eventually this brother was secretly arrested, although the mother of one of Jehovah's witnesses happened to be on the street and saw what took place. As a result, the effort of the police to make this brother "disappear," leaving doubt and confusion in the minds of those of his associates close to him, failed. From this time until the end of the war he was moved from one camp to another, repeatedly questioned and persecuted in an effort to draw from him the names of other brothers. Once he was questioned by Gestapo from all over southwest Germany and was not permitted even to change his underwear for four and a half months. Many times arrangements were made to "do away" with him, but always they were changed at the last minute. For almost five years he had practically no contact with the Witnesses and was without a Bible, in an effort to break him down, but his integrity never failed.

Providing the brothers with spiritual food was a hazardous but essential part of the underground operation of the Witnesses. One or two copies at a time were carried across the border and then sent by the one who directed the underground organization through reliable messengers to the various points where mimeographing equipment was installed either in cellars, attics or sometimes even in walled-in, almost undiscoverable rooms. Several brothers in Germany who were accused of preparing The Watchtower for distribution were sentenced to death and executed.

In spite of the underground nature of their work the brothers were well organized. One evidence of this was the distribution of the resolution adopted at a convention in Lucerne, Switzerland, September, 1936. About 2,500 of Jehovah's witnesses from Germany were able to attend this convention, and the resolution there adopted was distributed in all the big cities of Germany on December 12, 1936. Each publisher was given a package of twenty copies to be distributed in a certain designated territory. Each copy was put in a letter box or under the door. No one was allowed to hand a copy to a person individually. The copy would be left at a house and the Witness would quickly leave and go to another house on a neighboring street, and in this way 300,000 copies were distributed within two hours, between five and seven o'clock in the evening on this Saturday in December.

The brother who had charge of the underground activity in Germany at that time told an item on the distribution of this resolution as it was related to him by one of the government officials who had arrested him.

At 5 p.m. the distribution began. Fifteen minutes later the police got the first notice. Another fifteen minutes and the police organization in Berlin was on its feet. Then came telephone messages from Hamburg, Munich, Leipzig, Dresden, the Ruhr territory and many other cities. Before an hour had passed from the beginning of the campaign, police and SS-patrols were swarming out in all these cities to arrest the distributors. They did not catch one. . . .

The police thoroughly combed whole blocks of houses and demanded at each door the immediate delivery of the tract. As only a very few people had one and most of them did not even know about the matter, the impression was created that the whole citizenry was in league with the Bible Students, granting them by their denial a kind of solidarity and protection. This impression which, considering the bad con-


science of the government and its "strong arm," was understandable, had a destructive effect. j


One brother in Germany was pursued by the police over a wide area. Many times he was within their grasp but managed to slip out because none of them knew what he looked like. His work was the care and reorganization of the congregations in order to close the gaps that were created by constant arrests. He relates the following:

I once carried two heavy cases with copies of the book Preparation, which had been brought over the border near Trier, to Bonn and Kassel. Late in the evening I arrived in Bonn and, as a precaution, put the cases into the cellar of the home of the congregation servant. The next morning at 5:30 a.m. the bell rang. Who was it? It was the Gestapo and SS who came for a domiciliary visit. The congregation servant . . . knocked at the door of my room and told me there were visitors. There being no possibility to disappear, we could only wait and see what would happen. When they came to my room, they asked me what I was doing there, and I briefly answered that I was making an excursion on the Rhine and wanted to visit the Botanical Gardens in Bonn. They checked my papers and returned them to me contemplatively and then told [the congregation servant] to dress and go with them.

As [the congregation servant] told me later, when they arrived at police headquarters, the official said: "There was another one there; where do you have him?" "We didn't bring him with us." "What! You didn't bring him along? Well, you are a fine lot to send." "Why, shall we fetch him?" "Fetch him? Do you think he'll wait till you come?" Indeed, I did not wait long but took one of the cases and went to Kassel with it.

When I arrived there, the congregation servant said: "You can't stay here, please go immediately, for eight days now the Gestapo are visiting me every morning." We arranged that he should go fifty yards ahead of me to show me the way to a place where I could leave the literature. We had hardly gone 200 yards through the beautiful Chestnut Alley when Gestapo agents were seen coming towards us. They grinned at him scornfully, but did not stop him, and I was able to observe everything fifty yards behind him. The literature was saved. k

This brother was arrested after being betrayed by a former brother and was taken to Berlin by car. During the trip, which lasted three to four hours, he was struck constantly. This is his report:

I was like stunned as we arrived in the Gestapo cellar in the Prinz-Albrecht-Street in Berlin, and here the examination was continued for two and a half days under the most brutal ill-treatment. One questioned me, two held me fast and a third hit me incessantly with a heavy rubber cudgel. Such torture continued without letup for the two and a half days. Then they brought paper on which I was to write down everything and to betray the brothers who were working with me. When they came back and read that I felt exclusively responsible towards Jehovah and would not give any name, the ill-treatment continued. Then I was brought back to my cell but was unable to rest because of the terrible pain I suffered. Another examination followed; this time a skull lay on the table in the room. For two hours they hit me like madmen, but suddenly they stopped and threw a bundle of documents about four inches thick on the table in front of me with the remark that I was an idiotic hound to let myself be beaten like that since they knew already all they wanted to know. I quickly ran over the pages and was astonished to see what they had learned about my activity. . . . Altogether the questionings lasted forty days there. Then I was taken to Frankfort on the Main to a special tribunal where I was sentenced to the maximum punishment of five years.

Two years later the General State Attorney and a high official of the prison administration came to see me for the purpose of inducing me to change my mind and renounce my faith. If I did so, I would be released. Their efforts were in vain. Infuriated, they left me with the words: "He deserves to have his skull split open with an axe." After five years in prison I only weighed 105 pounds. 1

Although many times the brothers would receive sentences of from two to five years, this did not mean they were released when their terms had expired, especially after the war began. Berlin issued an order that none of Jehovah's witnesses were to be released. So it was off to the concentration camps or destruction camps with them! It was only in Jehovah's strength that so many of them returned alive!

Valid CSS! Valid XHTML 1.0!