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The Declaration of Facts was an important document from the period of persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany.

On January 30, 1933 Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany's new chancellor. At the start of his rule millions were viewing the National Socialist Party (Nazis) as a legitimate ruling authority. Even in 1936 the International Olympic Games were held under the emblem of the swastika.[1]

Early court cases

Before the ban on Jehovah's Witnesses in 1933, church circles had tried, initially, to "fully utilize existing legal grounds for taking action against the Bible Students" as stated by Dr. Detlef Garbe a leading authority on the history of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Nazi era. This resulted in more than 1,000 court cases against Bible Students for "unauthorized peddling" by the end of the 1920s.[2] For years, even before Hitler was chancellor, Witnesses had been accused of being “Communists” and for being associated with the Jews in subversive political movements. In light of this, the Witnesses wanted to inform the new rulers of the true nonpolitical nature of their religion.[3]

Convention in Berlin

Thus on June 25, 1933, in spite of hostility from the Hitler regime, Jehovah's Witnesses organized a convention in Berlin, Germany. Some 7,000 persons assembled. The Witnesses publicly presented their intentions. A formal letter from the Society to Hitler was unanimously accepted by all Jehovah's Witnesses at the convention. This open letter was called, "Declaration of Facts"[4]. The letter stated that their position was one of political neutrality, however it also referred to points on which they both agreed such as the Nazi party platform points of 1920 mentioned above.

Assertion of non-political stance

The Society did not succeed in its efforts to show that the Witnesses would offer no political opposition to the Nazi regime: "Our organization is not political in any sense. We only insist on teaching the Word of Jehovah God to the people, and that without hindrance. We do not object or try to hinder anyone's teaching or believing what he desires." The Declaration appealed to the stated ideals of the Nazi regime: "Furthermore it was established by the 5,000 delegates, as expressed in the declaration, that the Bible Students of Germany are striving for the same high goals and ideals, as proclaimed by the government of the German Reich, regarding the relationship of man to God, namely (i.e.), the honesty (sincerity) of His creation, in response to the creator."

Reference to Jews

The Declaration also made reference to Jews, with statements such as: "It has been the commercial Jews (used only once) of the British-American empire that have built up and carried on Big Business as a means of exploiting and oppressing the peoples of many nations. This fact particularly applies to the cities of London and New York, the stronghold of Big Business." Thus Witnesses "vehemently responded to this slander and emphatically repudiated" the accusation of being financed by the "Jews".[5] In a separate context of the same Declaration, after stating that "it is impossible for our literature and our work to be a menace to the peace and safety of the nation," it went on and stated: "Instead of being against the principles advocated by the government of Germany, we stand squarely for such principles and point out that Jehovah God through Christ Jesus will bring about the full realization of these principles and will give to the people peace and prosperity and the greatest desire of every honest heart." Some have accused Witness leadership of attempts to cover up this history. However, Witnesses have candidly discussed these issues. [6] One former member and critic, Dr. M. James Penton, professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Lethbridge, wrote in his book Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich, in which, drawing on his own Witness background and years of research on Witness history, interprets antisemitic attitudes on the part of Jehovah's Witnesses and a "friendly" rapport with the Nazis' regime.[7]

Comments on the declaration

In considering these accusations the following points have been highlighted by historians.

  • The Declaration did not hesitate to label the Roman Catholic Church a tool of “Satan our great enemy.” [8]
  • The “Declaration does not address him as “Fuhrer” and does not conclude with the words “Heil Hitler”-as was the case at that time on most official church documents addressed to state authorities.” [9]
  • “The absence of influence by the antisemitic terminology of that time is evident from the Declaration's free and unabashed use of Old Testament quotations that include the term “Zion””[10]
  • The Declaration culminated in the statement that Jehovah's Witnesses have placed themselves on God's side and thus all who fight against them are bound to lose, “but as for us, we will serve Jehovah forever.”

Detlef Garbe

In the third edition of his book, Detlef Garbe stated: “Numerous judgments found in literature about the Wilmersdorf Declaration include erroneous criticism,or rather, are not fair to the text and the situation. Therefore, one could not say that Jehovah's Witnesses had professed antisemitism... or promoted themselves “as a possible ally.” Labels such as “congress supporting the Nazis”, “ or the assertion that the Watch Tower management had attempted to “conclude a pact with Hitler”... resulted from conclusions motivated by a desire to discredit [them] as in Gebhard's 1970 GDR documentation alleging the “criminal support of the antisemitic Hitler policy” in the Declaration.” He also notes that the charge of collaboration with the Nazis and other manufactured propaganda about the Witnesses was promoted by the East German Stasi in the 1960s.[11]. Sadly today many professional historians and critics of Jehovah's Witnesses still use this “biased book”,[12] Published under the name of Manfred Gebhard.[13] This work “was based on a manuscript by [Guenther Pape, an excommunicated Witness who subsequently wrote strong accusations against his former religious associates] which he compiled at the end of the 1960s” Dr. Garbe refers to it as having, “distorted quotations” and is characterized by a “selective use of quotes”. Even Manfred Gebhard later expressly disassociated himself from the book and its “exaggerations and falsifications” “and called it a mistake that he had agreed to the use of his name without knowing the results.”[14]

Gabriele Yonan

Dr. Gabriele Yonan, Religious Scientist and “religious scholar”,[15], of the Free University of Berlin, stated: "When the entire text of the June 25, 1933 'Declaration of Facts,' along with the letter to Hitler is, in retrospect, put into the context of the history of Jehovah's Witnesses during the Nazi regime, their resistance, and the Holocaust, it consequently has nothing to do with 'antisemitic statements and currying favor with Hitler.' These accusations made by today's church circles are deliberate manipulations and historical misrepresentations, and their obvious motivation is the discomfort of a moral inferiority."[16] Penton and Yonan do not hold each other's perspectives in high regard, with Dr Penton in a 2004 publication describing Dr Yonan as a "Watch Tower apologist".[17]

References

Template:Ibid

  1. Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945 p. 338 Hans Hesse [ed.] This book has been extensively discussed by Richard Singelenberg in the Journal of Law and Religion (Vol. 18, No. 1 [2002-2003] pp 101-119)[1]
  2. Garbe, Sendboten p. 154
  3. "Awake!" July 8, 1998
  4. Declaration of Facts (English translation)
  5. It is worth noting that the term “commercial Jews” in connection with big business can be traced back to the nineteenth century as part of the standard German vocabulary of those days and thus should not be interpreted in terms of today. Thus “if critics wish to read antisemitism into comments made by Jehovah's Witnesses in 1933, they are overlooking the contemporaneous context and committing an anachronistic error.” See: Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945 p. 318,330-331
  6. http://www.watchtower.org/library/g/1998/7/8/article_01.htm
  7. A review of Penton's book has been published in the Journal of Church & State (Vol 47, #3, 2005, pp 626-627) [2]
  8. Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945 p. 314
  9. Dr. Gabriele Yonan, p. 340 Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945
  10. Ibid
  11. Garbe, Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium, p. 106, note 82. Some research on the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in former Eastern Germany has recently been published [3]
  12. Die Zeugen Jehovas: Eine Dokumentation uber die Watchtturm-Gesellschaft, published by Manfred Gebhard with Urania-Verlag 1970 GDR; quote taken from p.310 of Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945
  13. Garbe, Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium, pp. 20f.
  14. Garbe, Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium, p. 20f and p.20 note 44; P.263 note 27; also Wrobel 1997, Erich Frost und Konrad Franke 9.1 and 9.2
  15. Detlef Garbe p. 258 Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945
  16. "Am mutigsten waren immer wieder die Zeugen Jehovas." Verfolgung und Widerstand der Zeugen Jehovas im Nationalsozialismus, published by historian Hans Hesse, Bremen, 1998, page 395 see also: [4]
  17. "Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics under Persecution by M. James Penton, Pub. University of Toronto, Canada, 2004, page 48

See also

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