I have been a teacher of Holocaust/Genocide Studies for over 30 of my 37 years as an educator.
I have always believed in the importance of helping my students to recognize the chronology of victimization in the Third Reich, which was perpetrated by the Nazis against a wide variety of groups, which refused to go along with the Nazi brand of fascism.
As I teach, I help them understand that first, the Nazis identified and classified their victims. This was followed by a policy of exclusion, often followed by sterilization and then euthanasia.
The story of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Holocaust is a compelling one and must be told as they were victims, not of Nazi racial violations or physical, non-Aryan deformities, but of a belief in a faith that could never recognize the Nazis as Hitler demanded they do. A gesture such as saluting, and saying aloud, “Seig Heil” was against the very tenets of their faith.
To stand up for your faith and be willing to suffer for it, is a story which all free people must read and know about; and so I have always taught my students about the trials and tribulations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Third Reich!
There is certainly no problem with teaching students about those of faith standing up for the freedom to worship as they wish. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses had a particularly difficult and harsh burden to bear. They had their children taken from them and the parents were imprisoned in concentration camps; tortured and sometimes killed since they would not sign the documents which would force them to salute the Nazi flag and recognize Adolf Hitler as the supreme leader of the German Third Reich. To stand up for your faith in the face of death is something that must be revealed and discussed. The bravery and determination of these people is to be held up and admired.
The kit, Stand Firm has been helpful in my teaching. I always reproduce the facsimile of the document inside which the Nazis forced the Jehovah’s Witnesses to sign. It’s important for them to see this kind of aggression against the concept freedom of religion, which American children/students have long enjoyed.
I also use the story of Simone Liebster profiled (albeit briefly) in a wonderful booklet published by The Holocaust Center of Queensborough Community College entitled, A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. I use this booklet not only with my high school and college students, but also when I speak to civic/religious groups or historical organizations.
Students also need to know about the persecution of the Roma Gypsies and Homosexuals as well. I do not shrink from discussions about what happened to the homosexuals of Germany, and I believe that my gay and lesbian college students are grateful for that discussion.
Most students are aware of the persecution of the Jews, but few know of the horrible treatment of these other groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this must be remedied at every opportunity.
We were both pleased and honored to actually meet Simone Liebster via a Skype Conference last semester. After so many years of reading about her, to finally meet and be able to speak with her was a particular honor.
I give my hearty thanks to The Arnold Liebster Foundation and Sandra Milakovich for helping to arrange the conference we had with Simone in December of 2012.
I believe that all educators of Holocaust/Genocide studies must teach about the victimization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses during the terrible Nazi era in Germany. Educators must allay any fears they may have about the religious aspects of the subject.
All victims of the Holocaust must be revealed and described along with their particular punishment and pain, profiled as to provide an example of what can happen when good people stand by and do nothing when the weak are persecuted.
Thank you again for the great help you have provided in revealing what happened to the Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Third Reich.
Very sincerely yours,
Robert F. Holden
Sr. Adjunct Professor of History
Atlantic Cape Community College
341 Court House – South Dennis Road
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210