Letters regarding the Faith Under Fire exhibit:
December 23, 2019
At Elgin Community College, we chose to bring the exhibit “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Faith Under Fire” on campus for the month of November 2019. The Global and International Studies Taskforce (GIST) and the English Department sponsored the event as part of an initiative to bring global education into the classroom and educate students, the community, and staff about the Nazi persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during WWII. Most were familiar with the persecution of the Jews, but few were aware of the suffering and discrimination experienced by the Witnesses. To kick-off the event, U.S. Representatives of the Arnold-Liebster Foundation, Greg and Sandra Milakovich, gave a 30-minute presentation, followed by a 30-minute Skype-session with Simone Arnold Liebster, a Holocaust-era survivor.
The exhibit showcases Arnold Liebster’s persecution and that of others. It provides details of important and little-known history regarding the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi regime. Jehovah?’s Witnesses were unique in that they were the only religion that took a stand, as a whole group, refusing to salute Hitler or to serve in the military. Their faith stood in strong opposition to the racism and hatred fomented by the Nazis. This infuriated Hitler, resulting in their arrests and internment in concentration camps and Nazi reeducation “schools.” Witnesses could be released by the simple act of signing a declaration that denied their faith and pledged allegiance to Hitler. Most did not. This exhibit includes a copy of the document and stories of Witnesses who stood firm, some to the point of death, many to the point of near starvation and severe and irreversible health problems.
These stories touched students, faculty, administrators, and community members alike. The media attention brought many people to see the exhibit, even from hours away. One gentleman drove two hours to see the exhibit, as he, too, had survived the Nazi persecution. While not a Witness himself, he remembers the Witnesses and the purple triangles on their prison uniforms. He recounted how one of the Witnesses featured in the exhibit, saved his life by feeding him scraps of food meant for the rabbits. Another family came after hearing about the exhibit from a family member who lived several states away. A Jewish student commented that she belonged to a local synagogue, and she knew that several members of her congregation were interested in the exhibit.
Since the exhibit was open to visitors whenever the school was open, we were not able to capture actual numbers but it is safe to say that several hundred people visited during the month. The response was so impressive that we have decided to bring it back next semester. I highly recommend the exhibit and the presentation. This is important history that demonstrates how individuals and groups can stand up against violence and hate, regardless of what others do.
Professor of English
Elgin Community College
1700 Spartan Drive
Elgin, IL 60123-7193