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Historical overview – Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Christian denomination of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as the International Bible Students, was persecuted from the beginning under National Socialism and was the first religious community to be banned in 1933. The National Socialists mainly used the term Bible Students because they hated the Jewish name of God Jehovah and the references to the Hebrew Bible.

Jehovah’s Witnesses offered religious resistance to the dictatorship by refusing the Hitler salute, membership of Nazi organisations and participation in war, violence and arms production, by showing solidarity with other victim groups and by publicly exposing the criminal nature of National Socialism.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were systematically persecuted in the German Reich and in large parts of Nazi-ruled Europe. More than half of the believers – at least 10,700 German Jehovah’s Witnesses and 2,700 from the occupied countries of Europe, women just as much as men – suffered direct persecution, mostly in the form of imprisonment. About 2,800 Jehovah’s Witnesses from Germany and 1,400 others from Nazi-occupied Europe were imprisoned in concentration camps. They were stigmatised with a special identification mark, the “purple triangle”. In the early concentration camps, they constituted one of the largest groups of prisoners. 1,250 of the persecuted were minors, 600 children were taken away from their parents by the Nazi state.

At least 1,700 Jehovah’s Witnesses lost their lives as a result of Nazi tyranny.

Among them were the 282 Jehovah’s Witnesses executed for conscientious objection. A further 55 conscientious objectors died in custody or in penal units. This is the largest group of conscientious objectors under National Socialism. The incorporation of the fundamental right to conscientious objection in the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany goes back essentially
to the recognition in the Parliamentary Council for these murdered Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Historical overview – Persecution of the Arnold and Liebster Families

Born in Alsace on 17 August 1930, Simone Arnold-Liebster belonged with her parents to a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mulhouse. Attending school became a daily test of her principles since the German invasion in 1940: Her conscience had to rise up every day against the omnipresent coercion. The “Germanisation” of Alsace transformed teachers into fanatical National Socialists. Simone Arnold-Liebster was psychologically and physically abused, expelled from high school, finally snatched from her mother in April 1943 and taken to a Nazi reformatory in Constance. There she had to do forced labour and endure mental abuse. If she had not been liberated, she would have been transferred to a concentration camp at the age of 15.

Simone Arnold-Liebster’s closest friend Marcel Sutter was beheaded for conscientious objection in Halle on 5 November 1943 at the age of 24. Simone’s father Adolphe Arnold endured the concentration camps Schirmeck, Dachau, Mauthausen and Ebensee since his arrest by the Gestapo in September 1941, her mother Emma Arnold suffered the concentration camps Schirmeck and Gaggenau since 1943. There, at the risk of her life, she saved the lives of others such as the resistance fighter Louise Blazer, who was later awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations”. Throughout their lives, Adolphe and Emma Arnold remained marked by imprisonment and torture, but committed to a path of reconciliation and humanity.

Max Liebster, who was born on 15 February 1915 in Reichenbach in the Odenwald (Hesse, Germany) and died on 28 May 2008 in Aix-les-Bains, and to whom Simone Arnold-Liebster had been married since 1956, came from a Jewish family. Many of his family members were murdered. Max survived the concentration camps and extermination camps Sachsenhausen, Neuengamme, Auschwitz and Buchenwald.