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.
Max Liebster and Simone Arnold-Liebster have spoken to numerous audiences at schools, universities or museums – including several times at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington – in over 60 cities in Europe and the United States.
Since the establishment of her foundation, Simone Arnold-Liebster has held countless meetings with tens of thousands of young people, especially in American schools, about Nazi persecution and the possibilities of resistance and tolerance. To this day, she works with school classes and youth groups several times a week via video conference. As a survivor and witness, she tirelessly campaigns against forgetting and for education in tolerance and humanity and is available for projects with young people, such as the 27 January Day of Remembrance of the Victims of National Socialism 2021 held by the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg, see also here.
In 1986, Simone Arnold-Liebster was one of the co-founders of CETJAD (Cercle Européen des Témoins de Jehovah Anciens Déportés et Internés), the first organization to dedicate itself to the memory of the persecution of her victim group, which had been forgotten by the public until then, and thus counteracted a void in historical memory. She received considerable international attention for her book “Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe”, which is a moving testimony to her persecution and resistance as well as one of the most impressive memoir books about the Nazi persecution of a young person. This is emphasized by the introductory contributions by Abraham J. Peck, former Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Vice President of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, and associate of Elie Wiesel, and Sybil Milton, prominent Holocaust scholar and former senior historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is taking care of the national monuments of the Federal Republic of Germany to the victims of National Socialism, presents Simone Arnold-Liebster’s story on its youth website “Du bist anders” (You are different), based on the book. “Facing the Lion” has been translated into numerous languages and is also used as school reading in the USA, for example. Accompanying educational material is available.
A few years ago, Simone Arnold-Liebster also launched an initiative for a memorial for the Jehovah’s Witnesses persecuted and murdered under National Socialism in Europe. This initiative is supported by Uwe Neumärker, the director of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the spokesman of the Foundation Memorial’s advisory board, Professor Wolfgang Benz, further authoritative historians in the field such as Professors Detlef Garbe, Peter Steinbach, and Johannes Tuchel and public figures such as Klaus von Dohnanyi, whose family itself resisted National Socialism and was persecuted, and other survivors and their descendants from the Jewish victims’ group and that of the Sinti and Roma, who received help from Jehovah’s Witnesses during National Socialism. On 14 February 2022, the responsible Minister for Culture, Claudia Roth, declared that the memorial was “overdue” and that it was “particular concern of mine to move forward this important project of the politics of remembrance quickly”.