Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

Skip to main content
Bookmark this Item

Decision in the Case of Franz Josef Seitz

Willi Seitz
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Willi Seitz Papers

Jehovah's Witnesses belong to a Christian religious movement founded in the United States in the late 19th century. The group's beliefs differ from other Christian denominations,1 and it has operated independently of other Christian traditions throughout its history. Because members of this movement in Germany refused loyalty to the Third Reich, Nazi authorities labeled them a danger to the Nazi national community, or Volksgemeinschaft. As a result, Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted by the Gestapo and placed in prisons and concentration camps.2 

The Nazi regime also targeted children of Jehovah's Witnesses.3 From 1933 to 1945, Nazi authorities removed about 850 minors from the custody of their parents and placed them in reformatory schools, orphanages, and foster families. Among them was Willi Seitz from Karlsruhe. In early 1937, Willi was expelled from school for not participating in patriotic activities. He was fourteen years old. A few months later, the local court decided to place the boy in the nearby reformatory school and deprive his father of parental custody. Franz Josef Seitz unsuccessfully appealed the verdict.

The featured decision of the state court in Karlsruhe upheld an earlier ruling stripping the Seitzs of legal authority over their son. The court confirmed the decision on the basis of a supposed negative influence of both parents on Willi's behavior. The court was certain that as members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Franz Josef and his wife were unable to fulfill their parental duty and raise their child in the spirit of Nazi ideology.

The case of the Seitz family illustrates the variety of victims targeted by the Nazi regime. Unlike Jews, Roma, and Sinti, and people diagnosed with certain mental or physical disabilities—who were all targeted for biological reasons—Jehovah's Witnesses suffered because their religious beliefs translated to political noncomformity. Nazi policies punished not only individuals, but also whole families who did not fit the model promoted by the Third Reich. Like thousands of other parents, Franz Josef Seitz was persecuted because he did not conform to Nazi ideas of national unity.

Although Willi's parents ultimately managed to take their son from the reformatory school and send him to Switzerland, they did not completely escape Nazi persecution. Shortly after the trial, Franz Josef Seitz was arrested for distributing illegal publications. He was eventually imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp. Seitz was liberated in April 1945 and reunited with Willi soon after.

The most significant theological distinction is Jehovah's Witnesses' rejection of the Christian doctrine of the holy trinity.

For more on the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, see Detlef Garbe, "The Purple Triangle: The 'Bibelforscher' (Jehovah's Witnesses) in the Concentration Camps," in Dachau and the Nazi Terror 1933–1945, Volume II: Studies and Reports, eds. Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel (Dachau: Verlag Dachauer Hefte, 2002), 87–114; and Detlef Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom: Jehovah's Witnesses in the Third Reich (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008). For another example of Jehovah's Witnesses' experiences under Nazi rule, see the related Experiencing History item, Letter from J. L. in the Golden Age.

For more on the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses' children, see the related item in Experiencing History, Oral History with Robert Wagemann

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .

Decision of the State Court, Karlsruhe, concerning the appeal of Franz Josef Seitz against the removal of parental custody, Karlsruhe, April 15, 1937.

State Court [Landgericht] Karlsruhe, April 15, 1937

Civil Court I

1 ZFH 33/37 Parental authority concerning Willi Josef Seitz, born March 11, 1923


The appeal of the stoker Franz Josef Seitz in Karlsruhe, Kriegsstrasse 171, against the decision of the District Court B III Karlsruhe of April 6, 1937 is dismissed with costs [to plaintiff].


On April 6, 1937, the District Court B III Karlsruhe removed from the stoker Franz Josef Seitz parental custody of his son Willi Josef and ordered in the same instance that the boy be removed temporarily to the observation station of the Schloss Flehingen reformatory school. Concerning the circumstances which led to this measure, a detailed statement of the district court is appended to this decree.

The father appealed against this ruling with the petition that the judgment be reversed. He disputes that the criteria for an infraction according to §1666 of the Civil Code are not met. He insists that he has not endangered the emotional or physical wellbeing of his son or abused the rights of parental custody vested in him.

The son had a strict upbringing and is deeply religious. Since his expulsion from school, he has taken up an apprenticeship. There have been no complaints against his son either during his schooling or during his apprenticeship.

He does not deny that his son refused to take part in patriotic school festivals, refuses to give the "German greeting," and refuses to salute the flag. But this purportedly does not stem from [the father's] influence.

He says he did not prevail upon his son in any manner and left it up to him as to how he should behave. He himself formerly belonged to the Association of Bible Scholars and still belongs today to the confession of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reference to the circumstances of the case and the charge made by the complainant will be made in detail in the file.

According to the findings, whose correctness is not disputed by the father, the boy refused to participate in patriotic ceremonies at school, [refused] to salute the flag, to give the “German greeting,” and to sing the national anthems. He explained to the school director that he would not become a soldier and, besides this, set down in two essays his opinion of current events. Consistent with his entire manner of behavior and according to opinions expressed in his school essays, the minor is not able to feel himself a German or even to evince respect for the great German men and their deeds or consciously to dedicate himself to his duties to his people [Volk] and his country. It is the specific duty of the parents to bring their children up in a way which does not alienate them from their German nature, to raise their children according to German customs and precepts, and to educate them spiritually and morally in the spirit of National Socialism in the service of the people [Volk] and the Volksgemeinschaft (Preamble and §2, Law Concerning the Hitler Youth of December 1, 1936, Reich Law Gazette I, p. 993).

An offense against this duty must be seen as a subjective failure of the parents in the interpretation of §1666 of the Civil Code. Contrary to the statements of the father, the court is convinced that the attitude of the son can be traced to the influence of the parents. The father is still a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was released from his post because of his activities as a Jehovah's Witness and also served a jail term for this [offense]. The mother holds the same opinions as the father. It is obvious that a youth at this age does not think for himself but adopts the convictions of his parents. In consideration of his behavior, he has additionally been expelled from school. [Because of this] it would therefore be impossible for him to receive the necessary further education in order to attain any career position. For all of this, [the court] acknowledges and rules with the district court that there exist the necessary preconditions to take legal measures according to §1666 of the Civil Code. Because those measures ordered by the district court do not exceed the requisite mandated by the unusual circumstances, the appeal must be rejected.

As the [court] order  according to §1666, sub-paragraph 1, Clause 2 of the Civil Code  is intended only as a temporary measure, however, the order from § 1666, sub-paragraph 1, Clause 1 should serve as the final [ruling], should such context not contradict the opinion represented in the decision of the court of appeals of 24 August 1934 (JFG 12, page 94).

Sign[ed] by Frankberg Hug[rest of name illegible] Krämer

[Form] executed:

Records Clerk of the Court Registry.


Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Willi Seitz Papers
RG Number 32.008*01
Date Created
April 15, 1937
Karlsruhe, Germany
Document Type Report
How to Cite Museum Materials

Thank You for Supporting Our Work

We would like to thank The Alexander Grass Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for Experiencing History. View the list of all donors and contributors.


Learn more about sources for your classroom