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 those of earlier Christian denominations,1 and it is independent of other Christian traditions. Unlike many branches of Christianity, Jehovah's Witnesses maintain distance from secular culture and politics. They aim to remain politically neutral. Although they teach respect for governmental authority, they do not lobby, vote, hold political office, or claim allegiance to political symbols or figures. The group also rejects war and refuses military service.
Beginning in 1933, the Nazi regime in Germany banned the Watchtower Society, Jehovah's Witnesses' nonprofit corporation. The Third Reich also persecuted members of the group throughout the Nazi period. Thousands were arrested for not complying with mandatory military service (introduced in 1935) or for refusing to pledge allegiance to the state by giving the Hitler salute, flying the Nazi flag, or joining Nazi Party organizations. By 1939, the Nazi regime had detained roughly 6,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in prisons or camps.
Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States closely observed the persecution of Witnesses in Germany. The group's publications—The Watchtower, The Golden Age, and others—regularly reported on developments in Germany and reprinted firsthand accounts from German members of the group. The letter presented here is one such account.2 Although the identity of the author was unknown, the document demonstrates how such publications helped expose the plight of Witnesses living under Nazi persecution.3 Letters like J. L.'s carried detailed descriptions of arrest, imprisonment, and abuse at the hands of guards.4 In this text, J. L. notes some of the specific ways that German authorities used Witnesses' religious beliefs and practices to humiliate them and attempt to weaken their conviction.5