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Letter from J. L. Published in The Golden Age

Golden Age
The Golden Age
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tags: letters & correspondence religious life

type: Letter

Jehovah's Witnesses belong to a Christian religious movement founded in the United States in the late nineteenth century. The group's beliefs differ from those of earlier Christian denominations,1 and it has operated independently of other Christian traditions throughout its history. Unlike many 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 the 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) and denying allegiance to the state (refusing to give the Hitler salute, fly the Nazi flag, or join party organizations). By 1939, the Nazis 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 by the Nazi government. The group's publications—The Watchtower, The Golden Age, and others—regularly reported on developments in Germany and reprinted first-person accounts from German members of the group. The letter presented here is one such account.2 Although the identity of the author and the circumstances of its creation were unknown to readers, the document demonstrates the role that such publications played in exposing 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 in which Nazi authorities used Witnesses' religious beliefs and practices to humiliate them and attempt to weaken their conviction.5

The most significant distinction is Jehovah's Witnesses' rejection of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The featured pages from The Golden Age were retrieved from a combined volume of reprinted periodicals, titled Watchtower Reprints of Holocaust (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York), 680–681.

A brief introduction appears above the English translation of J. L's letter,  offering interpretation and background from a certain "Judge J. F. Rutherford." For more the the treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses in the Third Reich, 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, ed. Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel (Dachau: Verlag Dachauer Hefte, 2002), 87–114; Idem, Between Resistance and Martyrdom: Jehovah's Witnesses in the Third Reich (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008).

Although J. L. signed only his initials, research in postwar archives reveals his identity. Johannes Ernst Löscher was born on January 25, 1892 in Kirchberg, Saxony. His persecution history is also known in detail: his house searched (December 14, 1933), interrogated (December 14, 1933), taken into custody (December 14, 1933), held in Colditz concentration camp (two weeks in December, possibly into January 1934), held in Sachsenburg via Schandau (two weeks in January), and held in Hohnstein for four weeks (middle of January to the middle of February 1934). At that point he was released (which was common for Jehovah's Witnesses at that time), which explains how he was able to compose this letter and pass to a fellow Witness to smuggle out of Germany. Information was provided by the Jehovas Zeugen Deutschland Archiv. Records of the International Tracing Service provide further evidence of Löscher's time in Sachsenburg. A package receipt list shows that Löscher received a package while in custody. Package receipt list, 1934, 1.1.3.7/4073203/ITS Digital Archive, USHMM.

For another example of Nazi persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, see the related item Decision in the Case of Franz Josef Seitz.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
The Golden Age
Date Created
August 1, 1934
Author / Creator
J. L. (anonymous)
Judge J. F. Rutherford
Language(s)
English
Location
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Sachsenburg, Germany
Document Type Letter
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