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