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70 years ago: Germans who could not fight

As the Second World War’s killing ended – in the European theatre at least – news emerged from recently-liberated concentration camps and extermination camps. Much of this PN report was based on a visit to Buchenwald a few weeks earlier by a London-based Swedish journalist.

The details of the treatment of German conscientious objectors which we print below give the first detailed factual reply to the oft-repeated war-time question – ‘What would happen to any conscientious objectors in Germany?’

We publish this record not because further evidence of ill-treatment in concentration camps is required, but because it shows how, despite weary months of ill-treatment and threats of death, men clung tenaciously to the beliefs for which they were imprisoned.

Amongst the prisoners who have been locked up in Buchenwald all the time the camp has been in existence – that means eight whole years – there are about 300 men who were brought there because of the Christian faith.

Most of the Christian prisoners are Bible Students [now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses]. Other prisoners confirmed that from the beginning to the end the position of the Christian prisoners was a unique anti-fascist demonstration.

Once, they were going to compel the Bible Students to do military service. If they refused, they were to be shot as conscientious objectors.

Two SS Companies marched up ready to shoot. The prisoners calmly faced the rifles. They refused unanimously to fight for the State which had taken away their freedom of worship. The rifles were lowered, and instead of being shot there was a further deterioration of food, and new ill-treatment. [Later however] some of the religious prisoners were executed.

The youngest of them found in Buchenwald was only 17, and the oldest was 70.

Germany is only one of many countries where Bible Students have been harshly treated for refusing military service... In Germany, persecution started as soon as the Nazi regime was established.

The greatest wave of arrests began in spring 1936, although the leaders in Magdeburg had been arrested in the autumn of 1934. All Bible Students who did not recognise the State and who refused to stop their activities were placed in various concentration camps.


From the news pages of the 8 June 1945 issue of PN. Buried Treasure is compiled by Albert Beale, author of Against All War: fifty years of Peace News 1936–1986.