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Imprisoned for Their Faith – The Jehovah’s Witnesses Versus Nazism


A temporary exhibition on the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were victims of Nazi persecution from 1933 to 1945 opened in the Visitor Reception Building at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim on September 21, 2004.

The idea for the exhibition originated with Teresa Wontor-Cichy, a historian in the Historical Research Department at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and author of the book Imprisoned for Their Faith: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which the Museum published in December 2003. Wontor-Cichy also authored the scenario for the exhibition.

The idea for the exhibition arose while Wontor-Cichy was working on the book. She collected large quantities of material. Former prisoners and their families reacted warmly to the fact that she was researching material on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in World War II.

The exhibition is arranged chronologically and covers the period from 1933 to the end of the war. The main portion is devoted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned in the concentration camps, with emphasis on the history of Auschwitz.

The exhibition is open until the end of November 2004.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian denomination known from 1870 to 1931 as Holy Scripture Researchers. Charles T. Russel (1852-1916) founded the first legal corporation representing Holy Scripture Researchers (The Zion Watchtower Treact Society, known since 1955 as the Pennsylvania Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) in 1881. The International Association of Holy Scripture Researchers was registered in London in 1914. After the death of the founder, some adherents withdrew from cooperation with the existing corporations while continuing to call themselves Holy Scripture Researchers. In Poland, these included the Association of Holy Scripture Researchers, The Assembly of Free Holy Scripture Researchers, The Union of Bible Researchers, The Holy See in Jesus Christ, and the Epiphany Lay Mission Movement.

The name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted in 1931 to define members of the denominations gathered around the Watchtower Association. In Nazi Germany, the authorities retained the name Intemationale Bibelforscher-Vereinigung (IBV - International Association of Holy Scripture Researchers), since the denomination was registered under that name as a corporation representing the Witnesses. This is why the Jehovah’s Witnesses are referred to in both the official German records of the era, and colloquially, as “Researchers.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge the authority of the Bible alone, and study it at their assemblies, which are open. Their numerous publications aid in this study. The entire organizational aspect of the Jehovah’s Witness community is subordinated to preaching, the most important of their tasks.

At present, there are more than 6,000,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, in 90,000 assemblies, around the world.

Source: [Nowa encyklopedia powszechna PWN, Warsaw, 1995, vol. l, p. 321],

Teresa Wontor-Cichy, Imprisoned for Their Faith Jehovah’s Witnesses in Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Published by the Museum in December 2003, this is the first attempt at a comprehensive treatment of the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Although the incompleteness of the records makes it impossible to establish the exact number of Witnesses deported to Auschwitz, Wontor-Cichy’s research suggests that at least 387 Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned in the camp during the almost five years that it was in operation.

The text is accompanied by a list of names illustrating the fate of almost 230 men and women IBV prisoners. The list is based on documents in the Museum Archives, questionnaires and accounts by former prisoners, and information obtained form their families. There are also photographs of 130 Jehovah’s Witness prisoners, classed as category IBV in the camp.

The new exhibition can be viewed from September 21 – November 30, 2004. Photo: Ryszard Domasik
The new exhibition...