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Jehovah’s Witnesses

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JULY 21, 2014
AUSTRIA

Jehovah’s Witnesses Honored at the Gusen Concentration Camp Memorial

Jehovah’s Witnesses Honored at the Gusen Concentration Camp Memorial

SELTERS, Germany—On Sunday, April 13, 2014, the Gusen Concentration Camp Memorial in Austria unveiled a memorial plaque in recognition of some 450 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were imprisoned by the Nazis in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamp in Gusen. More than 130 visitors were present for the ceremony.

Commemorative plaque unveiled during a public ceremony held at the Gusen Concentration Camp Memorial on April 13, 2014.

When the Witnesses arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp, the command leader threatened them: “No Bible Student will come out of here alive.” Martin Poetzinger, who survived nine years of imprisonment in Dachau, Mauthausen, and Gusen and later served as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, said of his time in Mauthausen: “The Gestapo tried every method to induce us to break our faith.”

May 1945: Gusen Concentration Camp. Martin Poetzinger (seated front row, second from left) poses with 23 other survivors shortly after their release.

Some of the Witnesses in Mauthausen were later transferred to the subcamp at Gusen. Gusen’s primary function was a “murder camp,” where deliberate and planned killings were part of the daily routine. To keep their faith strong, the Witnesses met in small groups at night to discuss Bible texts from memory. On one occasion, they obtained a Bible. It was divided into parts, and each Witness took turns sharing the pages. Hiding underneath their beds, they would read during what little free time they had.

The Witnesses also discreetly shared the Bible’s message with others. Five Polish prisoners studied the Bible with the Witnesses and secretly got baptized in a wooden trough specially made for that purpose. One Witness named Franz Desch shared the Bible’s message with an SS officer who later became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Wolfram Slupina, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria, states: “We are grateful that the Witnesses are being remembered for their faith and courage while in the Mauthausen and Gusen camps. Their determination to treat everyone with Christian empathy and kindness was a triumph over evil that is worthy of commemoration and imitation.”

Media Contact(s):

International: J. R. Brown, Office of Public Information, tel. +1 718 560 5000

Austria: Wolfram Slupina, tel. +49 6483 41 3110