JANUARY 22, 2018
TEL AVIV—From November 26 to December 2, 2017, some 1,700 people visited a public exhibit hosted by Jehovah’s Witnesses at the storied Hatachana compound. The exhibit was designed to increase awareness of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the Nazi regime.
Displays included video footage and historical photographs, as well as the reproduction of a concentration-camp uniform jacket handmade by a Witness concentration-camp survivor. The centerpiece was composed of prints of “The Buchenwald Series”—27 watercolors by Johannes Steyer (1908-1998). Mr. Steyer, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, survived ten years of Nazi persecution, including imprisonment in the infamous Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Sachsenburg, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. In the 1970s, he completed the watercolor series inspired by photographs and vivid memories of his imprisonment.
Commenting on the importance of hosting such displays in Tel Aviv, Yair Auron, an Israeli historian and professor emeritus at the Open University of Israel, stated: “I feel it is especially important for young people in high school to visit the exhibit, because unfortunately the level of knowledge about Jehovah’s Witnesses is very, very limited. Most Israelis do not know anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses and their story during the Nazi period.”
Mauro Trapanese, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel, explains: “We wanted the exhibit to teach not only about the suffering Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced under the Nazi regime but also what was unique to that experience. As an example, we found that many visitors were unaware that, unlike other groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses were given the opportunity to be released from the concentration camps if they disavowed their religion. Highlighting little known but significant facts like this made the exhibit a success.”
“Jehovah’s Witnesses were among those decent people who paid a very high price because they were loyal to their own beliefs and inner conscience,” commented Professor Gideon Greif, a historian who specializes in the history of Auschwitz.
Summing up her visit, Holocaust art historian Dr. Batya Brutin stated: “I think that learning about the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi era could underscore the kind of values that could help us make this world a better place.”
Although organizers assembled the displays for a onetime exhibition, requests for additional information on the experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses were received from representatives of several academic institutions that attended the event.
International: David A. Semonian, Office of Public Information, +1-845-524-3000
Israel: Mauro Trapanese, +972-54-568-1912