Life Story

Trusting in Jehovah’s Loving Care

AS TOLD BY ANNA DENZ TURPIN

“You are one big ‘WHY’!” my mother exclaimed with a smile. As a girl, I bombarded my parents with questions. But Mother and Father never chided me for my childish curiosity. Rather, they taught me to reason and to make my own decisions based on a Bible-trained conscience. How precious that training proved to be! One day when I was 14 years old, the Nazis tore my beloved parents away from me, and I never saw them again.

MY FATHER, Oskar Denz, and my mother, Anna Maria, lived in Lörrach, a German city near the Swiss border. When they were young, they were active in politics, and people in the community knew and respected them. But in 1922, shortly after they got married, my parents changed their view of politics and their goals in life. Mother began studying the Bible with the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, and was thrilled to learn that God’s Kingdom would bring peace to the earth. Father soon joined Mother in studying, and they began attending the meetings of the Bible Students. Father even gave Mother a Bible study book, The Harp of God, for Christmas that year. An only child, I came along on March 25, 1923.

What fond memories I have of our family life​—our summer hikes in the tranquil Black Forest and Mother’s homemaking lessons! I can still picture  her standing in the kitchen supervising her little chef. Most important, my parents taught me to love and trust Jehovah God.

Our congregation consisted of about 40 busy Kingdom preachers. My parents had a special gift for making opportunities to speak about the Kingdom. Because of their former community activities, they felt at ease with others, and people received them well. When I turned seven, I too wanted to preach from door to door. On my first day, my companion handed me some literature, pointed to a house, and simply said, “Go and see if they want this.” In 1931, we attended a convention of the Bible Students in Basel, Switzerland. There my parents were baptized.

From Turmoil to Tyranny

Germany was in great turmoil in those days, and various political factions clashed violently in the streets. One night, I awoke to screams coming from the neighbor’s house. Two teenage boys killed their brother with a pitchfork because they disagreed with his political views. Hostility against Jews also increased markedly. At school one girl had to stand by herself in the corner simply because she was Jewish. I felt so sorry for her, not knowing that I would soon find out for myself how it felt to be ostracized.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. From about two blocks away, we watched as the Nazis triumphantly raised the swastika flag over city hall. At school our enthusiastic teacher taught us to say the greeting “Heil Hitler!” That afternoon I told Father about it. He became troubled. “I don’t like it,” he said. “‘Heil’ means salvation. If we were to say ‘Heil Hitler,’ it would mean that we are ascribing salvation to him instead of to Jehovah. I don’t think it’s right, but you decide for yourself what you should do.”

My schoolmates began to treat me like an outcast because I decided not to give the Hitler salute. Some boys even beat me when the teachers were not looking. Eventually, they left me alone, but even my friends told me that their fathers had forbidden them to play with me. I was too dangerous.

Two months after the Nazis took power in Germany, they banned Jehovah’s Witnesses  as a danger to the State. Storm troopers closed down the office in Magdeburg and banned our meetings. But because we lived near the border, Father obtained permits for us to go across to Basel, where we attended Sunday meetings. He often said that he wished our brothers in Germany could receive such spiritual food to help them face the future with courage.

Hazardous Strolls

After the closure of the Magdeburg office, a former staff member, Julius Riffel, came to Lörrach, his hometown, to organize the underground preaching work. Father immediately offered to help. He sat Mother and me down and explained that he had agreed to help bring Bible literature into Germany from Switzerland. He said that it would be extremely dangerous and that he could be arrested at any time. He did not want us to feel pressured to be involved because it would be risky for us too. Right away, Mother said, “I’m with you.” They both looked at me, and I said, “I’m with you too!”

Mother crocheted a purse about the size of a Watchtower magazine. She would slide the literature into an opening on one side of the purse and then crochet the pouch shut. She made secret pockets in Father’s clothes and two girdles in which she and I could discreetly carry small Bible study aids. Each time we succeeded in bringing our secret treasure home, we breathed a sigh of relief and gave thanks to Jehovah. We stashed the literature in our attic.

At first, the Nazis did not suspect us of anything. They neither questioned us nor searched our home. Nevertheless, we decided on a code that we would use to warn our spiritual brothers in case of trouble​—4711, the name of a famous cologne. If it became dangerous to come to the house, we would warn them​—somehow using that number. Father also told them to look up at our living-room windows before entering the building. If the left window was open, it meant that something had gone wrong, and they should stay away.

In 1936 and 1937, the Gestapo conducted mass arrests and threw thousands of Witnesses into prisons and concentration camps, where they suffered the most cruel and sadistic treatment. The branch office in Bern, Switzerland, began gathering reports, including some that were smuggled out of the camps, for a book called Kreuzzug gegen das Christentum (Crusade Against Christianity), an exposé of Nazi crimes. We undertook the perilous work of carrying the secret reports across the border to Basel. If the Nazis had caught us with those red-hot documents, we would have been imprisoned immediately. I wept as I read about the torments  our brothers were suffering. Yet, I did not feel afraid. I trusted that Jehovah and my parents, my best friends, would look after me.

I graduated from school at age 14 and had a clerical job in a hardware store. Usually, we made our courier trips on Saturday afternoon or Sunday, when Father had time off from work. On the average, we went every two weeks. We looked like any other family out for a weekend stroll, and for nearly four years, the border guards did not stop us or try to search us​—that is, not until one day in February 1938.

Discovered!

I will never forget the look on my father’s face when we arrived at our pick-up spot near Basel and saw the large stack of literature that awaited us. Because another courier family had been arrested, we had extra books to carry. At the border a customs official eyed us suspiciously and ordered a search. On finding the books, he marched us at gunpoint to waiting police cars. As the officers drove off with us, Father squeezed my hand and whispered: “Don’t be a traitor. Don’t give anyone away!” “I won’t,” I assured him. When we arrived back at Lörrach, they took my dear father away. I saw him for the last time as the prison door closed behind him.

For four hours, four Gestapo men interrogated me, demanding that I tell them the names and addresses of other Witnesses. When I refused, one official became furious and threatened, “We have other methods to make you talk!” I did not disclose anything. Then they took Mother and me back to our house, which they searched for the first time. They took my mother into custody and sent me to my aunt’s home and gave my aunt custody of me, not realizing that she too was a Witness. Although I was allowed to go to work, four Gestapo men sat parked in front of the house to monitor my every move while a policeman patrolled the sidewalk.

A few days later at lunchtime, I came out of the house and saw a young sister riding toward me on her bicycle. As she approached, I could see that she was going to toss a piece of paper to me. Just as I caught it, I turned to see if the Gestapo had seen what I did. To my surprise, at that very moment, they all had thrown back their heads in laughter!

The sister’s note instructed me to go to her parents’ place at noon. But with the Gestapo watching me, how could I risk incriminating her parents? I looked at the four Gestapo agents in the car and then at the policeman parading up and down the street. I did not know what to do, and I prayed fervently for Jehovah’s help. All of a sudden, the policeman walked over to the Gestapo car and spoke to the men. Then he climbed into their car, and they drove away!

Just then, my aunt came walking around the corner. It was already past noon. She read the note and thought that we should go to the home as instructed, surmising that the brothers had arranged to take me to Switzerland. When we arrived, the family introduced me to a man I did not know, Heinrich Reiff. He told me that he was glad I had got away safely and that he had come to help me escape to Switzerland. He gave me a half hour to meet him at a wooded place.

Life in Exile

I met Brother Reiff with tears streaming down my face, heartsick at the thought of leaving my parents behind. It had all happened so fast. After some anxious moments, we mingled with a group of tourists and crossed the Swiss border safely.

When I arrived at the branch office in Bern, I learned that the brothers there had  arranged for my escape. They kindly gave me a place to stay. I worked in the kitchen, which I enjoyed very much. But how hard it was to live in exile, not knowing what would happen to my parents, both of whom had been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment! At times, grief and anxiety overwhelmed me, and I would lock myself in the bathroom to weep. But I was able to correspond with my parents regularly, and they encouraged me to remain loyal.

Moved by my parents’ example of faith, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized on July 25, 1938. After one year at Bethel, I went to work at Chanélaz, a farm purchased by the Swiss branch to provide food for the Bethel family and to house brothers fleeing persecution.

When my parents’ prison sentences expired in 1940, the Nazis offered to free them if they would renounce their faith. They held fast and were then sent to concentration camps, Father to Dachau and Mother to Ravensbrück. In the winter of 1941, my mother and other female Witnesses in the camp refused to do work for the military. As punishment, they were made to stand in the cold for 3 days and 3 nights, after which they were locked up in dark cells and put on starvation rations for 40 days. Then they were flogged. Mother died on January 31, 1942, three weeks after a savage beating.

Father was transferred from Dachau to Mauthausen in Austria. In this camp the Nazis systematically murdered prisoners through starvation and crushing physical labor. But six months after Mother died, the Nazis killed my father by a different method​—medical experiments. The camp doctors deliberately infected human guinea pigs with tuberculosis. Afterward, the prisoners received a lethal injection in the heart. The official record states that Father died of “a weak heart muscle.” He was 43 years old. I learned about the brutal murders only months later. The memory of my beloved parents still brings tears to my eyes. Yet, then as now, I am comforted in knowing that Mother and Father, who had the hope of heavenly life, are safe in Jehovah’s hands.

After World War II, I had the privilege of attending the 11th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York. What a joy to be immersed in a study of the Scriptures for five months! Upon graduation in 1948, I was sent to Switzerland to serve as a missionary. Not long afterward, I met James L. Turpin, a faithful brother who had graduated from the fifth class of Gilead. When the first branch office was set up in Turkey, he served as its overseer. We married in March 1951, and soon thereafter we  learned that we were going to be parents! We moved to the United States and welcomed our baby daughter, Marlene, into the world that December.

Throughout the years, Jim and I have found great joy in our Kingdom service. I fondly remember one Bible student, a young Chinese woman named Penny, who just loved to study the Bible. She was baptized and later married Guy Pierce, who now serves on the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such dear ones have helped to fill the void caused by the loss of my parents.

In early 2004, the brothers in Lörrach, my parents’ hometown, built a new Kingdom Hall on Stich Street. In recognition of what Jehovah’s Witnesses had done, the city council decided to rename the street Denzstraße (Denz Street) in honor of my parents. The local newspaper, Badische Zeitung, under the headline “In Memory of the Murdered Couple Denz: New Street Name,” stated that my parents “were murdered in a concentration camp during the Third Reich because of their faith.” For me, that action by the city council was an unexpected but most heartwarming turn of events.

Father used to say that we should plan ahead as if Armageddon would not come in our lifetime but lead our life as if it would come tomorrow​—precious advice that I have always tried to apply. Balancing patience and eager expectation is not always easy, especially since the ravages of old age now keep me confined at home. Yet, I have never doubted Jehovah’s promise to all his faithful servants: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart . . . In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”​—Proverbs 3:5, 6.

[Box/Picture on page 29]

PRECIOUS WORDS FROM THE PAST

A woman from a village some distance away visited Lörrach in the 1980’s. At that time, townspeople were bringing their unwanted belongings to a public area where others could look through the items and take what they wished. This woman found a sewing box and took it home. Later, in the bottom of the box, she found some photographs of a young girl and letters written on concentration-camp stationery. The woman was intrigued by the letters and wondered about the identity of the little girl with braids.

One day in 2000, the woman saw a newspaper article about a historical exhibition in Lörrach. The article described the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi years, including our family. It had pictures of me as a teenager. Matching the details, the woman contacted the journalist and told her about the letters​—42 in all! A few weeks later, I had them in my hands. There in my parents’ handwriting were their constant inquiries to my aunt about me. Their loving concern for me never ceased. It is a marvel that these letters survived and reappeared after more than 60 years!

[Pictures on page 25]

Our happy family was torn apart when Hitler came to power

[Credit Line]

Hitler: U.S. Army photo

[Pictures on page 26]

1. The Magdeburg office

2. The Gestapo arrested thousands of Witnesses

[Picture on page 28]

Jim and I have found great joy in our Kingdom service