Life Story

Jehovah Richly Rewards Those Who Keep His Way

AS TOLD BY ROMUALD STAWSKI

When the second world war started in September 1939, northern Poland was the site of heavy fighting. As a curious nine-year-old boy, I went to a nearby battlefield to have a look. What I saw was horrifying​—corpses littered the ground, and choking smoke filled the air. Although I was mainly thinking of how to get home safely, some questions came to my mind: “Why does God allow such terrible things to happen? Whose side is he on?”

NEAR the end of the war, youngsters were forced to work for the German regime. Anyone who dared to refuse was hanged on a tree or a bridge with the sign “traitor” or “saboteur” on his chest. Our town, Gdynia, was located between opposing armies. When we went outside the town to fetch water, bullets and bombs whizzed over our heads, and my younger brother Henryk was mortally wounded. Because of the terrible conditions, my mother moved us four children to a basement for safety. There my two-year-old brother, Eugeniusz, died of diphtheria.

Again I asked myself: “Where is God? Why does he allow all this suffering?” Even though I was a zealous Catholic and attended church regularly, I did not find the answers.

I Embraced Bible Truth

Answers to my questions came from an unexpected source. The war ended in 1945, and early in 1947, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses  called at our home in Gdynia. My mother talked to the Witness, and I heard some of what was said. It seemed logical, so we accepted an invitation to a Christian meeting. Just a month later, though not yet firmly established in Bible truth, I joined a group of local Witnesses and preached to others about a better world, free from wars and atrocities. This gave me a lot of joy.

In September 1947, I was baptized at a circuit assembly in Sopot. The following May, I started in the regular pioneer service, devoting most of my time to preaching the Bible’s message to others. The local clergy bitterly opposed our work and incited violence against us. Once, an angry mob attacked us, hurled stones at us, and beat us severely. On another occasion local nuns and clergymen urged a group of people to attack us. We took refuge in a police station, but the mob surrounded the building, threatening to beat us. Finally, police reinforcements came, and we were taken away with a strong escort.

At that time, there was no congregation in our area. Sometimes we stayed overnight in the forest under the sky. We were happy that we could carry out the preaching work in spite of the conditions. Today, there are strong congregations in that area.

Bethel Service and Arrest

In 1949, I was invited to the Bethel Home in Łódź. What a privilege it was to serve at such a place! Sadly, my stay there did not last very long. In June 1950, a month before our work was officially banned, I was arrested along with other brothers at Bethel. I was taken to prison, and as it turned out, I was to face a cruel interrogation.

Because my father worked on a ship that regularly sailed to New York, the officers conducting the investigation tried to make me admit that he spied for the United States. I was subjected to merciless interrogation. In addition, four officers simultaneously tried to make me testify against Brother Wilhelm Scheider, who was then supervising our activity in Poland. They beat me on my heels with thick sticks. As I lay on the floor bleeding, feeling that I could not bear it anymore, I cried, “Jehovah, help me!” My persecutors were surprised and stopped beating me. Within a few minutes, they fell asleep. I felt relieved and regained my strength. This convinced me that Jehovah lovingly responds to his dedicated servants when they cry out to him. It strengthened my faith and taught me to place my full confidence in God.

The final report of the investigation included false testimony supposedly given by me. When I protested, an officer told me, “You will explain it in court!” A friendly cell mate advised me not to worry, since the final report had to be verified by a military prosecutor, which would give me a chance to refute the false testimony. That turned out to be so.

Circuit Work and Another Imprisonment

I was released in January 1951. A month later, I started to serve as a traveling overseer.  Despite the ban, I worked with other brothers to strengthen the congregations and help fellow Witnesses who were dispersed because of the activity of the security services. We encouraged the brothers to continue in the ministry. In later years, these brothers courageously supported the traveling overseers and carried out the work of printing and distributing Bible literature underground.

One day in April 1951, after attending a Christian meeting, I was arrested in the street by security officers who had been watching me carefully. Because I refused to answer their questions, they took me to a prison in Bydgoszcz and started interrogating me that same night. I was ordered to stand against a wall for six days and six nights, with no food or drink and in dense tobacco smoke from the officers’ cigarettes. I was beaten with a club and burned with cigarettes. When I fainted, they poured water on me and resumed the interrogation. I begged Jehovah for strength to endure, and he supported me.

Staying in Bydgoszcz prison had its good side. There I was able to share Bible truth with people who could not otherwise be reached. And truly, there were many opportunities to give a witness. Because of their sad, often hopeless, situation, the prisoners readily opened their ears and hearts to the good news.

Two Important Changes

Soon after I was released in 1952, I met Nela, a zealous pioneer sister. She had been pioneering in the south of Poland. Later she worked in a “bakery,” a secret place where our literature was printed. That was hard work, requiring alertness and self-sacrifice. We were married in 1954, and we continued in the full-time service until our daughter, Lidia, was born. Then we decided that in order to allow me to continue in the traveling work, Nela would stop her full-time service, return home, and take care of our daughter.

That same year, we faced another important decision. I was asked to serve as a district overseer in an area that covered one third of Poland. We considered the matter prayerfully. I knew how important it was to strengthen our brothers under ban. There were many arrests, so there was a great need for spiritual encouragement. With Nela’s support, I accepted the assignment. Jehovah helped me to serve in this capacity for 38 years.

In Charge of “Bakeries”

In those days, the district overseer was responsible for the “bakeries,” located in secluded places. The police were constantly on our heels, trying to find and shut down our printing operations. Sometimes they succeeded, but we never lacked the necessary spiritual food. It was clearly evident that Jehovah was taking care of us.

To be invited to do the hard and dangerous work of printing, a person had to be loyal,  alert, self-sacrificing, and obedient. It was those qualities that made it possible for a “bakery” to continue to function safely. Finding a good location for underground printing was also difficult. Some locations seemed suitable, but the brothers there were not very discreet. In other locations, the situation was the other way around. The brothers were willing to make exceptional sacrifices. I really appreciated all the brothers and sisters with whom I had the privilege to work.

Defending the Good News

During those difficult years, we were constantly accused of engaging in illegal, subversive activity and taken to court. This was a problem because we did not have lawyers to defend us. Some lawyers were sympathetic, but most were afraid of the publicity and did not want to risk displeasing the authorities. However, Jehovah was aware of our needs, and in due time he maneuvered matters accordingly.

Alojzy Prostak, a traveling overseer from Kraków, was so brutally treated during interrogation that he had to be taken to the prison hospital. His firm stand in the face of mental and physical torture earned him the respect and admiration of the other prisoners in the hospital. One of them was a lawyer named Witold Lis-Olszewski, who was impressed with the courage of Brother Prostak. He talked to him several times and promised, “As soon as I am released and allowed to resume my practice, I will be willing to defend Jehovah’s Witnesses.” He meant what he said.

Mr. Olszewski had his own team of attorneys, whose commitment was truly admirable. During the time when opposition was most intense, they defended the brothers in about 30 trials per month​—one a day! Because Mr. Olszewski needed to be well-informed about all the cases, I was assigned to keep in touch with him. I worked with him for seven years in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I learned a lot about legal work during those days. I often observed the trials, the lawyers’ comments​—both positive and negative—​the methods of legal defense, and the testimony of accused fellow believers. It all became very useful in helping our brothers, especially those called as witnesses, to know what to say and when to keep silent before the court.

When a trial was on, Mr. Olszewski often stayed overnight in the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not because he could not afford a hotel room, but as he once said, “Before the trial, I want to breathe in some of your spirit.” Thanks to his assistance, many trials ended favorably. He defended me several times, and he never accepted any money from me. On another occasion, he refused payment for 30 cases. Why? He said, “I want to contribute even a little bit to your work.” And it was no little sum of money. The activity of Mr. Olszewski’s team did not go unnoticed by the authorities, but that did not discourage him from assisting us.

It is difficult to describe the fine witness given by our brothers during those trials. Many came to the courts to observe the trials and to strengthen the accused brothers. During the time of the peak number of trials, I counted as many as 30,000 such supporters in one year. That surely was a great crowd of Witnesses!

A New Assignment

By 1989 the ban on our work had been lifted. Three years later a new branch office was built and dedicated. I was invited there to work with Hospital Information Services, which assignment I gladly accepted. Working as a three-person team, we supported our brothers facing the blood issue and helped  them to defend their stand, based on their Christian conscience.​—Acts 15:29.

My wife and I have been very grateful for the privilege of serving Jehovah in the public ministry. Nela has always supported and encouraged me. I am always thankful that whenever I was busy with theocratic assignments or was sent to prison, she never complained about my absence from home. In difficult times, she comforted others instead of breaking down herself.

For example, in 1974, I was arrested along with other traveling overseers. Some brothers who knew about it wanted to inform my wife in a gentle way. When they saw her, they asked, “Sister Nela, are you ready for the worst?” At first, she froze with fear, as she thought I had died. When she learned what had really happened, she said with relief: “He is alive! This is not his first imprisonment.” The brothers told me later that they were deeply impressed with her positive attitude.

Even though we have had some painful experiences in the past, Jehovah has always richly rewarded us for keeping his way. How glad we are that our daughter, Lidia, and her husband, Alfred DeRusha, have proved to be an exemplary Christian couple. They have brought up their sons, Christopher and Jonathan, to be dedicated servants of God, which adds to our happiness. My brother, Ryszard, and my sister, Urszula, have also been faithful Christians for many years.

Jehovah has never left us, and we want to continue serving him wholeheartedly. We have personally experienced the truthfulness of the words of Psalm 37:34: “Hope in Jehovah and keep his way, and he will exalt you to take possession of the earth.” We look forward to that time with all our heart.

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At an assembly held in a brother’s garden in Kraków, 1964

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With my wife, Nela, and our daughter, Lidia, 1968

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With a Witness boy before his bloodless heart surgery

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With Dr. Wites, chief surgeon of bloodless heart surgery for children, at a Katowice hospital

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With Nela, 2002