STEPPING out of her front door early in the morning, the woman notices a package on the doorstep. She picks it up and looks around, but the street is empty. Some unknown visitor must have left it there during the night. She partially opens the package and quickly steps back and closes the door. No wonder! The delivery is of banned Bible literature! Embracing the package, she says a silent prayer, thanking Jehovah for the precious spiritual food.
Scenes like that occurred in Germany during the 1930’s. Following the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was outlawed in much of the country. “We were convinced that the proclamation of Jehovah and his name could not be blocked by such a man-made decree,” says Richard Rudolph, now over 100 years old. * “An important means for our study and ministry was Bible literature. However, that was no longer readily available because of the ban. We were wondering how the work would continue.” Richard soon learned that he could assist in filling that need in a most unusual way. It would be done in the shadows of the mountains.
ON SMUGGLERS’ TRAILS
If you travel upstream on the river Elbe (or, Labe), you will eventually reach the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše), which are on the present border between the Czech Republic and Poland. Though rising only some 5,250 feet (1,600 m), the mountains have been called the arctic island in the middle of Europe. Snow up to 10 feet (3 m) deep coats the ridges for half of the year. Those who underestimate the erratic weather may be caught in dense fog that may suddenly envelop the peaks.
Over the centuries, this mountain range has formed a natural border between provinces, kingdoms, and states. The treacherous terrain was difficult to patrol, so in the past, many in the area smuggled commodities over these mountains. In the 1930’s, when the Giant Mountains separated Czechoslovakia and Germany, determined Witnesses began to use the abandoned smugglers’ trails. To do what? To transport precious Bible literature from where it was more readily available. Young Richard was one of those Witnesses.
“On weekends, we headed for the mountains in groups of seven or so young brothers dressed as hikers,” recalls Richard. “From the German side, it took us about three hours to cross the mountains and reach Špindlerův Mlýn”
Richard continues: “After we got to that farm, we loaded our backpacks, especially designed for carrying the heavy loads. Each of us carried some 100 pounds (50 kg).” To escape detection, they walked under the cover of darkness, starting out at sunset and arriving home before sunrise. Ernst Wiesner, who was a circuit overseer in Germany at that time, described some of the security measures: “Two brothers went ahead and whenever they met anyone, they at once signaled with their flashlights. This was a sign for the brothers with their heavy knapsacks following about 100 meters [328 feet] behind to hide in the bushes along the way until the two brothers ahead of them came back and gave a certain password, which was changed from week to week.” However, the German police in blue uniforms were not the only danger.
“One evening I had to work longer,” recalls Richard, “so I set off for the Czech side later than my brothers. It was dark and foggy, and I was shivering as I walked in the freezing rain. I got lost in the dwarf pines, and I could not find my way out for several hours. Many hikers have died in this way. Only when my brothers were on their way back early in the morning did I encounter them.”
For some three years, the small group of courageous brothers went to the mountains each week. In winter, they transported their precious loads using either skis or toboggans. Occasionally, groups of up to 20 brothers crossed the border in daylight, using marked hiking trails. To give the impression that they were just a harmless bunch of hikers, some sisters went along. Some of them walked in front and threw their hats into the air when they suspected any danger.
What happened after the couriers returned from their overnight trips? There were arrangements for making sure that the literature was immediately distributed. How? Publications were packed as soap and taken to the railway station in Hirschberg. The packages were sent to different parts of Germany, where brothers and sisters discreetly delivered them to fellow believers as described at the outset. So interwoven was this underground distribution network that any disclosure could have far-reaching effects. Indeed, one day a blow came from an unexpected direction.
In 1936, a literature depot was uncovered near Berlin. Among the things found there were three packages from an unknown sender in Hirschberg. The police used handwriting analysis to identify a key member of the smuggling group and arrested him. Soon afterward, two more suspects, including Richard Rudolph, were arrested. Because the brothers accepted all responsibility, for some time others could continue making the increasingly dangerous trips.
LESSON FOR US
The publications brought in backpacks over the Giant Mountains represented an important supply of Bible literature for the German Witnesses. But the Giant Mountains were not the only route used. Until 1939, when German forces occupied Czechoslovakia, similar routes existed along the border with that country. In other countries bordering with Germany, such as France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, Witnesses on both sides took great risks to supply their persecuted fellow believers with spiritual food.
Most of us today can have Bible literature in needed quantity and various formats. Whether you obtain a new publication at the Kingdom Hall or download it from the Web site jw.org, why not give thought to what was involved in making it available to you? Perhaps it was not as dramatic as crossing snow-covered mountain peaks at midnight, but it surely required hard work on the part of many fellow believers who unselfishly serve you.
^ par. 3 He served in the Hirschberg Congregation in Silesia. The city of Hirschberg is now Jelenia Góra in southwestern Poland.