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Jehovah’s Witnesses in Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen

The incarceration of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen is the subject that preoccupies the mind of Reiner Hermann from Celle. To investigate the fate this Nazi victims’ type suffered or succumbed to, the amateur historian came to look through the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen in mid-March. “The bare names are to be filled with life again, are to be changed back to human beings with a life story”, so Hermann.

He bases his research work on a list kept at the Jehovah’s Witnesses-owned history archives in Hessian Selters. “The many years spent with investigations have permitted me to add names to the contingent of these Bergen-Belsen concentration camp inmates and, thus, extend their numbers originally indicated as 75 to 120 by now“, reports 52-year-old Hermann. “My work has definitely benefited already from the visits I paid to several memorial centres. In so doing, I could uncover details on the fates.”

In spring 1943, the first Jehovah’s Witnesses had been sent to Bergen-Belsen from Concentration Camp Niederhagen and ordered to build up the “residence camp for Jewish exchange prisoners”, relates Hermann. The Jews kept prisoner in this camp were to be exchanged against German civilians living abroad. “Among the Jehovah’s Witnesses held here were architects, construction draughtsmen, cooks and all trades or handicraft skills needed for construction work“, continues Hermann. “Most Jehovah’s Witnesses were deported to Bergen-Belsen not until late in 1944, when the evacuation transports started.”

Incarcerated for being “Bibelforscher” (bible researchers) under a “preventive detention scheme”, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to be marked as specific prisoner type mostly by blue dots or circles on their clothes as of 1935/1936. In 1938, the colour code turned “uniform”, i.e. a violet triangle (in German “Lila Winkel”) was used to label these prisoners. “Before sent to Bergen-Belsen, many female internees had been incarcerated in concentration camps Moringen, Lichtenburg, Ravensbrück and Auschwitz”, knows Hermann. “By the end of the war, two thirds of the Jehovah’s Witnesses kept prisoner in Bergen-Belsen had outlived persecution.”