Lecture by Detlef Garbe: Between Resistance and Martyrdom. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Dachau Concentration Camp

Dr. Detlef Garbe am Rednerpult
Dr Detlef Garbe

Right at the start of his lecture, Detlef Garbe emphasized that only 20 years ago the Jehovah’s Witnesses were still very much “a forgotten victim group”, although they were only community with a worldview to be assigned their own special prisoner category. As so-called “Bible students” they were marked with the “purple triangular patch”.

In the Dachau concentration camp Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to particularly cruel and brutal harassment by the SS: they were beaten, ill-treated, mocked, and, placed in the punishment company, were forced to perform the most arduous labor. Despite these measures, the SS rarely succeeded in breaking the resolve of a “Bible student”. The strategy for ensuring the collective survival of this prisoner group was based on the firm belief in, as Dr Garbe put it, “community spirit and steadfastness”. Although they refused to serve in the war as conscientious objectors, a decision that cost many of them their lives, their situation improved somewhat in the second half of the war. Because their principles of faith did not condone any attempt to escape, they were assigned to “posts of trust”. For example, in an external work detail they built the hunting lodges of SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler at Schliersee in Upper Bavaria from 1942 to 1945.