In the fall of 1944, the Nazi regime raised a national militia called the Volkssturm. All men between 16 and 60 not yet conscripted to army service were now to be mobilized for war as a last reserve. The coal miner Johann Rasch of Bottrop, however, refused to go along. The 37-year-old father was a Jehovah’s Witness. His religion prohibited him from engaging in armed warfare.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses had already been banned back in 1933. The majority of them nevertheless remained loyal to their convictions. They refused to perform the Hitler salute, advertised for their faith and resisted the draft. The Nazi regime persecuted them unrelentingly. Several hundred of them were subjected to imprisonment in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Refused Volkssturm service for reasons of faith”, the SS noted after Johann Rasch’s arrival in Buchenwald on 23 February 1945. He had already been in Gestapo detention for several weeks. Soon afterwards, he was sent to a subcamp of the Natzweiler concentration camp to perform forced labour. He survived.

(Michael Löffelsender)

Source: Buchenwald concentration camp prisoner registration card of Johann Rasch, 23 February 1945 (Arolsen Archives).

Reference: Detlef Garbe, Between Resistance and Martyrdom : Jehovah's Witnesses in the Third Reich, Madison 2008.