Jehovah’s Witnesses – persecuted by Horthy, many perished in the Holocaust

It is rarely mentioned in Hungary that many Christians perished in labor and concentration camps during the Hungarian Holocaust. One Christian group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was viciously victimized.

Jehovah’s witnesses in German concentration camp during WWII.

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to join armies, participate in political life or take a national oath. The origin of their faith goes back to the Bible Student movement of the 1870s founded by Charles Taze Russell in the United States. After Russell’s death, another American, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, named the denomination, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today there are about 20,000 followers in Hungary.

The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany began when they refused to fight in World War I. Later under Nazi Germany, Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to raise their arms in the “Heil, Hitler!” salute. They also did not vote in elections, join the army or participate in the Nazi German Labor Front. The Nazis were outraged when Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to take the mandatory oath to the Führer. So thousands were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

In Hungary the Horthy regime was not kind to the movement either. On December 2, 1939 the interior minister, Mr. Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, simply banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as representing a “danger to Hungary’s national defense.” In 1943 and 1944 about 6,000 slave laborers were deported to the mines of Bor. Although most were Jews, there were numerous Jehovah’s Witnesses among them. Most perished. (The martyr poet Miklós Radnóti was also in Bor; he was Catholic with Jewish ancestry and was later killed in one of the Death Marches.)

Things got worse when the Hungarian Nazis took over in 1944 and started to execute Jehovah’s Witnesses. On March 12, 1945, just days before the end of World War II, Hungarian fascists hanged 20-year-old Lajos Deli on the main square of the city of Sárvár because he refused to fight. In the city of Körmend three young man, Antal Hönisch, Bertalan Szabό and János Zsondor were also publicly executed.

Memorial plaque of Hungarian victims at the Budapest Holocaust Center.

Today a memorial plaque in the Budapest Holocaust Center at Páva utca bears the names of the Christian victims along with words from the Bible passage at Acts 5:29, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”

György Lázár

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