Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yearbook Experiences - Persecution in Poland -pt 2

The following experiences are from the 1994 Yearbook...

(photo of Wilhelm and Amelia Scheider on pg 191)
Moving Ahead With the Lord's Work (pgs 208, 209, 212 & 213)
Those of Jehovah’s Witnesses who survived the concentration camps returned in the spring of 1945, ready to press ahead with public proclamation of God’s Kingdom. Among them was Wilhelm Scheider. (He had been a schoolteacher who had initial heard about the Bible Students from a friend of his, and had arranged to be transferred to Łódź in 1920, so that he could be in closer contact with them) ...In time he was able to arrange to use the property at 24 Rzgowska Street in Łódź once again. (The brothers weren't sure they would be able to afford this property initially, but then 3 days before the payment deadline, Sister Scheider was able to borrow the needed money from her comparatively wealthy stepsister, even though the stepsister had not been favorably disposed) ...Unfortunately, new literature could be received only when someone was able personally to bring it from abroad, because the public postal system was not yet functioning. But whenever literature did arrive, it was translated as soon as possible, and stencils were dispatched to each zone. Soon additional volunteers offered to help with the work. And Jehovah moved the hearts of others to support the work with material contributions...
During World War II, the brothers in Poland had no direct contact with the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even the Swiss branch office, which had the oversight of many European lands, had received only limited information about Witnesses living in German-occupied territories. It is therefore understandable that the Polish Witnesses knew little about the organizational changes that had been introduced in other parts of the world.
However, despite postwar obstacles, as soon as the Łódź office could obtain the needed information, the changes were quickly implemented. Prior to this, major emphasis had been put on literature distribution. But the May 1946 Polish Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) explained how to make effective return visits, how to study Bible literature with interested people, and how to report correctly. Changes were made too in the congregation meetings. A Course in Theocratic Ministry, now called the Theocratic Ministry School, was introduced. The arrangement for visits by servants to the brethren (now known as circuit overseers) was outlined. These organizational changes led to increased activity. And as in the first century, so in modern times, when the congregations applied directions from the governing body, “the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 16:5. ...The most amazing developments, though, were seen in the eastern part of the country. Living conditions were extremely difficult. A circuit overseer relates that, after arriving there in 1947, he saw not only burned-down houses but entire settlements that had been destroyed. Brothers lived in dugouts and cellars. Nevertheless, the congregations were growing at an astounding rate.

Our First Kingdom Halls
Within a short time after the end of the war, the brothers began searching for buildings suitable to remodel for use as Kingdom Halls. In Poznań a hall seating 60 persons was already in use by late 1945. Building materials were hard to get, but the brothers were resourceful. Even wood from boxes used by the Society for shipping was reclaimed. Where necessary, club rooms, movie theaters, or other public facilities were rented. When these were not available, meetings were held in private houses or apartments. Our brothers loved music, and they took pleasure in using this gift to praise Jehovah. During the early postwar years, some of them organized amateur choirs and orchestras. When they performed before public lectures were given, entire villages sometimes turned out to hear the talks.

(Branch Office at Łódź in 1948 - pg 216)
(Bethel family that served at the Branch Office)

Raid on the Office in Łódź (pgs 215 & 216)
As the organization expanded, the Witnesses were devoting their efforts to helping people benefit from the Bible. But opposition to their activity did not cease even though they were now living under socialistic rule. As early as February 1946, their office in Łódź was raided, and all the brothers working there were arrested. Only a few sisters were left. The building was put under 24-hour surveillance by guards from the UB, or Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Office of Security). But one of the sisters was able to send a telegram to the branch office in Switzerland. Through that office an appeal was made to the Polish embassy in Bern. At that time, the authorities were eager to be well thought of in other lands, so within a week the brothers in Łódź were released.
Meanwhile, the UB (Office of Security) tried to get the brothers to work with them in keeping the Catholic clergy under surveillance, as if they were the “common enemy.” How little they understood the principle of Christian neutrality!
(Notice how even when the brothers were given a golden opportunity to "get even" for the horrible treatment they were dealt, and would continue to be dealt, by the Catholic Church, they STILL maintained integrity to Christian principles by refusing to return evil for evil ...and in the following experiences you'll see how much more 'evil' they were forced to endure)
Gilead-Trained Missionaries Arrive (pgs 214 & 215)
On March 19, 1947, Stefan Behunick and Paweł Muhaluk, two graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, stepped ashore at Gdynia from the ship Jutlandia. Both spoke comparatively good Polish, and they quickly got to work on the assignment that had been especially entrusted to them. One of the more important of their duties was to organize the circuit and district work. This required that they train traveling overseers—brothers who would regularly visit the congregations, share with local Witnesses in the preaching work, and deliver helpful and encouraging discourses. District work was inaugurated, with arrangements for regular assemblies in each circuit. During the next few years, dozens of these assemblies were held throughout the country. In some instances public auditoriums were available, but when not, the assemblies were held on property belonging to the Witnesses. The first district encompassed the entire country. Its overseer, Edward Kwiatosz, faithfully served Jehovah in the branch office in Poland until the end of his earthly course in 1992. As part of the program to train brothers to fill various needs, pioneers were invited to Łódź in 1947 for special courses. One who attended wrote later: “The two weeks at the branch office were unforgettable. Daily I received what I needed the most.” Four from that group were invited to share in serving the congregations as traveling overseers. The missionaries did not merely give counsel on organizational matters but also kept busy in the field with the brothers. As far as possible, they visited the circuits and rendered practical assistance. Overseers and publishers alike treasured their help, and many remember it to this day.

(Missionaries Paweł Muhaluk & Stefan Behunick -photo on pg 223)
“A ‘Middle Ages’ Bloody September” (pgs 219 & 220)
Catholic clergymen had inculcated in their flocks fanatic intolerance of anything that was not in line with the Catholic religion. Representing Poland’s dominant religion, they often took unfair advantage of school youths as well as of adults, using them to commit acts of mob violence.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses held a district convention in Lublin in 1948, the clergy inflamed their flocks by claiming that the Witnesses had come from all parts of Poland to destroy local Catholic sanctuaries. The faithful were called upon to defend their churches and their city. A crowd of religious fanatics attacked. On that occasion, armed policemen, assigned to care for convention security, pulled the more aggressive ringleaders into cars and drove them as much as 20 miles [30 km] out of the city before freeing them far from transportation routes.
The situation was somewhat different on September 5, 1948, when the Witnesses were attending a circuit assembly in Piotrków Trybunalski, a town about 70 miles [120 km] from Warsaw. The missionaries, Brothers Behunick and Muhaluk, were present. By five o’clock in the afternoon, a large menacing crowd had gathered nearby, waiting for the program to end so that they could get their hands on “the bishops,” as they called the missionaries. When the Witnesses left the hall, a mob of several hundred attacked, beating some, including the missionaries, into unconsciousness. The injured were taken to Holy Trinity Hospital, where their wounds were dressed. But hospital personnel, under the influence of the nuns there, refused to permit them to remain in the hospital. Initially the press made no mention of the incident. But shortly after the American embassy in Warsaw was supplied with details as to what had happened, news services in the United States reported the mob action.

(Court in Warsaw - 1951 -pg 227)

(from right to left -Wilhelm Scheider, Edward Kwiatosz, Harold Abt, Wladyslaw Sukiennik, and a guard - pg 227)
UB Torture Chambers (pgs 224-228)
For many Witnesses this wave of arrests and investigations was the start of a long period of torture and suffering. Investigators tried to force them to confess to crimes of which they were not guilty, especially to acting in behalf of foreign intelligence services. Attempts were also made to persuade the brothers to become UB informants. According to unpublished UB statistics, 90 percent of what that source referred to as “the sect’s members” came in for repressive treatment. As a result, the number who were able to report sharing in the field service temporarily dropped to half.
Wilhelm Scheider was interrogated for eight days and nights without interruption. By administering beastly beatings, interrogators tried to force him to plead guilty to the charges they had fabricated. When he lost consciousness, he was doused with cold water until he revived. He was given nothing to eat and nothing to drink and once was forced to kneel for 72 hours at a stretch. Later he was transferred from Łódź to Warsaw and then was thrown naked into a cramped dungeon for 24 days. There he could not sit, lie down, or stand erect. In a further attempt to force him to compromise, the UB arrested and mistreated his wife and daughter. But nothing broke his integrity.
The same treatment was meted out to Harald Abt, the branch secretary. For six days nonstop, he was interrogated, all the while being beaten on the head and punched in the stomach. “Even though you spent five years in a camp because of being against Nazism, we will still be able to prove you to have been a Gestapo man,” he was told.
Edward Kwiatosz was brutally beaten and given no food for three days. Ruthless investigators threatened to hang him. They made him go without sleep for two weeks. He was beaten on the heels with rubber clubs. His ribs and nose were broken, his skull caved in, and an eardrum was perforated. Altogether, he suffered 32 days of ill-treatment. But he was not intimidated into falsely accusing his brothers in order to get relief for himself.—Compare Job 2:4.
Other brothers were mistreated similarly. Some of them, when interrogated by their tormentors, were made to sit on a stool with a spike protruding from the center of the seat. This was called the “Roman treatment.” All of this they suffered simply for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, for refusing to sign statements that were filled with lies, and for refusing to bear false witness against their Christian brothers.
Some brothers were taken to prison in Zawiercie in 1950 because they refused to sign the political Stockholm Appeal. First to arrive there was Władysław Drabek from Poręba. He was locked in a dark dungeon with water reaching to his knees. He could rest a little by sitting with bent knees on top of some timber in a corner. Two days later the cell was packed with brothers. All had refused to sign the Appeal. From time to time, the guards gave the prisoners buckets in which to relieve themselves. If they did not use them when provided, they were not given a second chance. Understandably, after a few days, the water stank abominably.
A lifetime would be too short to relate every example of mistreatment that Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered after the mass arrests of 1950. The integrity of God’s servants was severely tested, and not surprisingly, some died as a result of the inhuman treatment.
Faithful Even to Death
Brother J. Szlauer was only 20 years old when, in August 1950, he was summoned to UB quarters in Cieszyn for interrogation. He steadfastly refused to denounce fellow believers. Frustrated, the interrogator shot him twice during the inquiry, and after an hour this young servant of Jehovah died. But before his death he managed to tell the doctor: “I was shot by the UB officer because I was faithful to Jehovah.” Other Witnesses suffered for years before death finally brought release. A traveling overseer, Alojzy Prostak from Kraków, was arrested in May 1952 in Szczecin. After two years of being held in custody in Warsaw and Łódź, he was so battered and exhausted that he had to be hospitalized. Acting at the suggestion of an attorney, his wife succeeded in having him released in 1954, but he died a week later. About 2,000 persons attended his funeral. The brother who courageously delivered his funeral talk at the cemetery used the occasion to protest the sadistic methods UB agents used when interrogating the Witnesses. Afterward he himself was forced to go into hiding in order to avoid arrest.
By 1956, reports revealed that 16 brothers, in all parts of Poland, had died because of UB torture or because of having been refused medical care. (Additional cases later came to light.) The corpses of these brothers were usually sent to the bereaved families in closed coffins, which they were not permitted to open. In other cases, they did not learn about the death of a loved one until many months had elapsed.
A Trial Behind Closed Doors
Survivors of this inhuman treatment described attempts that were made to force them to testify against the Society’s directors. Two brothers did break down under torture and let themselves be forced to give false testimony. But the UB also fabricated “evidence” of its own.
Using this, they staged a trial in Warsaw behind closed doors from March 16 to 22, 1951. Despite the danger to themselves, other Witnesses of Jehovah gathered in front of the courthouse in large numbers, hoping by their presence to encourage their brothers to endure faithfully.
By using paramedic vans, which were driven into the inner courtyard, the officials tried to get the defendants into the courtroom without their being seen. However, when the prisoners emerged from the vans, children of our brothers who had been able to get close to the courtyard wall shouted words of encouragement, a reminder to the defendants that they were not alone.
Seven brothers sat in the prisoners’ dock: four members of the board of directors of the Society’s legal corporation in Poland and three other brothers who for various reasons were viewed as important to the organization. The public prosecutor demanded capital punishment for Wilhelm Scheider. The Court sentenced him to life imprisonment. The other three directors were sentenced to 15 years apiece, the rest to shorter terms. All were placed in a maximum-security prison.