Friday, November 27, 2009

Post-War Neutrality Issue in Italy

*the following info is on pgs 222-227 of the 1982 Yearbook regarding the Christian neutrality issue in Italy after WWII

The Neutrality Issue

We have already described Remigio Cuminetti’s “odyssey” and the trials undergone by young Witnesses during the 1930’s. Nevertheless, the problem of Christian neutrality was to become even more acute after World War II, when there were greater numbers of young Christian men conscientiously desiring to keep themselves separate from the world.
The first brothers sent for trial in this period were given very heavy sentences and had a difficult time of it in prison. Some were tried five and six times, receiving sentences that added up to four or more years of imprisonment. This was because when a young Witness came out of prison he was drafted for military service again and sent back to prison every time he refused to comply. In theory, this chain of events could have gone on until one reached 45 years of age, when one is no longer subject to military call-up. However, after repeating the sentence a few times, the military authorities usually exempted the brothers on health grounds to avoid making martyrs out of them. They were classified as suffering from “religious paranoia” or “religious delirium.” In other words, they were considered mentally infirm.

A few brief experiences from some of the brothers who overcame this test...
Ennio Alfarano, sentenced five times during the 1950’s:
“I was imprisoned at Gaeta. The captain tried to compel three of us to give the military salute, and when we all refused he punished us by having our arms and legs tied tightly behind our backs for eight hours. It was very painful. Nonetheless, we kept our courage high by prayer and by the singing of songs to cheer one another up, and it helped us. After this, we were supposed to be kept on bread and water for three days, but other brothers in the prison got to know about this and always managed to bring us enough food to keep us going.”

Giuseppe Timoncini, also sentenced five times from 1956 to 1961:
“The military authorities tried to discourage me by saying: ‘None of Jehovah’s Witnesses resist for long. At the most they go through one trial and then they decide to do military service.’ I used to answer that this was not true. At this point they would reel off a list of names of those who had agreed to join the army. Of course, the names were invented.
“To help myself bear the months of close confinement I tried to think as little as possible about the end of my sentence, and sometimes I would completely forget how many months and days I still had to serve. I think this period of my life provided much useful training. It helped me to learn to adapt myself to any situation and to be humble and confide more closely in Jehovah God.”

Gino Tosetti, who spent more than four years in prison:
“My first days in prison in solitary confinement were very hard to bear. I remember what happened at Palermo. One morning the guard woke me up saying, ‘Get out of that bed Tosetti; there’s a pile of wood waiting to be chopped!’ He had had me on wood chopping every morning up till then, but that day I was in no condition to do it anymore. My hands were so blistered and sore I would not have been able to grip the ax.
“I asked to see the doctor. ‘You can only stay in bed if you have a temperature. If you haven’t got one you’ll be in trouble!’ he shot at me as he walked out. Thinking the worst was about to happen, I prayed to Jehovah to help me, and when they came to take my temperature I was as surprised as they were when the thermometer registered 39° C (102° F.).
“I had plenty of opportunities to witness. Once I was able to speak to a group of about 40 soldiers who stood around me listening carefully for nearly two hours. Our good conduct encouraged many, including our guards, to accept the truth. One morning a soldier on guard duty said to me: ‘Tosetti, please forgive me for all the bad things I have done to you. In spite of my behavior you never tried to get back at me. Last night on guard duty I read your magazine The Watchtower and it helped me to understand lots of things I didn’t think were important. I want you to help me understand them better.’
“This young soldier had been only too ready to cause trouble for me, but I was more than willing to forgive him. Afterward, we lost sight of each other, and several years passed by. By this time I had regained my freedom and was attending a district assembly when a person came up to me saying: ‘Why, don’t you remember me [he told me his name] when I used to open and close the prison gates for you and you used to speak to me about the truth?’ He had become a brother. We threw our arms around each other with tears in our eyes.”

(yay! =) isn't that awesome?)

As the number of Witnesses increased, the issue was continually brought to the attention of the public and the authorities alike. Finally, a law was approved decreeing that those who do not agree to do alternative service shall be sentenced to one single prison term, so that our young brothers are now given from 12 to 15 months’ imprisonment.
In the meantime, living conditions in military prisons have also improved. The Witnesses can hold regular meetings and have a theocratic library to help them with their personal study. They can have circuit assembly and district convention programs and even do the Bible dramas in costume. They have also been permitted to baptize some who have decided to dedicate their lives to Jehovah while still in prison. Each military prison is regularly visited by Christian elders who are specially assigned to this service.

From 1978 to 1980 there have been, on an average, 500 young brothers a year in prison on account of the neutrality issue. It is calculated that up to the present, several thousand Witnesses have kept a clear conscience before Jehovah God in this respect. In December 1980, the defense minister announced over national television that a parliamentary bill that would further improve the position of our brothers is under consideration. During the interview he described the Witnesses as “decent people” and declared that with the new law “the State will show respect for all religions.”

The conduct of young Witnesses with regard to Christian neutrality has served to enhance the esteem enjoyed by Jehovah’s people. For example, Il Corriere di Trieste stated:
“Jehovah’s Witnesses should be admired for their firmness and coherence. Contrary to other religions, their oneness as a people prevents them from praying to the same God, in the name of the same Christ, to bless two opposing sides of a conflict, or from mixing politics with religion to serve the interests of Heads of State or political parties. Last but not least, they are ready to face death rather than violate the basic precept set forth for man’s salvation: the commandment THOU SHALT NOT KILL!”

Young men in the Christian congregation have taken to heart the inspired exhortation to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears” (Isaiah 2:4) and have taken a personal stand to maintain their neutrality with respect to world controversies.—John 17:14, 16.