The Boys With Blind Faith
Those who will sow with tears, will reap
with joy....A last greeting from this old world in the hope of seeing you
again soon in a New World.
- Last Letter of Wolfgang Kusserow
Sometimes I hold my breath and dive down to the bottom of my fears and imagine writing a "last letter." The feeling is short lived; I quickly return to the surface for air and stay there because the gravity of the finite farewell is just too much for my comprehension to bear. Whenever I read the experience of Wolfgang and others like him, I marvel at the supernal strength given to them to be able to lay down their lives willingly, putting their faith in a higher order that goes beyond the earthly governments of this world. Maybe they felt the same fear. Maybe their blood ran cold at the thought of a metal bullet piercing their heart or a sharp blade having the sole purpose of severing human head from neck. Or just maybe they allowed a quite peace to take hold of their mind at the precipice of death to numb the pain and the fervent thoughts of family, friends, and home.
Wolfgang was only twenty and his older brother, Wilhelm, twenty-five when their lives were forcibly ended. Why were these young people made martyrs? For the simple reason that they refused to give allegiance to their national government and for denying Nazi Germany two more soldiers. As devout Jehovah's Witnesses, they were targets of Hitler from the very beginning of his regime.
About a year ago, my mother received a phone call from the principal of Sinclair Elementary. Apparently, there had been an altercation between my youngest brother, Abraham, and a first-time substitute teacher.
My whole family is part of the international association of Jehovah's Witnesses. Our beliefs are firmly rooted in the Bible and we do our best to live accordingly to its teachings. To the surprise of many, that's our basic practicing philosophy. Our religion has often been viewed as an unimportant Christian sect or obscure cult, mainly because we refuse to participate in holidays. Our neutrality to political issues and our absence in democratic government are also noteworthy standouts. The truth is, the Bible never mentions holidays and clearly states that true Christians should not be involved in this world's political system. The latter is derived from the Biblical teaching that our only savior is Jesus Christ and his heavenly father.
With that said, my younger brother had been taught to refrain from saying the pledge of allegiance at school. This deeply angered the substitute who happened to be a war veteran. To make matters worse, the nation was still recovering from the events of 9/11 and the man was obviously enlivened by the heightened sense of patriotism. After trying to persuade my brother to recite the pledge and salute the flag without any results, he became extremely indignant, yelling at Abraham and flying into a tirade of how America is the world's savior, democracy its salvation, and making an unneeded foray into how the Middle East had threatened our way of living. His rampage escalated to the point that the teacher next door had to come in and inquire about the situation. The teacher, who has known the family for more than a decade, tried to calmly explain our belief in the best way that she could and how the school had a reputation for honoring the views of Jehovah's Witnesses. This substitute, who hypocritically hailed democracy while imposing dictatorial methods, had the nerve to challenge her authority, so the only feasible resolution was for the teacher to take Abraham to her own classroom where he spent the rest of the day.
My mother put down the receiver and planned a mental scenario of what she would tell this man, making sure to include all the points needed to clarify and validate our beliefs. Needless to say, that conversation didn't go as planned and after a heated dispute, it was obvious that this man's stubbornness would continue to lock his close-minded brain.
Understanding the blind patriotism of men like that is almost as inconceivable as comprehending the blind faith of a little boy who's fat cheeks are tear-stained from a grueling interrogation. I don't know if Abraham really understood the gravity of his stance or the reasoning behind it (after all, as his older brother, it's my job to be cynical of his every move), but I do know that what must have been running through his mind; that whatever this act involved, it was something that would jeopardize his relationship with Jehovah God.
The persecution of the Kusserow family extended to the youngest of the children. PaulGerhard, Hans-Werner, and Elisabeth who were only eight, nine, and thirteen, were also made targets for ridicule for refusing to salute the German flag and give the common salute, "Heil, Hitler!" Elisabeth gave their defense from Acts 4:12, which says "There is no salvation in anyone else except Jesus Christ." For the extraordinary courage, they were taken from their parents and put in Nazi training schools, but their faith persevered. After the war, it was discovered all members of the family served a combined total of seventy-five years of imprisonment under the Nazi regime.
"This family is a perfect example of bravery. The strength of their faith truly is a testament to the human spirit." says one Jehovah's Witness from the Kashmere Congregation in Houston, Texas.
I only hope that the atrocities of the Holocaust serve as a reminder that faith should not have to be tested. We live in the world's most powerful democracy and it's the right of every human being to live as they please. In essence, Hitler's crusade against Jehovah's Witnesses was another form of his mind control. If we learn anything, it's the detriment tyrannical rule has on its subjects. There were people in Germany who sincerely believed in the teachings of the Nazi's and who believed that Hitler was indeed their savior. By eliminating free speech and freedom of religion, he was forcing people to accept this opinion as fact.
As Americans, it's our responsibility to become educated so something like this won't happen again. It's only when we learn to accept our differences, that we can truly become united. Otherwise, we'll end up in a world of darkness, where men are gassed, young boys are shot, and newborn sons are burned to ashes.
Castaneda, Abraham. Personal Interview. April 28, 2004. Castaneda, Saadia. Personal Interview. April 28, 2004.
Friedman, Ina R. "Elisabeth's Family: Twelve Jehovah's Witnesses Faithful Unto Death." In The Other Victims: First-Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis, 47-59. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
"My Family's Love for God Despite Prison and Death." Awake!. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1985.
Jehovah's Witnesses: Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1993.
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