The Purple Triangle: The Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany

Last week, my son Aidan and I took a day trip to Dallas to visit the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. During the exhibit I was struck again by the display of the variously colored triangles the Nazis used to identify prisoners within their concentration camps. You're likely familiar with the yellow triangle (two often used to make a Star of David), indicating a Jewish prisoner. Red triangles were for political prisoners, like communists. Pink was for homosexual prisoners.

I knew about this labeling system and had seen exhibits like this before, but during this visit I was struck by a display about the purple triangle, which I don't recall encountering before.

The purple triangle was for the Jehovah's Witnesses, the only Christian denomination specifically targeted and persecuted by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps.

Why did the Nazis persecute the Jehovah's Witnesses?

Well, according to Jehovah's Witness theology, you cannot pledge allegiance to any ruler or nation. In addition, you cannot bear arms for any political power. Consequently, the Jehovah's Witnesses refused military service. They also refused to sing patriotic songs or give the "Heil Hitler!" salute. If you greeted a Jehovah's Witness with an "Heil Hitler!" they would answer, "Good morning" or "Good evening." 

Obviously, the Nazis found this completely intolerable, so they began to persecute the Jehovah's Witnesses and eventually sent them to the concentration camps. To be released, all they needed to do was sign a loyalty oath to Hitler and the Nazi state. Most of the Jehovah's Witnesses refused, and remained in the camps.

I confess, I don't know a lot about the Jehovah's Witnesses, nor do I want to defend their beliefs from top to bottom. But what I do want to share is that, as a Christian, I find their witness during the Holocaust to be absolutely heroic and admirable. 

The Christian resistance to Hitler was pretty abysmal. Both Catholics and Protestants have a very checkered history when it comes to standing up to Hitler. The Catholics appeased and the German Church just completely capitulated. Yes, there are a few heroes like Bonhoeffer (a Protestant) and the White Rose (mostly Catholic), but the denominations as a whole either appeased or outright supported the Nazis. 

And then there was the Jehovah's Witnesses. Here was a Christian denomination that had their own colored triangle in the Nazi concentration camps! Can you imagine a greater badge of honor for your church? 

My goodness, if I were a Jehovah's Witness, I'd wear a purple triangle pin every day of my life.

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