August 18, 2022
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The Jehovah’s Witnesses, a pacifist spiritual group, are pursuing authorized motion towards the German authorities to assert a household archive that paperwork the Nazis’ persecution of the Christian denomination.

The archive includes 31 information of paperwork referring to the Kusserow household, whose members have been arrested, imprisoned and murdered by the Nazi regime as a result of of their religion.

It has been held by the Museum of Navy Historical past in Dresden, which is operated by the German military, since 2009 when it was bought from a member of the Kusserow household.

A German regional courtroom rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ declare final yr, saying the museum had bought the archive in good religion and will hold it. However the spiritual group is interesting that ruling, arguing that the member of the family who offered it was not the precise proprietor of the archive, which had been bequeathed to the Jehovah’s Witnesses within the 2005 will of Annemarie Kusserow, the member of the family who had assembled and maintained the paperwork.

The museum’s retention of the archive, mentioned Wolfram Slupina, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, “deprives us of a big and invaluable half of our cultural heritage.”

The archive paperwork the lives and struggling of the household of Franz and Hilda Kusserow, religious Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have been elevating their 11 kids in a big home in Unhealthy Lippspringe in northern Germany when the Nazis got here to energy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been the primary spiritual denomination to be banned, and the Kusserows’ dwelling was searched for spiritual supplies by the Gestapo 18 occasions.

In 1939, the three youngest kids have been kidnapped from their faculty and despatched to a Nazi coaching faculty, the place they have been denied contact with their household. Franz, Hilda and the opposite kids have been all sentenced to jail phrases. Two of the brothers, Wilhelm and Wolfgang, have been executed as conscientious objectors.

On April 26, 1940, the night earlier than he was executed, Wilhelm despatched a letter to his household.

“All of you know the way a lot you imply to me, and I’m repeatedly reminded of this each time I have a look at our household picture,” he wrote. “Nonetheless, above all we should love God, as our Chief Jesus Christ commanded. If we get up for him, he’ll reward us.”

Wilhelm’s farewell letter — and his brother Wolfgang’s — are among the many paperwork within the household archive.

Some 1,600 Jehovah’s Witnesses died because of this of Nazi persecution. About 4,200 have been despatched to focus camps, the place they have been recognized by a purple triangular badge connected to their camp uniforms.

They have been the one persecuted individuals who had the selection of ending imprisonment: In the event that they signed a declaration renouncing their religion, they have been liberated. Only a few agreed to signal, Slupina mentioned.

Earlier than she died, Annemarie Kusserow, the keeper of the archive, had lent paperwork to her brother, Hans Werner Kusserow, to make copies for a e-book he was writing.

Although Annemarie’s will stipulated that the paperwork ought to go to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ headquarters in Selters, a small city northwest of Frankfurt, her brother, who was not a member of the religion, offered them to the Dresden museum for lower than $5,000.

He has additionally since died; solely the youngest youngster of Hilda and Franz Kusserow, Paul-Gerhard, remains to be alive. He’s 90.

“My brothers died for refusing to take part in army service,” Paul-Gerhard Kusserow mentioned. “I don’t discover it correct that this inheritance is saved, of all locations, in a army museum.”

A spokeswoman for the Museum of Navy Historical past declined to touch upon the authorized battle. The museum’s everlasting exhibition consists of two paperwork from the archive in a piece concerning the Nazis’ victims; 4 additional objects, together with Wilhelm’s farewell letter, are on show in an exhibit about resistance towards the regime, the spokesman, Kai-Uwe Reinhold, wrote in an electronic mail.

“The inclusion of numerous objects from the Kusserow archive within the everlasting exhibition is of appreciable worth to the museum and for the general public,” Reinhold wrote. “These objects testify to and are a forceful reminder of the truth that spiritual freedom and steadfast beliefs will not be a matter of course, they have to be defended and fought for repeatedly.”

In negotiations earlier than the lawsuit, the Dresden museum provided to offer the spiritual group with copies of all of the paperwork within the archive, Slupina mentioned. However the Jehovah’s Witnesses rejected that provide.

A proposal that the museum ought to mortgage the group the unique paperwork not on show in Dresden was rejected by the museum’s attorneys, mentioned Armin Pikl, a lawyer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed swimsuit in April 2021.

The regional courtroom that dominated final yr discovered that Hans Werner Kusserow had not stolen the archive and was rightfully in possession of it on the time of the sale, which was due to this fact respectable regardless of who the authorized proprietor was.

However the Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that the group was then, and stays, the proprietor and that the archive was offered with out the consent of his surviving siblings or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It wasn’t his to promote,” mentioned Jarrod Lopes, the New York-based worldwide spokesman for the group.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses additionally problem the courtroom’s view that the acquisition was made in good religion, arguing that the museum ought to have been conscious from its correspondence with Hans Werner Kusserow that he didn’t personal the archive or have the proper to promote it, Pikl mentioned. In 2008, Hans Werner wrote to a museum worker saying that he and his two surviving siblings agreed to “a long-term mortgage” of the archive to the museum. A consultant of the Jehovah’s Witnesses was additionally in touch with the museum concerning the mortgage. The group argues that the museum ought to have surmised from this contact that Hans Werner was not approved to promote the archive.

Slupina says the group is extending its premises in Selters, together with its everlasting exhibition there. “The destiny of this household may be very carefully linked to the destiny of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Slupina mentioned. “We’re very eager that these paperwork are cared for by us.”

Particular point out of the struggling of Jehovah’s Witnesses is continuously omitted in Holocaust accounts or on memorials; they’re usually included in a obscure reference to “different victims’ teams,” Slupina mentioned. Whereas Berlin has memorials for the murdered Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexual folks and euthanasia victims, there is no such thing as a memorial as but devoted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses killed by the Nazis. Erhard Grundl, a Inexperienced Social gathering lawmaker, known as for a particular monument for the spiritual group in a speech to parliament on Jan. 13.

A listening to on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ enchantment has but to be scheduled.

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