(Houghton Mifflin,) $5.95 soft cover, $14.95 hard.
ALA Best Books for Young Adults, NCSS/CBC “Pick of the Lists.”
In addition to Six Million Jews, the Nazis deliberately murdered Five Million non-Jews for racial, political or social reasons. Among those killed were Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political opponents of the Nazis, the handicapped, homosexuals, artists and writers, blacks, Slavic peoples, dissenting clergy and resistance fighters.
Elisabeth’s Family: Twelve Jehovah’s Witnesses Faithful Unto Death
“Quick, Elisabeth,” Annemarie shouted, “The Gestapo!” . . . . In Paderborn, very few people besides the Gestapo had cars. . . .
Before the Mercedes stopped, I scooped up the Watchtower pamphlets and put them in my knapsack. Magdalena stuffed the books into hers. We ran outside and hid the literature behind the bushes. . . . .
We were Jehovah’s Witnesses. . . . Anyone found with literature from our Watchtower Society could be arrested.
What a happy family we were before Hitler. . . . The house sat on three acres of land. Father organized our daily chores. One week the boys took care of the chickens and ducks and lamb. That week, the girls worked in the garden. . . .
But it wasn’t all work. Before we went to school in the morning, and in the evening, we sat around the table talking about the Bible. . . . Mother had graduated from teachers’ school, and Father made time for her to teach us music and painting. The house was filled with musical instruments . . . . What joyful music we made as we played from the book Hymns to Jehovah’s Praise.
My father sensed that some of the faithful would be persecuted by Hitler. . . . . He quoted from Matthew and Revelations, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; . . . be thou faithful unto death. . . .”
In 1936, . . . . When the Gestapo knocked on our door, one of them waved a piece of paper in Father’s face and shouted, “Franz Kusserow, you must sign this document promising never to have anything to do with the International Society of Bible Students. If you don’t you’ll be sent to prison.”
Father read aloud the first paragraph. “I have recognized that the International Society of Bible Students spreads a false doctrine and pursues goals entirely hostile to the state under the cover of religious activity.” Father shook his head. “This is ridiculous. I can’t sign. . . . “
The S.S. man turned to Mother. “And you? If you don’t your children will be without parents.”
Mother removed her apron . . . . “No, I cannot sign. . . .”
After a few days, the Nazis released Mother from prison. They kept Father. Mother couldn’t understand why they released her, because she still refused to sign the paper. . . . What a joyful reunion we had when he was released a year later. All thirteen of us took up our instruments, and the house resounded with hymns of praise.
. . . . as the years passed, the situation in school became more and more painful. Every day, the teacher reprimanded me for not saluting the Nazi flag. . . . To salute a flag or a person was the same as worshipping idols. . . . .
The teacher always watched me. “So, Elisabeth you do not want to join in praise of our leader. Tell us why, Elisabeth.”
“Acts 4:12 of the New Testament says, ‘There is no salvation in anyone else except Jesus Christ.'”
“Imagine, Elisabeth Kusserow believes in that ridiculous New Testament.”
The children laughed. . . . On the way home from school, they pushed me and threw my books to the ground.
Our troubles grew. . . . . In 1938, the Gestapo arrested Father for the second time.
In the spring of 1939, the principal came into my class. “Elisabeth, since you refuse to salute our flag and say, ‘Heil Hitler,’ it is obvious that your parents are neglecting your spiritual and moral development. I have taken it upon myself to obtain a court order to remove you and your two younger brothers from your home. The three of you will be sent to a place where you will get proper instruction?”
At thirteen, the words made no sense to me. “Our parents raised us according to the teachings of Jehovah God,” I protested.
“Please, please, let me call my mother,” I begged. “She’ll be frantic when we don’t come home.”
“Traitors are not to know what happens to their children. . . .”