Jehovah’s Witnesses, a pacifist religious group, are pursuing legal action against the German government to request a family archive documenting the Nazi persecution of Christian denomination.
The archive includes 31 volumes of documents relating to the Kusserow family, whose members were arrested, imprisoned, and murdered by the Nazi regime for their faith.
It has been held by the Military History Museum in Dresden, run by the German military, since 2009 when it was acquired from a member of the Kusserow family.
A German regional court rejected a claim by Jehovah’s Witnesses last year, saying the museum bought the archive in good faith and should keep it. But the religious group is appealing that ruling, arguing that the family member who sold it is not the real owner of the archive, which was left to Jehovah’s Witnesses in a will. 2005 by Annemarie Kusserow, family members assembled and maintained. document.
Wolfram Slupina, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, said the museum’s keeping of the archive, “stripped away an important and invaluable part of our cultural heritage. ”
The archive documents the lives and sufferings of the family of Franz and Hilda Kusserow, devout Witnesses of Jehovah, who are raising their 11 children in a large house in Bad Lippspringe , northern Germany when Nazi Germany came to power. Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first religious denomination to be banned, and the Kusserows’ home was searched for religious material by the Gestapo 18 times.
In 1939, the three youngest children were kidnapped from school and sent to a Nazi training school, where they were denied contact with their families. Franz, Hilda and the other children were all sentenced to prison. Two of the brothers, Wilhelm and Wolfgang, were executed as conscientious objectors.
On April 26, 1940, the evening before his execution, Wilhelm sent a letter to his family.
“You all know how much you mean to me, and I am constantly reminded of this every time I look at our family photo,” he wrote. “Above all, however, we must love God, as our Leader Jesus Christ commanded. If we stand up for him, he will reward us.”
Wilhelm’s farewell letter – and that of his brother Wolfgang – are among the documents in the family archive.
About 1,600 of Jehovah’s Witnesses died as a result of Nazi persecution. About 4,200 people were sent to concentration camps, where they were identified by a purple triangular badge affixed to their camp uniform.
They were the only persecuted people who had the option of ending their imprisonment: If they signed a statement renouncing their faith, they were released. Very few people agreed to sign, Slupina said.
Before her death, Annemarie Kusserow, keeper of the archives, lent her brother, Hans Werner Kusserow, documents to reproduce the book he was writing.
Although Annemarie’s will stipulated that the documents be delivered to the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Selters, a small town northwest of Frankfurt, her brother, who was not religious, sold them. for the Dresden museum for less than $5,000.
He’s been dead since then; only Hilda and Franz Kusserow’s youngest child, Paul-Gerhard, is still alive. He’s 90 years old.
Paul-Gerhard Kusserow said: “My brothers died because they refused to do military service. “I don’t see it fitting that this inheritance be stored, at all, in a military museum.”
A spokesman for the Military History Museum declined to comment on the legal battle. The museum’s permanent exhibition includes two documents from the archives in a section on victims of Nazi Germany; A spokesperson for Kai-Uwe Reinhold wrote in an email.
“The inclusion of various objects from the Kusserow archives into the permanent exhibition is of considerable value to the museum and to the public,” Reinhold wrote. “These objects testify and are a powerful reminder of the fact that freedom of religion and steadfast belief are not taken for granted, they must be defended and fought for again and again. ”
During negotiations before the lawsuit, the Dresden museum offered to provide the religious institution with copies of all the documents in the archive, Slupina said. But Jehovah’s Witnesses turned down that offer.
Armin Pikl, an attorney for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said the proposal that the museum should lend the group original documents not on display in Dresden had been rejected by the museum’s lawyers. Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a lawsuit in April 2021.
The district court ruled last year finding that Hans Werner Kusserow had not stolen the archive and was legally in possession of it at the time of sale, so it was legal regardless of the rightful owner. Who is.
But Jehovah’s Witnesses argued that afterward, the group remained the owners, and the archives were sold without the consent of his surviving siblings or of Jehovah’s Witnesses- and “It’s not his business to sell,” said Jarrod Lopes, the group’s New York-based international spokesman.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also objected to the court’s view that the sale was made in good faith, arguing that the museum should have known from correspondence with Hans Werner Kusserow that he did not own the stock. store or have the right to sell it, Pikl said. . In 2008, Hans Werner wrote to a museum employee saying that he and his two surviving siblings had agreed to a “long-term loan” of the archives. A representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses has also contacted the museum about the loan. The group argues that the museum should infer from this contact that Hans Werner is not authorized to sell archives.
Slupina said the group is expanding its facility in Selters, including a permanent exhibition there. “The fate of this family is closely tied to that of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says Slupina. “We take great care that these documents are in our care.”
Specific mention of the suffering of Jehovah’s Witnesses is often omitted in the Holocaust accounts or on memorials; Slupina said they were often included in a vague reference to “other groups of victims”. While Berlin has memorials to murdered Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals and victims of euthanasia, there is no memorial dedicated to Jehovah’s Witnesses yet- and was killed by the Nazis. Erhard Grundl, a Green Party lawmaker, called for a specific monument to the religious group in a speech to parliament on January 13.
A hearing on the appeal of Jehovah’s Witnesses has not yet been scheduled.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/25/arts/design/jehovahs-witnesses-nazis-lawsuit-museum.html Jehovah’s Witnesses Sue German Museum to Archive Nazi Abuses