I have studied the holocaust in some depth, and I am familiar with the repulsive ideological reasons for the Nazis' persecution of Jews, Poles, Slavs, Communists, etc, but I haven't seen any explanation for their similar policies regarding Jehovah's Witnesses. Obviously, eugenics and race had nothing to do with it, and I'm not clear on what political problems would be attributed to JW's.

Why did the Nazis target Jehovah's Witnesses?

  • idk, to me it would seem that hitler and the Nazi's were also (or at least probably) biased against religions. Not just against the Jewish "race" but against there faith as well, so it would seem very logical that they target the less mainstream religions for destruction if their goal was a specific set of values in all the population. And wasn't the semiofficial state religion Christianity? I don't know all that much about Jehovah's witnesses, but most people today consider them and the mormons not to be Christian; though they claim to be. Just some thoughts. i have no sources.
    – Alexandre
    Sep 7, 2015 at 23:00
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    National socialism and fascism value the collective; they discourage any identity other than that of the group. In their ideal fascist state, there should be no need for diversity or non-conformism.
    – MCW
    Sep 21, 2016 at 19:14
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    @Alexandre. I don't think that Hitler was particularly biased against religions. In "Mein Kampf", Hitler presents himself as very attached to the freedom of religion and cult and insists that his hostility to Jews is racial and political, not religious. When he was in power, there were of course tensions with established religions, as they were alternate source of authority incompatible with the totalitarian nature of the regime, but it was this (an authority not emanating from the party/state/himself) that was the problem, not the religions per se.
    – Joël
    Sep 22, 2016 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


The main problem was that they refused to participate in warfare.

At one point, Himmler even suggested that they should promote this religion among the Slavs so that they wouldn't resist. But among Germans it was seen detrimental.

  • 15
    A source perhaps?
    – Relaxed
    Sep 6, 2015 at 8:56

My sister was a Witness for a while, and one of my good friends in high school was. I got to know her family & of course they hoped to convert me, so I learned a lot about them.

Witnesses do not pledge allegiance to the flag in US classrooms. They do not believe in nationalist ties. They don't even serve the armed services in CO jobs like medic: my friend's male relatives were prepared to go to jail if drafted.

Naturally, the Nazis could not tolerate a subculture with no national loyalty, a rigid objection to any participation in a war effort, and an especial respect for Jews.

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    The witnesses were NOT respecting Jews in Germany. Just the opposite, they were VERY anti-Semitic in Nazi Germany. Because of this they were seen as excellent supervisors in concentration camps. They always did the jobs excellently, without any sabotage, always reported any conspiracies and preparations for armed resistance etc. They only refused to go to war. Especially because of their anti-Semitism Himmler suggested to promote the religion among the Slavs.
    – Anixx
    Nov 7, 2015 at 16:56
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    Both the answer and the comment need references...
    – Evargalo
    Oct 29, 2018 at 13:32

The overarching reason why the Nazis targeted Jehovah's Witnesses was because the Nazi's were trying to mobilize the German nation under a totalitarian one-party state, but the Witnesses refused to be a part of this movement.

Witnesses then as now refused to participate in anything which they saw as political. They do not vote, run for office, or go to war. It is not that they are pacifists. They do not go to war because they see wars as political activities. They see participation in politics as an act of disloyalty to God whom they expect to shortly replace all human governments.

However, they believe that until that happens God expects them to be good citizens in all other respects and to obey human rulers as long as they do not require that which God forbids for forbid that which he requires.

This brought them into direct conflict with the Nazi state. The state demanded that citizens glorify it and support its policies by word and deed. This was a beyond a bright line which the Witnesses would not cross. They would not shout "Heil Hitler!" in greeting. They would not join Nazi organizations. They would not do work that supported the war effort. They would not join the army. They would not sign a document renouncing their faith. And, they would not stop spreading their faith.

They also distributed publications critical of the Nazi movement and Hitler both inside and outside of Germany. This included descriptions of concentration camps and the program to exterminate the Jews well before these things were well-known outside of Germany.

Most of those who were caught and confined in the concentration camps continued their resistance there. Attempts to break them and make them participate in the war effort were largely unsuccessful. This was because their belief system imbued their suffering with profound meaning. If they died, then their death was a heroic death in a noble cause.

Since the Witnesses considered themselves law-abiding citizens they would accept work which they considered neutral and frequently did hard labor on various construction projects.

The Nazi officials knew that the Witnesses, as prisoners of conscience, could be relied on to follow their declared principles in all cases. A few were set to work as barbers and shaved officers with straight razors. Occasionally officers would bring Witnesses women home to assist their wives with child care. The Witnesses saw the faithful fulfillment of such duties as a way to delineate their position and expose the hypocrisy of a State which cast law-abiding citizens as enemies.

The struggle between the Witnesses and the Nazi state was a war of two completely incompatible ideologies. One demanded absolute obedience to the State in all things. The other demanded absolute obedience to God. Serious conflict was inevitable.

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