Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics Under Persecution


412 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8678-0
DDC 289.9'2'094309043




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. His
most recently published works are Biblical Religion and Family Values,
Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics, and Religion and


Historian M. James Penton, a professor emeritus at the University of
Lethbridge, is best known for his work Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of
Jehovah’s Witnesses (1997). He has an intimate familiarity with
Jehovah’s Witnesses—having been raised as one—and his writings on
the leadership of the Witnesses (the Watch Tower Bible and Tract
Society) are marked by a pronounced asperity. Even Penton’s comments
on fellow historians who show sympathy or respect for the Witnesses are
often extraordinarily astringent. Penton’s primary aim here is to
counter the Watch Tower Society’s propaganda that it was opposed to
Hitlerism from the start and has consistently avoided anti-Semitic
teaching. Penton gives close attention to a critically important
document, the Declaration of Facts, which he sees as an effort to
ingratiate the Witnesses with the Nazis. He points to anti-Semitic
stereotypes therein and in other Society literature. Penton argues that
the Society’s attempts early on to compromise with the Nazis and the
Society’s abandonment of earlier philo-Semitic tendencies were
orchestrated not by the Society’s German leadership but by its
president, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and his associates in the
American leadership. Penton apparently holds that Society leaders, who
have in recent years focused attention on Nazi persecution of
Jehovah’s Witnesses, have been “riding the Holocaust
bandwagon”—as indeed have many Jews—and he generally plays down
the victimization of his former co-religionists. Even when they were
genuinely courageous, Penton is moved to ask, “Was not their courage
often an example of fanatical foolhardiness driven by J.F.
Rutherford’s teachings?”

Penton has done extensive archival research and provided valuable
appendixes and a good bibliography and index. His exposé of the dark
side of Watch Tower leadership in its dealings with Nazis, Jews, and
others fills a genuine need; but his overview of the experience of
Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi period is not a balanced one and
should be approached with critical judgment. University libraries that
include this work in their collections would do well also to include
books and articles that offer alternative perspectives, particularly in
the light of continuing persecution and hatred of Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Penton, M. James., “Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics Under Persecution,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024,