Germany: Property of archives in a German military museum claimed by anti-war Jehovah’s Witnesses
As reported by The New York Times on 25 January, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany are seeking to obtain the extensive archives of the Kusserow family, decimated by the Nazis during WW II, which are currently held by the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany claim to be the legal heir to the archive.
Noteworthy is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have always been against war and military solutions in conflictual situations between two or several countries. In conformity with their religious beliefs, they have always refused to carry out military service everywhere around the world. Thousands of them in South Korea, Greece, France and many other countries have spent many years in prison because of their anti-war religious beliefs and in Nazi Germany, a number of their objectors were even executed. ‘Irony of history’, a military museum is now in possession of the decimated Kusserow family and beyond the legal property issue, German Jehovah’s Witnesses feel offended by what they call a gross moral injustice. For years, they have only been able to see the Kusserow family archive in a military building exhibiting all sorts of weapons used to kill and destroy.
The 13 members of the Kusserow family were harshly persecuted by the Nazi regime because of their religious identity. Two of the boys, Wilhelm and Wolfgang, were executed for not supporting the Nazi military effort.
Their youngest and only living sibling, Paul-Gerhard Kusserow, asserted: “My brothers died for refusing to participate in military service. I don’t find it proper that this inheritance is stored in a military museum.” Therefore, primarily to address this moral wrong, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany are seeking to obtain the Kusserow archive from the museum.
Additionally, Jehovah’s Witnesses say they have documentation to prove that Annemarie Kusserow, the eldest sibling, bequeathed Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany the archive that she meticulously compiled. The archive consists of over 1,000 items that include photographs, drawings, pre-execution farewell letters, death penalty pronouncements, and classified Gestapo reports.
Annemarie died in 2005. Subsequently, the Witnesses discovered the Bundeswehr Military History Museum had obtained the archive. According to the museum, they bought it in good faith from a Kusserow family member—who was no longer affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses and has since died.
For nearly seven years, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany have been unable to reach a peaceful settlement with the museum and have taken legal action to acquire it.
If successful, the Witnesses plan to display the Kusserow archive in their museum at the Central Europe office in Selters, Germany. It will then be accessible to any visitor free of charge.
History of the Persecution of the Kusserow Family
- Wilhelm Kusserow was one of the first conscientious objectors executed by Nazis during World War II. He was killed by firing squad
- Wolfgang Kusserow, a younger brother of Wilhelm, was beheaded two years later
- Franz Kusserow, the father, was imprisoned three times. Annemarie and Waltraud, two of the daughters, were imprisoned
- The mother, Hilda Kusserow, as well as two of her daughters, Hildegard and Magdalena, were imprisoned and subsequently sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp
- Karl-Heinz Kusserow, one of the sons, was sent to the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps
- During the 12 years of the Nazi regime, members of the Kusserow family were sentenced to a total of 47 years and 9 months in prisons or concentration camps
- The three youngest children were abducted and sent to Nazi training schools, forbidden to contact their family. Subsequently, they were placed under the care of families who supported the National Socialist party.