Traitors and Heroes: The Whitewashed History of the Watchtower Society in Nazi Germany

Norman Hovland

The man who became leader of the German branch of the Watchtower Society after the war is without exception portrayed as a beacon of virtue and faith, standing fearless against the Nazis:

"Many of the loyal ones, among them Erich Frost and Konrad Franke, who suffered much for the Lord's sake and later became branch overseers in Germany, returned alive from the fiery furnace of persecution." (The Watchtower, May 1, 1989, p. 12)

Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Erich Frost and many of the other Watchtower leaders during the Nazi era in Germany were in reality traitors of the worst kind.

It is quite interesting to see how the Watchtower literature itself confirms the information Mr. Frost gave to the Gestapo. In 1979 the Watchtower magazine published the story of llse Unterdörfer and Elfride Löhr. Erich Frost's life story was published already in 1961. Their story is extremely interesting because they confirm a lot of what is written in Frost's interrogation protocol.

It is highly likely that Frost was recruited as an informer for the Gestapo already in 1934, when he was arrested and released after 10 days:

"In the spring of 1934 I was introduced to the inside of a prison for ten days, then released." (The Watchtower, April 15, 1961, p. 245)

In 1935 he was again brought in by the Gestapo because they needed the names of all the Watchtower leaders in Germany. Here is Frost's version of what happened:

"Upon returning to Germany in May, 1935, I took part in the underground work. On the night of June 13 I was arrested at my hotel and taken to Berlin's "Columbia House," where I spent the worst five months of my life. Clubbed and stepped on, always in solitary confinement, vexed and humbled daily, I learned then that humans could become beasts. A Gestapo agent's senseless questions failed to convict me of being a revolutionist. Unexpectedly I was released and soon faded back into the underground to serve Jehovah further." (The Watchtower, April 15, 1961, p. 245)

Frost could now inform the Gestapo about the upcoming convention in Switzerland and the Gestapo saw how they could place their own informer in a central position in the German branch of the Watchtower organization. Having received the necessary information from Frost they were able to arrest them all, as the Watchtower confirms:

"In August 1936, the German gestapo (secret police) began a concerted campaign against our underground organization. Fritz Winkler, who had oversight of our work, and most of the regional directors were arrested and imprisoned." (The Watchtower, November 1, 1979, p. 9)

"Preparations got under way for a convention in Lucerne, Switzerland. Meanwhile, the Nazis began a new drive against us. Already most of the brothers holding responsible positions had been arrested. My efforts were to pick up the loose ends and get things going again. Numberless back doors and windows provided narrow escapes from the Gestapo, but my mother and brother were arrested." (The Watchtower, April 15, 1961, p. 245)

The Gestapo had thus moved Frost into the perfect position and they really had great success because during the Luzern convention Frost was indeed appointed the new leader of the underground work in Germany by J.F. Rutherford. Ilse Unterdörfer was also assigned to this work. Frost stated in the Watchtower:

"Attending the Lucerne convention in September, 1936, was the Society's president, Brother Rutherford, and 2,500 of us from Germany. I was assigned to reorganize the severely disrupted underground work, and began immediately." (The Watchtower, April 15, 1961, p. 245)

The Gestapo was of course interested in getting the names of the new WT underground leadership but gave them some time to set up the organization before they went to work.

Frost describes his arrest in the Watchtower:

"The annual Memorial celebration of Christ's death was due March 27, 1937. I had arranged to meet with ten brothers at that time to discuss the underground activity. At two o'clock in the morning came heavy blows and kicking against the apartment door! In seconds I hid a small roll of paper containing vital information in the mattress of my couch. In came ten secret police: "All right, get up and get dressed, Frost. The jig is up!" I prayed to Jehovah and proceeded to dress while they turned the room into shambles. The small roll was never found." (The Watchtower, April 15, 1961, p. 246)

Frost doesn't give any date for his arrest but according to Ilse Unterdörfer this must have happened on March 21, 1937, the date she gives for the arrest of her and Frost. Frost brags about hiding "a small roll of paper containing vital information in the mattress of my couch" but this was of course a lie. The Gestapo interrogation protocols show that he had betrayed the entire group of Watchtower officials already on April 2, 1937, 11 days after his arrest, so the Gestapo never needed the "small roll":

"Then, on March 21, 1937, less than two weeks after I first met Elfriede, Brother Frost and I were arrested. About the same time, certain regional service directors also fell into the hands of the Gestapo. Brother Heinrich Dietschi, a regional service director who was still free, assumed oversight of the work in Brother Frost's absence." (The Watchtower, November 1, 1979, p. 10)

Heinrich Dietschi was appointed by Rutherford to take over in case Frost was arrested:

"So it was that, for the time being, Brother Frost was appointed to take over the responsibility. Then Brother Rutherford asked: ‘What happens if you are arrested?' In the case of Brother Frost's arrest, Brother Dietschi was recommended by the brothers to take over." (1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 154)

Thanks to Erich Frost's treason the Gestapo had the identity of all the newly appointed members of the Watchtower "underground" at this early date, including the above mentioned Heinrich Dietschi. All was listed by name and assigned districts by Frost in the Gestapo documents:

"Georg R a b e. Bezirksdiener für 
                1. Ostpreussen
                2. Westpreussen
                3. Pommern
                4. Mecklenburg.

Artur N a w r o t h. Bezirksdiener für
                     1. Ostschlesien
                     2. Grensmark.

August F e h s t. Bezirksdiener für
                  1. Westschlesien
                  2. Sachsen (östlich der Elbe), nach
                     der Festnähme den Bezirksdienern
                     Wilhelm E n g e l, festgenommen
                     in Dezember 36 oder Januar 37.

Otto D a u t h. Bezirksdiener für
                1. Berlin
                2. Mark Brandenburg.

Fred M e i e r. Bezirksdiener für
                1. Westsachsen bis einschließlich

Walther F r i e s e. Bezirksdiener für
                     1. Thüringen
                     2. Harsgebiet
                     3. [? Hannover]

Heinrich D i t s c h i. Bezirksdiener für
                        1. Schleswig-Holstein 
                        2. Oldenburg
                        3. Ruhrgebiet, Westfalen.

Albert W a n d r e s. Bezirksdiener für
                      1. Rheinland 
                      2. Baden 
                      3. Württemberg.

Karl S i e b e n e i c h l e r. Bezirksdiener für 
                                1 Bayern."

In a document dated April 26, 1937, Frost made the following statements to the Gestapo:

"On March 6, 1937, on the last day of the big meeting in Berlin, Sienbeneichler was not present and we were worried. I therefore sent Ilse Unterdörfer immediately to Munich to find out about Sienbeneichler. I gave Unterdörfer a Munich phone number mentioned to me by Sienbeneichler. Calling this number Unterdörfer got in touch with a sister unknown to me, which went under the name "Gertrud". As far as I can recall, this Gertrud is identical to Elfriede Löhr, from Munich. I at least assume that this is the case, at the moment I can't be anymore specific."

This information which Frost gave to the Gestapo was very accurate as can be seen from the Watchtower:

Erich Frost lecturing in Nüremberg, 1946

"It was an assignment from Brother Frost that sent me to Munich to locate Elfriede Löhr. The only thing I knew about her was that her father was a dentist. I found their address in the telephone directory and, as a precaution, phoned first. When we met, I told Elfriede that she had been invited to work full time with us." (The Watchtower, November 1, 1979, p. 9)

The Watchtower tells us about Elfriede's confusion when Ilse and Erich don't show up for the appointed meeting:

"She wondered: "Who is Brother Frost's successor, and how can I meet him?" After praying to Jehovah, it came to her mind to seek contact in the town of Leutkirch, about 150 km (90 mi.) from Munich. In Leutkirch, on that very day she met the brother whom Brother Dietschi had sent to locate her. Surely this seemed to be by angelic direction!" (The Watchtower, November 1, 1979, p. 10)

How sweet! Pity the angels didn't concern themselves with Frost who was busy like a beaver supplying the Gestapo with the necessary information that would later see Elfriede behind bars. Ilse Unterdörfer confirms that the Gestapo did indeed arrest Elfriede:

Thus, while Elfriede was free, I found myself in the grip of the gestapo. At first I was sentenced only to a year and nine months. But immediately after serving the sentence, I was arrested again and sent to the Lichtenburg concentration camp, early in 1939. To my great surprise, Elfriede was there when I arrived." (The Watchtower, November 1, 1979, p. 10-11)

Yes, the traitor and later leader of the German branch office did a good job for the Gestapo and he became very popular among the Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany after the war. He was very kind to Ilse and Elfriede and sent them to Brooklyn to attend the Gilead school. Another interesting bit of information can be found in this quote form the Watchower:

"Extensive preparations were also made for a transportable radio transmitter to be built in the Netherlands and put into operation sometime in the fall of 1937. The Gestapo had already got wind of this and were furious with Brother Dietschi, whose name they knew but who proved to be just as elusive as Brother Wandres." (1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 160)

The Gestapo documents show that the source of Dietschi's connections to Netherlands came from Frost. After this coup by the Gestapo, Frost wasn't of very much use for them anymore, the entire Watchtower underground network was destroyed apart from some few scattered individuals who weren't able to do much. Some of them were arrested as late as 1944 and brought to a "correction house" in the Brandenburg district. One of them, Wilhelm Schumann was starting up the German Watchtower branch after the war. Both Schumann and Frost were after the war hailed as "faithful" and "steadfast" brothers. As documented above Frost was far from "faithful" to anyone but himself and the Gestapo.

After Schumann's arrest in January/February of 1944 he was confined to Correction house Brandenburg (Havel) Görden. Schumann is mentioned in the 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses as working on the Photo Drama:

"There was no color photography at the time, but Wilhelm Schumann of the Magdeburg Bethel was untiring in his efforts to touch up the black-and-white photographs with color." (1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 96)

In 1944 the happy days of touching up the black and white pictures for the "Photo Drama" must have seemed ages ago, when the grim reality of death stared Herr Schumann in the face.

What did he do? He wrote the following letter:

Correction House
Brandenburg (Havel) Görden 22 October 1944

The third Senate of the Peoples Court in Berlin
Great Senate!

With this I humbly allow myself to ask you to recommend that my plea of pardon from the death penalty get priority...

If possible I would give my support to the thousands of Germans, friends of our people, members of farming and agriculture, the war industry, the defense forces and the leaders of the party, the commerce which has supplied us and defended us at the front...

It has been far from me to carry out any political activity to destroy the defense moral, as I am accused of...

I have to admit that I through the writings of the IBV (International Biblestudents Association), was mislead to believe that the will of the Führer, to save the German nation from ruin by Bolshevism, was a deception, that it was really about supporting the Catholic hierarchy's pursuit for world domination. Today, however, when the fight for our people, our nation's very existence stands at our very borders, I see that I, although too late must realize that all the political predictions of the Biblestudents are merely fantasies and false teachings which simply bring harm, this I have been considering.

Since the middle of this year I have through instructive conversations with my Gestapo official in charge, Herr Rabold come to realize that I instead of being of benefit to our people, have by this insane undertaking only caused harm and in addition plunged my family into nameless misery. My wish is that God some day will give me the opportunity to take part in the fight for our people and thus for my family, be this as it may, but I request the opportunity to do my duty as a German. This is my prayer.

Wilhelm Schumann

There is of course no reason to criticize Schumann for trying to save his life by publicly distancing himself from the "Biblestudents" (Jehovah's Witnesses) and calling the Watchtower writings "fantasies" and "false teachings". He probably also had good reason to be proud of his contributions to the Nazi war machine. But the behavior of Schumann, Frost and many of the other Watchtower leaders in Germany during the war is very, very far from the picture the Watchtower literature has been trying to portray ever since. As in every other instance where the Watchtower Society is trying to write their own history, not much of it stands the test of a thorough investigation. In 1989 the Watchtower wrote the following:

"These traitors each came to a bad end. As the Nazis said, they loved the betrayal but not the betrayer. All three were sent to the eastern front and never came back. How different it turned out for those who never gave up friendship with God and his people! Many of the loyal ones, among them Erich Frost and Konrad Franke, who suffered much for the Lord's sake and later became branch overseers in Germany, returned alive from the fiery furnace of persecution." (The Watchtower, May 1, 1989, p. 12)

Well, as we have documented, the Watchtower Society really did love their traitors, so much so that some of them even became leaders of the Watchtower in Germany after the war. Probably the worst traitor of them all, Erich Frost, was a well-respected leader for many, many years.