362.1163 Watch Tower/23

The Consul General at Berlin (Messersmith) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 1428

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 1324 of May 22, 1933,56 making a report to the Department with regard to the seizure by the police throughout Germany of the property of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. The Consulate General has been in close contact with Mr. Hans Dollinger, the Magdeburg representative of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and also with Mr. Paul Balzereit, representative for central Europe, as well as with Judge J. F. Rutherford of Brooklyn, New York. As was reported in the previous despatch, the property at Magdeburg was seized soon after the National Socialist Government came into power and after ten days, through the intervention of the Consulate General, the property was again released. In the meantime a general action on the part of members of the National Socialist Party began against the activities of the Society throughout Germany, so that one decree after another was promulgated by the various states of Germany, excluding Prussia, which eventually was the last to forbid the activities of this Society.

Judge Rutherford, the President of the Society in Brooklyn, New York, has been in Europe for a number of months and took the opportunity to [Page 408]come to Germany a number of weeks ago and called at the Consulate General where he had a long interview with Consul Geist with regard to the status of the affairs of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Germany. It was then explained to Judge Rutherford that the German authorities throughout the country had taken the view that not only the pamphlets but the teachings and the activities of the bible instructors who are attached to their organization throughout the country are inimical to organized Government, the established church and society. Judge Rutherford was very much concerned as to the status of their affairs in Germany and appeared willing to trust somewhat to possible favorable developments which might come about with the march of affairs. His representatives in Germany had complained that the pamphlets prepared in New York for this country were not in accordance with the ideas that have come about with the so-called national resurgence. These men being Germans, understood thoroughly the disrepute into which the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society had fallen in this country. It was pointed out to Judge Rutherford that the Consulate General would be unable to make any representations to the German Government regarding the ban that had been put upon their activities and that it could use its good offices only to protect the physical property of the organization excluding pamphlets, booklets and brochures which the police had condemned as being anti-revolutionary and communistic in tendency.

The work of the Society has been at an utter standstill in all the states of Germany except Prussia; but on June 24 a decree was issued by the Prussian Ministry of the Interior and signed by Dr. Grauert, the Under Secretary of State in that Ministry. A copy of this decree is enclosed herewith,58 and it will be noted from the translation herewith enclosed that in the decree the property of the organization was ordered confiscated by the Government. As this is the first instance of this sort which has come to the attention of the Consulate General, the legal phases of it have presented certain complexities. The decree of February 28, 1933 of the Reich President, referred to, confers as the Department knows, very large powers upon the state in confiscating the property and providing for the arrest of persons without trial, whose activities are considered dangerous to the state. In the decree of June 24 forbidding the activities of the Society throughout Germany, it was also provided that the property be confiscated. This is identical to the action taken against the Communistic Party and against the Social Democratic Party, in which cases the property including real estate, moneys in the bank, and equipment of all sorts including automobiles and motorcycles, have been confiscated. In view of the seriousness of this situation, Consul Geist visited the Ministry of the Interior and had a conversation in the premises with [Page 409]Staatssekretaer Grauert who is the Under Secretary in that Ministry. A copy of Mr. Geist’s memorandum of this conversation is enclosed herewith.59 It will be seen from the contents of this memorandum that Consul Geist was able to secure a reversal of the decision as to the confiscation of the property of this Society, which it is understood is valued at about 5,000,000 marks. The German authorities insist upon the Society liquidating its holdings in Germany, but it is believed that the Consulate General will be able to obtain sufficient delay with regard to the disposition of their property so that a minimum loss may be sustained.

There is, however, little doubt but that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society will be unable either to do any kind of printing in this country even for use abroad, or to continue any kind of activities, and that it is destined to lose considerable money in the liquidation of its affairs. The ban against the Society has been published in numerous newspapers throughout Germany and definite action has been taken by all of the states. At the present time the big plant at Magdeburg is closed and in the hands of National Socialist Storm Troops and a National Socialist flag is flying on the premises. It is expected, however, that the decision of the Ministry of the Interior will presently be made known to the local managers of the Society so that preparations can be commenced to liquidate their affairs. The Department undoubtedly will receive strong protests when it is definitely realized by the American organization that the Society must leave Germany; but it is believed that nothing further can be done in their behalf than to secure a delay so that the liquidation of the interests can be accomplished without too great a loss and so that they will have facilities for transferring abroad, presumably to Prague, the necessary equipment to fit up a new plant, as well as any funds which will accrue if the property can be disposed of. The Consulate General anticipates considerable difficulties in these transactions and will afford the Society in every case whatever aid is proper and feasible.

In this connection I should inform the Department that in the action which it has taken on behalf of this society, it has proceeded constantly only after close consultation with the Embassy. The Chargé d’Affaires. Mr. Gordon, and I, after very careful examination of all the circumstances, are of the opinion that in protecting the interests of the Society, such efforts could not go beyond saving the physical property which it has in Germany, this not to include the actual printed pamphlets which are in the country. I have gone into the activities of the Society and of its agents, and have read some of the pamphlets which have been distributed by the Society widely in Germany, and I can see that objection could reasonably be raised to them by the German Government. Although [Page 410]acting as a religious society, the pamphlets contain comment of not a purely religious character. In view of the present situation which exists in Germany, I believe that it would be entirely useless to endeavor to assist this Society to continue its operations and I doubt very much whether our Government, in view of the nature of the activities, would find it possible to assist it. I believe therefore that the only efforts which we can make on behalf of the Society are in connection with the protection of its physical property, the release of which, as the Department will note from this despatch, we have been able to secure.

Respectfully yours,

George S. Messersmith
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