362.1163 Watch Tower/34: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany (Dodd)

111. The complaint of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in regard to the seizure of its property and the suppression of its activities in Germany has been before the American Consulate General at Berlin and has been the subject of reports by the Consulate General to the Department. You may communicate the substance of this instruction to the Consulate General.

The Society was organized under the laws of Pennsylvania. It established a branch office at Barmen, Germany, in 1909. In 1921, the office was moved to Magdeburg, Germany, where headquarters in Germany were established. The Society owns valuable real estate and personal property at Magdeburg.

Since establishing the branch office in Germany, the Society has been engaged in the publication and distribution of books and tracts on religious subjects. The Society was not molested until on or about April 24, [Page 413]1933, when German authorities, without explanation, (1) took possession of the real estate belonging to the Society and seized equipment and other personal property and (2) suppressed the Society’s activities which were similar in 1933 to activities continuously conducted by the Society from time it established a branch in Germany.

In connection with (1) the Department is also informed that recently the German authorities burned some of the Society’s publications and required the Society’s resident manager, an American citizen, to vacate the home occupied by him and owned by the Society.

The Department understands that while general allegations have been made by German authorities about the Society’s teachings and practices, the German authorities have not instituted proceedings in which they are required to specify and prove charges and in which representatives of the Society would be given opportunity to answer and defend.

It is unfortunate that purely administrative action entailing such drastic consequences without other than ex parte proceedings should be taken and maintained in Germany, and that apparently the obligation to administer justice by orderly processes of law has been disregarded. Under Article 12 of the Treaty of 1923, between the United States and Germany, the Society is entitled to an opportunity to defend its rights in the courts.

In view of the right of the Society declared by treaty to an opportunity to defend and inasmuch as the Society’s property was seized and its activities suppressed by administrative action without judicial process, it is desired that you communicate with the German Foreign Office in the sense of the foregoing.

You should request that prompt steps be taken to restore the property to the possession and control of the Society. You are authorized in your discretion to subordinate as a matter of expediency the question of the resumption of the Society’s activities, keeping in mind, however, that the principle upon which a complaint rests regarding this ban on the activities is the same as in the case of the confiscation or destruction of property, namely, the absence of a proper judicial hearing as provided for under Article 12 of the Treaty of 1923.