382.1163 Watch Tower/56

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

No. 309

Sir: With reference to my despatch No. 158 [156] of September 20,61 on the subject of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, I have the honor to enclose copies and translation of a note verbale dated November 13, from the Foreign Office, and of its enclosure, the decree of June 2462 issued by the Prussian Ministry of the Interior suppressing the activities of the Society in Prussia and confiscating its property. The Ministry’s decree is based on the Presidential decree of February 28, suspending, on the ground of the existing danger of a communist uprising, certain articles (114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 154 [153?]) of the German Constitution relating to personal guarantees. This decree is still in force.

The Departments’s attention is invited to the first sentence in paragraph 3 of the note verbale, wherein allusion is made to the legal remedies alleged to be available to the Society, although in the following sentence the Foreign Office appears to express the belief that the Treaty of 1923 gives the Prussian authorities the right to withdraw their approval of the Society, in accordance with the laws of Prussia and the Reich.

On December 1, however, the Embassy gave a copy of the pertinent excerpt from the note verbale to Mr. Harbeck, the Society’s superintendent for Central Europe, who had just arrived from Switzerland. He expressed grave doubt whether the remedy suggested by the German Government would afford any relief but added that he would consult the Society’s attorney. The Embassy has learned subsequently from the Consul in charge, Mr. Geist, who is thoroughly familiar with this matter, that he had been informed by Mr. Harbeck of the latter’s intention to press the case in the courts.

During the conversation on December 1, Mr. Harbeck stated that the Society’s property in Magdeburg had been restored to it, as set forth in paragraph 4 of the German Government’s note, but that all religious activities are forbidden.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
J. C. White
[Page 415]

The German Foreign Office to the American Embassy

No. III A 3495

Note Verbale

In reply to note verbale No. 61 submitted here on September 20, 1933, by Mr. O’Donoghue, Secretary of Embassy, relative to the branch of the American Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Magdeburg, which was forbidden by order of the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, the Foreign Office has the honor to inform the Embassy of the United States of America as follows:

The grounds on which the Prussian Government, within the scope of an action directed against the International Association of Bible Students together with all its subsidiary organizations, dissolved and prohibited the branch of the above-mentioned American society known in Germany as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, are shown in the text of the Ministerial Decree of June 24, 1933, of which a copy is enclosed and to which reference is made. The procedure adopted in the action against the Society conforms with the pertinent legal provisions of the Reich, or States.

The claim to free admission to the courts provided for in Article XII of the German-American Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights of December 8, 1923, has been complied with in that the legal recourses provided for in the Prussian Police Administrative Law include also suits in the administrative court. The principle contained in the second paragraph of the same Article might, however, be looked upon as decisive in the present case, namely, that the right of the forbidden society to carry out its activity in the Free State of Prussia was contingent upon the approval of the Prussian Government given in conformity with the Reich and State laws, but that it ceased automatically at the moment that the previously granted approval was revoked in accordance with the Reich and State laws.

As the Prussian Ministry of the Interior informs the Foreign Office, it was at the time suggested to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to remove its organization to some other country, and it was expressly permitted to move its machines and other equipment from here to such place for that purpose. Besides, out of consideration for the representations made by the Consul General of the United States, the Regierungspräsident in Magdeburg was instructed on September 26, 1933, to rescind the confiscation of the property of the prohibited Society. Furthermore, the former personnel of the Society was permitted to live in its buildings again.

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On the other hand the preparation of pamphlets and broadsheets carried on by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in the past, as well as its activity with regard to teaching and holding meetings, must remain forbidden. Consequently the regulation will also remain in force, in accordance with which a guarantee must be insured, by means of supervision of the pertinent buildings of the forbidden Society, that neither printed matter of any kind is prepared there, nor political or religious meetings held, nor any teaching done.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Decree of June 24 not printed.