October 06, 2004
Columbia Daily Spectator
Holocaust Survivor Speaks at BC
Engleitner Tells of Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Refusing Military
by Leora Falk
Holocaust survivor Leopold Engleitner, 99, spoke last night at Barnard.
Leopold Engleitner of Austria speaks in quiet German, but the story he tells
speaks volumes. At 99, he has watched history unfold, and is one of the oldest
living Holocaust survivors; he lived through three concentration camps.
Last night, Engleitner shared his story at Barnard as part of an ongoing series
of public forums on the concept of non-violence, organized by Professor Dennis
Engleitner, a Jehovah's Witness, spoke through fellow survivor and translator
As a Jehovah's Witness, his story is unique, because, unlike other Holocaust
victims, Jehovah's Witnesses were offered the chance to gain their freedom by
signing a document denouncing their faith and recognizing the supreme authority
of the Nazi regime.
Engleitner, who became a Jehovah's Witness in 1932, refused to sign.
Despite their relatively small population in Austria and Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses
were outspoken in their dislike and distrust of the Nazi government and continued
to produce anti-Nazi publications even when the Gestapo forcefully shut down
Jehovah's Witness organizations.
Engleitner was tried and imprisoned because, as a religious conscientious objector,
he refused to serve in the German army. He was deported to Buchenwald concentration
camp soon thereafter, and then later to Niederhagen and Ravensbrück, where he
endured starvation and hard physical labor.
Engleitner was almost executed twice during his internment. The first time was
in Buchenwald, when after saying he was there because of his faith, the head
of the barrack dragged him away from the other inmates and forced him to write
a goodbye letter to his family. He held a gun to Engleitner's temple and asked
if he was ready to die. "Yes, I am," Engleitner said. The man shouted, "You're
too stupid for me to shoot," and removed the gun.
Later, in the same camp, he was taken to the sick ward, where the nurse decided
to give him a lethal injection. When she left to get the syringe, "I gathered
all my strength and crawled away," Engleitner said.
Through all he faced, Engleitner maintained his faith: he spoke about how he
discussed his beliefs with other inmates, and how on one occasion the Witnesses
in the camp managed to obtain a Bible.
Engleitner attributed his survival to his unflagging faith and said that thanks
to this faith, he has never felt animosity towards his persecutors. "I believed
strongly that God would be the avenger," he said.
When asked by a member of the audience if maintaining his faith was worth the
suffering, he answered with an emphatic nod, and the audience broke into applause.
The audience was visibly moved by his story, one woman calling him her "peace
In 1994 Bernhard Rammerstorfer, who also spoke at the forum, met Engleitner,
and later wrote his biography, Unbroken Will.
" [Engleitner] taught me that tolerance, humanity and respect for others
are the highest ideals and [they] must be defended," Rammerstorfer said.
An abridged version of the documentary Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm Against
Nazi Assault, as well as part of the documentary based on Engleitner's biography,
were shown at the forum.
Dalton brought Engleitner to campus as part of his forum after hearing about
the struggles of the Jehovah's Witnesses from Judah Schroeder, GS '06, who was
the deputy director of public affairs for Jehovah's Witnesses before enrolling