April 27, 1940
25-year-old Wilhelm Kusserow is executed by firing squad for refusing to serve in the Nazi army
Kusserow was born Lutheran, but his parents converted to Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jehovas Zeugen in German, but also called Ernste Bibelforscher, or Earnest Bible Students) when he was a child. Hitler was disdainful of Witnesses whose ultimate loyalty belongs to God rather than the government. Kusserow’s family had been under watch for some time and were subject to random search and seizures.
Under the Nazi regime, Witnesses were required to wear a purple triangle to indicate their faith, were placed in prisons or concentration camps, and their children were taken from them to be placed in reform schools or orphanages. One German Witness survivor, Martin Poetzinger, wrote in an editorial to the New York Times in 1985 that the Witnesses were free to leave the camps at any time provided they formally renounce their faith. Thousands refused, and approximately 1,000 German Witnesses and 400 non-German Witnesses died or were executed in prisons and camps.
Kusserow was placed on trial when he refused to serve in the German army, and his prosecutors begged him to reconsider in an effort to spare his life. He held out, his religious convictions stronger than his desire to prolong his life, and was executed by firing squad, a less common execution than the more popular method of beheading.
His public defender later wrote of him “He received death upright and died instantly. His attitude has all judgment and all of us deeply impressed. He died according to his convictions.”