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The Controversy of JW Leader Erich Frost
Eric Frost (1900-1987) was the composer of Fest steht (Stand Fast), which was reworked in English as Forward, You Witnesses. He composed the song in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin in 1942. This "kingdom song" expresses a militant stand against persecution, a sense of being in the end times, and a "firm and determined" confidence in the strong-heartedness of the faithful. (See lyrics below)
But was Frost a Collaborator, or even a Traitor?
"Of the eight German Watchtower district servants (the highest level in the Watchtower hierarchy in the national branch), August Fehst was arrested by the Gestapo, and he then betrayed Erich Frost. In response to his betrayal by Fehst, Frost reportedly gave the Gestapo the names of the remaining seven district servants (Otto Dauth, Albert Wandres, Fred Meier, Walter Friese, Arthur Nawroth, Heinrich Ditschi, Karl Siebeneichler who died in Sachsenhausen). According to the Gestapo document Haftbuch Nr. 292, Gestapo Berlin, Dienststelle II B 2, no torture was used on Frost; his anger at Fehst was evidently sufficient for him to give the Gestapo the information they wanted. After this he spent a short time in Sachsenhausen, and then was moved to the German-occupied British Channel Island of Alderney until the war ended when he resumed his duties as the Watchtower branch chief under a new set of district servants." --From "The Watchtower's Nazi Conflicts: A History of Watchtower Cowardliness and Witness Perseverance," by Jerry Bergman (JW Research Journal, Jan.-June, 1999) Online article posted here.
The details of this story, with commentary, can be found at these links:
Frost honored at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
See this US Holocaust Memorial Museum Page, where you can listen to Frost speaking in German about the origin of the song and read the English translation. At this site, you will also find a recording (in German) of a performance of the song by a men's choir that took place under Frost's direction at an event held in Wiesbaden, Germany, during the 1960s. Also, some information about Simone Arnold Liebster, who sings the English version of the song, and who has published an autobiography, Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe.
Bret Werb, Music Specialist at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (see link above), defends the inclusion of Frost at their website. In correspondence with the webmaster in May 2002, he states, "You ask for specific references exonerating Frost from the charges leveled by ex-Witnesses. I am not a specialist in this area but defer to scholars who maintain that these accusations originated primarily with East German attempts to discredit Witness leadership during the cold war era. The Spiegel article (which appeared in 1961) may accordingly be seen in the light of such "disinformation campaigns." On the Stasi and anti-Witness propaganda, see Detlef Garbe, "Between Resistance and Martyrdom" (pp. 255-256). On the JW experience under Hitler, see "Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses During the Nazi Regime, 1933-1945," edited by Hans Hesse (with contributions by my former Museum colleagues Henry Friedlander and Sybil Milton). In quasi-disclaimer fashion, I note that these sources were brought to my attention by JW archivists. You may seek further documentation (most of it in German) by writing these archivists, Jolene Chu in Brooklyn and Johannes Wrobel in Selters, Germany."
Make Up Your Own Mind
The question is, even if this damaging information was intended to discredit the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and its leaders, were the Nazi documents inaccurate or forged? Or was Frost actually a Judas-like betrayer of his fellow German leaders? Should we simply ignore this evidence because of the reason it might have been published? Or should we inquire as to why he was allowed to leave the camp for what had to be a better situation? Was the WSBTS's unawareness of this betrayal at the time the reason he was reinstated into power, or didn't he betray anyone at all? Or even worse, has the leadership of the JWs actually whitewashed the whole incident in the manner of historical revisionists?
The controversy is fraught with ideologies of all kinds. One one side, see a stalwart JW in a concentration camp, composing a song of hope and resistance. On another, see the collaborationist JW leader betraying his colleagues to the Nazis. In yet another picture, see anti-JWs attacking the JW leadership. On another, see the historical revisionists at the Watchtower Society, hiding their sins by rewriting history for the naive JW masses. On another, see the Nazi misinformation campaign against faithful witnesses. On another, see the attempt of the US Holocaust Museum to honor the JWs who endured the camps. On another, see scholarship promoted by JW archivists. There is (as yet) no neutral scholarship of which I am aware. So, for the time being....make up your own mind.
Kingdom Song #11 - Forward, You Witnesses!
(Sung "resolutely; in march tempo")
Firm and determined in this time of the end...
The English lyrics are not copyrighted until 1966 - and not by the composer.
Lyrics Copyright 1966 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania