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Max Grote bei einem Kongress der Zeugen Jehovas in Berlin-Wilmersdorf am 25. Juni 1933
© Wachturm-Gesellschaft, Geschichtsarchiv

Max August Grote * 1882

Von-Essen-Straße 53 (Hamburg-Nord, Barmbek-Süd)

Wolfenbüttel Gefängnis
Tot 21.10.1940 Zeuge Jehovas

Max August Grote, born 12 Apr. 1882, died in Wolfenbüttel prison as a result of prison conditions

Von-Essen-Straße 53

Max Grote was a master confectioner. In 1906 he fulfilled his dream and open a sponge cake and chocolate factory. In the same year he married Berta Westmeier, 26, of Tüßling in Upper Bavaria.

Max and Berta’s daughter Hilde was born on 21 November 1909. Shortly thereafter, the family was struck a fateful blow. The factory was fully destroyed by fire. Max Grote didn’t have the financial means to rebuild it. In 1910 he found a new job as a foreman at the Reichard cocoa plant in Wandsbek, where he earned about 350 Reichsmarks a month.
In 1912 Max and Berta Grote joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their religion became a danger for them when the National Socialists came to power in 1933.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, the name given to themselves by a group who broke away from the International Bible Student movement in 1931, was banned by the Nazis on 24 June 1933 because of their opposition to the Nazi regime. They refused to give the Nazi salute, as, according to their belief, homage should only be rendered to God, not to a human being. They also refused to join Nazi organizations, did not allow their children to join the Hitler Youth, and refused to serve in the military, citing the Biblical commandment not to kill. The Nazis saw the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a "trailblazer for Jewish bolshevism,” and claimed that they were "remotely controlled” from the US.

On the day after the ban was pronounced, the Jehovah’s Witnesses called a conference in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, which Max Grote attended. After the conference, many groups went underground and met in secret.

Max Grote was one of the leading Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg. He was the coordinator of the groups in various boroughs of the city, and advised them. The Gestapo quickly became aware of the Grote family, and arrested Max Grote on 28 June 1934. He was held in pre-trial detention for one month.

In early December 1934, the Gestapo raided a Jehovah’s Witnesses meeting. The next day, 7 December, Max Grote was again arrested and held in a Gestapo prison until 11 February 1935. After his trial he was held from 15 March to 8 September 1935 in the Bergedorf prison. Berta Grote was also arrested and held in "protective custody” in the Fuhlsbüttel Concentration Camp for five weeks. During this time she developed a stomach condition from which she would suffer for the rest of her life.

In addition to the numerous arrests, the family was under constant surveillance by the Gestapo, and their apartment was searched at regular intervals. Berta Grote later recalled at least nine searches after 1934. The family was especially crushed when the Gestapo confiscated their small library, which consisted of 80 to 100 volumes. Of particular value were pictures of Pastor Charles Taze Russel and "Judge” Joseph Franklin Rutherford, two of the founders of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In 1936 and 1937, Max Grote participated in two Jehovah’s Witnesses leafleting campaigns, in which the leaflets "Resolution” and "Open Letter” were distributed. He also participated in the baptism of four women and one man in 1936 in Harburg. As a result, the family again came under the scrutiny of the Gestapo.

They arrested Max Grote for a third time on 11 September 1937. According to the Hamburger Nachrichten of 13 April 1938, after a three-day trial before the Hamburg Special Court, 39 Jehovah’s Witnesses were found guilty of "subversive activities.” Among them was Max Grote, who was sentenced to four years in prison.

Max Grote was sent to the Wolfenbüttel Prison to serve his sentence. His wife Berta recounted that her husband suffered mistreatment (blows to the face) at the hands of the SS there. Max Grote died on 21 October 1940, aged 58, in the Wolfenbüttel Prison, as a result of his treatment there.

Translator: Amy Lee

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Carmen Smiatacz

Quellen: Garbe: Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium, S. 221ff.; Gewehr: Stolpersteine in Hamburg-Altona, S. 25; "39 Bibelforscher verurteilt" in: Hamburger Nachrichten vom 13.4.1938; StaHH 231-9, Staatsanwaltschaft Oberlandesgericht, 11256/41, Bd. 1; StaHH 351-11, AfW, Abl. 2008/1, 4392.

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