Floral tributes are laid outside a building housing a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where a deadly shooting took place, in Hamburg, northern Germany, March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
BERLIN (Reuters) – Here are some facts about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their community in Germany, shaken by a mass shooting at a Jehovah’s Witness hall in Hamburg on Thursday.
– The Jehovah’s Witnesses are an international Christian denomination that was founded in the United States in around 1870. They have around 8.7 million active followers in 239 countries worldwide, according to the denomination’s website.
– The first German branch was founded in 1902 in Elberfeld in west Germany – before the “Watch Tower Society” was renamed Jehovah’s Witnesses. The denomination was not granted legal recognition however until 2005, in the city of Berlin. Since 2017, they have been recognized as a public corporation everywhere in Germany.
– Jehovah’s Witnesses have struggled to have their beliefs and practices accepted in some parts of the world. The group has faced court proceedings in several countries, mostly over its pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions.
– Russia banned the group in 2017. The Russian Orthodox Church has depicted the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a dangerous foreign sect, allegations the group denies.
– There are 175,558 members in Germany, meaning about 1 in 500 Germans are Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to the denomination’s website, which was updated in January. In total there are 2,003 congregations and 884 places of worship, called Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
– Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted in Nazi Germany for their refusal to swear allegiance to the Nazi regime or join the military. Thousands were sent to prisons or concentration camps.
– The denomination was also banned in former communist East Germany in 1950 which like most Communist-run countries was in general hostile to religion.
– There have been several attempted attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses in various countries in recent years. In 2009, an 82-year-old man tried to shoot Jehovah’s Witnesses in a Kingdom Hall in Bielefeld, Germany, in revenge for his daughter joining them in 1967. The attack failed because no shot was released from the automatic pistol. On Dec. 25, 2022, a couple attempted arson with explosives at a Jehovah’s Witness’ Kingdom Hall in Thornton in the U.S. state of Colorado. They were both previous members who were no longer welcome. No one was injured.