This article was first published August 25, 2013 and has been updated.
Written by a Jehovah’s Trumpet correspondent in Germany.
Wilhelm Schmidt survived Nazi persecution, torture under Communism, imprisonment, beatings, malnutrition and losing his family only to be disfellowshiped for smoking.
Wilhelm was just a little guy when he refused to salute Hitler in school. He was taunted by the students and often beaten by them with the approval and encouragement of the teacher. As things worsened, his father was sent to prison leaving his mother and him to fend for themselves. They were often hungry and cold, but it only got worse when he was sent with his mother to a concentration camp.
In the camp, he was starved and beaten by guards. He didn’t know if his parents were alive or dead. Yet he still held firm. He proudly wore his purple triangle and would preach to the other children. Ignoring his own hunger, he often shared his meager food with the weakest children.
Then Germany lost the war, but things were not going to improve for Wilhelm. A young man now, he learned that both of his parents were dead, but he rebuilt his family among the brothers and sisters in a local congregation. They took him in, and he preached with more zeal than anyone had ever witnessed. He covered a 100 mile radius territory on his own on foot.
The Communists moved in, and Wilhelm was going to know more suffering. He often ran afoul of the law because of his preaching and weeks in jail were not unknown to him. When he was ordered into the military, he refused, citing scriptures and his loyalty to Jehovah. He said he had to follow God’s law rather than Cesar’s.
He was sentenced to a long prison term where the guards targeted him for extra punishment. They tested him constantly, insisting that he pledge allegiance to East Germany. When he would refuse, they would lock him in a tiny cell that was too small to stretch out in. It had no windows, light, mattress or any furnishings. He slept on the cold concrete floor without a blanket. His food was reduced to bread and water if he was fed at all. He kept his sanity by singing praises to Jehovah and praying. He meditated on bible verses and pictured the New System.
At one point, a guard put a gun to his head and said, “Pledge allegiance to the Communist Party or die!” Wilhelm replied, “You can only kill me temporarily, but Jehovah gives everlasting life.” The angry guard pulled the trigger, but the gun only clicked. He opened the barrel and was puzzled to find it empty. The guard said, “Now I know that your God protects you. I loaded this gun just this morning.”
The Berlin Wall fell, and Wilhelm could get back to preaching. Yet there was another trial facing Wilhelm. He had picked up the unclean habit of smoking tobacco in prison. When the Faithful and Discreet Slave determined that smoking was unchristlike, Wilhelm destroyed his remaining tobacco vowing to never pollute his body again with this disgusting habit.
As the years passed, he seemed to forget this vow and his responsibility to Jehovah and the congregation. He also often forgot his address, his pants, and his name. Eventually he began forgetting meeting times.
A sister remarks, “He had always been so steadfast. He almost never missed a meeting. It was disappointing, really. He just wouldn’t show for meetings, and we’d stop by to tell him we’d missed him, and he would act confused. I mean, how can someone just forget meetings? We knew something was up!”
The elders tried to encourage him to make meetings a priority, but he mistook one of them for a friend who had died in prison and thought the resurrection had occurred. He ripped off his clothes and ran outside screaming, “We’re back in Eden!” The brothers counseled him on public nudity, but his only response was to ask if they were there selling salt.
The brothers and sisters continued to pray that his heart would be set right and he would return to meetings. Many were concerned that he had picked up a demon somewhere. He was partial to buying items in thrift stores despite warnings that the previous owners’ demons could hitch a ride on the belongings.
Within months, he was spotted on the sidewalk asking passersby where he could buy some mint flavored shoe laces. He was smoking a
cigarette! Perhaps he thought the mint would freshen his breath and hide the evidence, but Jehovah is not one to be toyed with! All hidden sins eventually come to light.
A judicial committee was called. Wilhelm’s only response to the accusations was to say that a little spotted puppy came to visit him every day, and he had named him Roscoe.
“We were deeply disappointed, to say the least,” one of the elders on the committee tells us, “He just wasn’t taking it seriously at all. He had been such a faithful example for over 80 years, but it was all an act. He had us all fooled. After heartfelt prayer, we had to disfellowship him.”
Disappointing indeed! Let’s all take this to heart and never forget the lesson of King Solomon.