In April 1933, four months after Hitler became chancellor, Jehovah's Witnesses were banned in Bavaria and by the summer in most of Germany. Twice during 1933, police occupied the Witnesses' offices and their printing site in Magdeburg and confiscated religious literature. Witnesses defied Nazi prohibitions by continuing to meet and distribute their literature, often covertly. Copies were made from booklets smuggled in mainly from Switzerland.
Initially, Jehovah's Witnesses attempted to fend off Nazi attacks by issuing a letter to the government in October 1934, explaining their religious beliefs and political neutrality. This declaration failed to convince the Nazi regime of the group's harmlessness. For defying the ban on their activities, many Witnesses were arrested and sent to prisons and concentration camps. They lost their jobs as civil servants or employees in private industry and their unemployment, social welfare, and pension benefits.
From 1935 onward, Jehovah's Witnesses faced a Nazi campaign of nearly total persecution. On April 1, 1935, the group was banned nationally by law. The same year, Germany reintroduced compulsory military service. For refusing to be drafted or perform war–related work, and for continuing to meet, Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested and incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps. In 1936 some 400 Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
In 1936 a special unit of the Gestapo (Secret State Police) began compiling a registry of all persons believed to be Jehovah's Witnesses, and agents infiltrated Bible study meetings. By 1939, an estimated 6,000 Witnesses (including those from incorporated Austria and Czechoslovakia) were detained in prisons or camps. Some Witnesses were tortured by police in attempts to make them sign a declaration renouncing their faith, but few capitulated.
In response to Nazi efforts to destroy them, the worldwide Jehovah's Witness organization became a center of spiritual resistance against the Nazis. An international convention of Witnesses, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, in September 1936, issued a resolution condemning the entire Nazi regime. In this text and other literature brought into Germany, writers broadly indicted the Third Reich. Articles strongly denounced the persecution of German Jews, Nazi "savagery" toward Communists, the remilitarization of Germany, the Nazification of schools and universities, Nazi propaganda, and the regime's assault on mainstream churches.
The children of Jehovah's Witnesses also suffered. In classrooms, teachers ridiculed children who refused to give the "Heil, Hitler!" salute or sing patriotic songs. Classmates shunned and beat up young Witnesses. Principals expelled them from schools. Families were broken up as authorities took children away from their parents and sent them to reform schools, orphanages, or private homes, to be brought up as Nazis.