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Paint roller and stencil used by Jehovah's Witness labor camp inmate

Object | Accession Number: 2006.448.1 a-b

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    Paint roller and stencil used by Jehovah's Witness labor camp inmate

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Paint roller and stencil used by Franz Wohlfahrt while imprisoned at Strafgefangenenlager Rollwald labor camp in Germany from 1940-1945. Wallpaper samples made from this roller and stencil are in collection 1989.314. Franz, 20, was jailed because, as a Jehovah's Witness, his beliefs did not permit him to put any authority before God. He would not submit to the authority of the German government or serve in the military. In 1943, at Rollwad, the new camp commandant, Karl Strumpf, was decorating his villa and Franz was assigned to the work detail. Franz experimented with latex paint and produced an effect like wallpaper, which was not available at the time. Strumpf got to know Franz through his work at the villa and saved his life on 3 occasions, shielding him from death by beheading for his refusal to serve in the military. The camp was liberated by the United States Army in March 1945.
    Date
    use:  1943-1945
    Geography
    use: Rollwald (Concentration camp); Rodgau (Germany)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Franz Wohlfahrt
    Contributor
    Subject: Franz Wohlfahrt
    Biography
    Franz Wohlfahrt was born on January 18, 1920, to Gregor and Barbara (Betty) Struk Wohlfahrt in Velden (Velden am Wörthersee), Austria. Gregor, born in 1896 in Velden, served in the Austrian Army during World War I (1914-1918). Gregor married Barbara after the war. They had a small farm and he did road construction. Gregor was traumatized by his battlefield experience, which caused a crisis of faith. In the 1920s, it led him to reject his Catholic faith and become a Jehovah’s Witness. He converted his family to the faith. In 1928, he began preaching publicly, trying to convert others. Franz had attended a Catholic school but in 1934, he began to assist his father with his missionary work. Nazi Germany banned the Watchtower Society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses administrative organization, and persecuted members. Witnesses did not obey any authority but God, refused to join the Nazi Party, and were dedicated pacifists. The Nazi regime regarded such attitudes as a threat to the state and German policies were very influential in neighboring Austria. Gregor was jailed briefly for preaching without a license and for peddling religious literature in 1936. Around this time, Franz finished school and was apprenticed for four years to a master house painter.

    In March 1938, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, a merger met with great enthusiasm by most of the Austrian population. Members of the Jehovah’s Witness were aware that they were subject to arrest and harassment for their refusal to pledge allegiance, or accept the authority of any temporal power, such as Hitler, the Nazi party, and the German government. The religion was not banned, but members were arrested for their refusal to be drafted or to do any military work. They were conscientious objectors, opposed to war on behalf of a temporal authority. In 1938, Franz was reported for refusing to return a salute or say Heil Hitler. He was called in for interrogation by the Germans, and threatened with deportation to Dachau concentration camp. The master painter to whom he was apprenticed, a Nazi sympathizer, was able to get him released.
    In August 1939, Franz was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness. Later that year, his father was told to report for military service, but was declared unfit for health reasons. However, he declared his opposition to the war and was sent to Vienna. He then was declared an enemy of the state and transferred to Berlin for trial. He was sentenced to death by beheading on December 7, 1939, with 28 other Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    In March 1940, Franz was told to report for work service at the Arbeitsdienst Camp in Burgenland. He worked on building roads at first, but then it turned into a military training camp. Franz refused to be inducted into the Germany army. He was repeatedly interrogated and thrown into a dungeon with little food and water for weeks as they attempted to change his mind, but he refused to recant and insisted he would not support the Nazi Party or renounce his faith. He was then imprisoned in Graz and charged with demoralizing conduct. He had a trial and was represented by a state lawyer, but was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years hard labor. Under the terms of a recent law, war objectors such as Franz were to be sent to concentration or work camps until the war was over, and then they would serve their prison sentences. Franz was sent to a prison for serious and violent offenders, Graz Karlau. He was kept in solitary and nearly starved. Then he was given a job making paper bags in his cell. He was interviewed about his beliefs by a German professor who gave Franz newspapers about his case that described him as a dangerous person who must be isolated from society and forced to give up his beliefs.
    In February 1941, Franz was transferred to Strafgefangenenlager Rodgau-Dieburg with a group of political prisoners. He continued to be threatened with the consequences of not giving up his faith; one doctor told him he would be sent to the chimneys. He made steel wire fences in a factory and then dug trenches and uprooted trees in a swamp. He got gangrene and was told his legs would be cut off, but the work commandment intervened and got him proper treatment. In 1943, a new commander was assigned to the camp. He found out that Franz was a skilled painter and changed his work assignment to his villa. The caFranz was the eldest of 3 brothers and 2 sisters: Gregor, Christian, Willibald, Eda, and Anna. in Velden in VEldenmp commandant saved Franz from certain execution at least three times by helping him avoid interrogations when he was called for military duty. As the war continued, the need for soldiers and military workers intensified and if Franz had directly refused to serve at this time, he would have been executed. In 1944-1945, leaflets were dropped in the camp by US planes warning the Germans not to harm the prisoners. On another air campaign, the planes flew low enough to shoot the guards in the watchtowers. The commander surrendered the camp to American troops in March 1945. Franz testified on behalf of the commander after his release, and the commander was released by the Americans after 3 days.
    Franz returned home to Austria. He learned that the four youngest siblings had been taken away from his mother in 1943 and sent to a correction center to keep them from becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses: two sisters were placed in a convent; two brothers were sent to a camp where they were starved and often beaten by SS trainers. Willibald, 17, was shot and killed while on a forced work detail digging trenches; Christian was taken to the Russian border and shot, but he recovered. Gregor, age 21, had been called to military duty with the Luftwaffe. He stayed faithful to his religious beliefs, objected to military service, and was sentenced to death and beheaded on March 14, 1942. Few members of their Jehovah’s Witness congregation survived the war; over a dozen were executed.

    In October 1945, Franz married Maria Stossier, a fellow Jehovah’s Witness whom he had known before the war. They had four children. In 1951, the family immigrated to Toronto, Canada because they felt that most Austrians could not let go of the old beliefs and prejudices. Franz continued to work as a painter. Franz, 89, passed away on December 12, 2009.

    Physical Details

    Classification
    Decorative Arts
    Category
    Papercrafts
    Object Type
    Paint rollers (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    a. Red sponge paint roller attached to a metal frame with a wooden handle. Inside the sponge is a wooden dowel with metal pins. The frame has a horizontal bar and L-shaped upright bars on either end, with 7 holes and a slot. A metal rod extends from the center of the bar and in inserted in the wooden handle. There is a long opening along the bottom of one side that fits over a screw with wing nut that adjusts the frame width. There are paint remnants on the handle and frame.
    b. Rubber paint roll stencil around a metal cylinder. The rubber is carved with a botanical relief design and has remnants of green paint. The metal cylinder has discs with a pin on either end.
    Dimensions
    a: Height: 10.250 inches (26.035 cm) | Width: 6.500 inches (16.51 cm) | Depth: 2.500 inches (6.35 cm)
    b: Height: 6.750 inches (17.145 cm) | Width: 1.875 inches (4.763 cm)
    Materials
    a : metal, sponge, wood, paint
    b : rubber, metal, paint

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The paint roller and stencil were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2006 by Franz Wohlfahrt.
    Record last modified:
    2022-08-15 13:27:03
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn518563

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