Robert Wagemann was born in 1937 in Mannheim, Germany.
Robert and his family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Nazis regarded Jehovah’s Witnesses as enemies of the state for their refusal to take an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, or to serve in the German army. Robert’s family continued its religious activities despite Nazi persecution. Shortly before Robert’s birth, his mother was imprisoned briefly for distributing religious materials. Robert’s hip was injured during delivery, leaving him with a disability. When Robert was five years, he was ordered to report for a physical in Schlierheim. His mother overheard staff comments about putting Robert “to sleep.” Fearing they intended to kill him, Robert’s mother grabbed him and ran from the clinic. Nazi physicians had begun systematic killing of those they deemed physically and mentally disabled in the fall of 1939.
“My mom and I were summoned to a, a part of the university clinic in Heidelberg, in Schlierheim, and there I was examined. And during the examination my mom was sitting on the outside of the room, and she overheard a conversation that the doctors would do away with me, uh, would ab…would abspritz me, which means that they would give me a needle and put me to sleep. My mom overheard the conversation and, uh, during lunch time, while the, uh, doctors were gone, she, uh, grabbed hold of me, we went down to the Neckar River into the high reeds and there she put my clothes on, and from there on we really went into hiding because now we knew that they really were after us.”
After his narrow escape from being euthanized under the T4 program, Robert spent the years of the war hiding with his family who were targeted for their faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses or ‘Bible Scholars’. Friends and neighbors who were Jehovah’s had been arrested and sent to concentration camps where they were marked with the purple triangle. Fearing arrest, Robert’s family constantly moved and hid. When their town was bombed, they were unable to to the bomb shelter which was being guarded by the Nazi’s due to the warrant out for his parent’s arrest. They barely survived in the basement of the house they were staying in. After the bombing, his family hid in a small cabin deep in the woods with no power, running water or plumbing. With only kerosene lamps and a small wood stove, Robert’s family weathered the harsh winter and food shortages. Robert credits his faith as the foundation for his survival.