DAILY CATHOLIC MONDAY July 19, 1999 vol. 10, no. 133
NEWS & VIEWS
RESEARCH UNCOVERS 300 GERMAN MARTYRS OF NAZISM
Catholic Resistance to Hitler Revealed
ROME, JUL 16 (ZENIT).- For years many historians have talked about the weak reaction -- if not downright cooperation -- of Catholics to the tragedy of Nazism. Now, thanks to meticulous ecclesial and historical research, a far more positive picture is emerging. The German Catholic world, both ecclesiastical and lay, was very much against the regime and, in some cases, paid for it with their life.
Recently the first volume of the "Martyrologium Germanicum," entitled "German Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century," was published, which confirms the Catholic position during the dictatorship. The "Martyrologium" was undertaken at the express request of John Paul II who, in his apostolic letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" dated November 10, 1994, exhorted the local Churches to discover their martyrs of this century.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner, president of the Liturgical Commission of the German Conference of Bishops, asked Auxiliary Bishop Helmut Moll of Cologne, to coordinate the research. Bishop Moll is a theological consultant of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The investigation, carried out over three years, produced notable results that caused surprise even among those directly involved with the work. In this century alone, Germany has had 700 martyrs, including priests, religious and laity, which proves, as Cardinal Meisner stated when presenting the first volume, that "the Catholic Church does not have to be ashamed of its role during the course of this century."
The 700 martyrs are divided into four categories. Those who died under Stalinism, women who were raped, missionaries, and the victims of Nazism (1933-1945), the latter being the largest group. Of the more than 300 martyrs of Nazism, 123 were laymen who went to their death for their faith, in opposition to the dictatorship.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper "Avvenire," Bishop Moll stated that "No one would ever have expected such a large number, no one especially would have thought that so many laymen gave their life as a witness of faith against Nazism." Moll was proud to announce that there is not a single diocese in Germany that did not contribute a martyr.
"The Church and Catholics did not understand immediately the negative extent of the Nazi ideology. But it was not long before they did. As soon as Fritz Michael Gerlich of Stettin, director of the newspaper 'Der Gerade Weg' [The Narrow Way], was arrested and died in Dachau in July 1934, people realized that the Hitler regime was in open conflict with the Catholic world," the Bishop said.
"Our research revealed how a good part of the laity and clergy carried out an important and convincing battle against the Nazi ideology," he added.
Proof of this is the list of martyrs in the first volume of the martyrology, among which are well-known names of personalities who have already been beatified, such as Edith Stein, a Jewish convert who died in Auschwitz in 1942; Canon Bernhard Lichtenberg of the Berlin Cathedral, who died in prison for having celebrated a Mass for the Jews following Kristallnacht on November 8-9, 1938; and Karl Leisner, the young deacon from Berlin who was arrested for his faith, secretly ordained a priest in Dachau, and died in a hospital after celebrating only one Mass.
Among the laity, the book names the married couple Maria and Bernhard Kreulich, who were killed in March, 1944, for criticizing the regime. Nicholas Gross, father of 7 children and editor of "Kettelerwache," the organ of the Association of German Catholic Workers, was killed in the Plotzensee Berlin jail in January, 1945. There were also youths, like the l7-year-old apprentice Heinz-Udo Hallau from Bielefeld, and Elfriede Goldschmidt and Walter Klingebenck, both 19 years old and from Munich.
The next two volumes of the "Martyrologium," to be published in November, will give detailed biographies of the martyrs known to date. Needless to say, "in carrying out the research on the 20th century martyrs, we have gathered much information that will be useful for the new beatification causes, some of which are already underway, Bishop Moll noted.
The work has been very great indeed, because Nazism confronted a vast
number of priests: there are reports of 12,000 cases of religious who
were victims of persecution and maltreatment by the regime -- about 36%
of the diocesan clergy at the time.
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NEWS & VIEWS