Wednesday 5 October 2022

Maximilian Kolbe, Franz Jagerstatter, Karl Leisner, and Rupert Mayer Victims of the Nazis - Edited by M.N.L. Couve de Murville - CTS 20th Century Martyrs

Maximilian Kolbe, Franz Jagerstatter, Karl Leisner, and Rupert Mayer
Victims of the Nazis
M.N.L. Couve de Murville (Editor)
Mary Craig
Bruce Kent
Paul Riesterer, SJ
Catholic Truth Society
CTS Booklet B449

This booklet is part of the CTS 20th Century Martyrs Series. To date I have read 312 volumes from the Catholic Truth Society, and this is the tenth in this specific series. I believe I only have 3 left to track down in the series, Isidore Bankanja, Pedro Poveda and The Gypsy Saint 'El Pele' Cerefino Jimenez Malla. Reading about Martyrs, and especially martyrs under the Nazi regime is not an easy thing. But I believe it is an important thing for us to do. Thank and many other books in the CTS Biographies are amongst my favourite reads over the last few years. The version I tracked down was a first edition published in 1997, and we are informed in the introduction that it draws from previous books and booklets from the CTS. I believe there are two volumes by Archbishop M.N.L. Couve de Murville, bishop of Birmingham that was published by the Catholic Truth Society, though a few of his other titles have really grabbed my interest. And he was editor and contributor for this booklet.

The description of this volume is:

“The stories of four people whose hope and faith bore fruit amidst the darkest times of this century Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan priest; Franz Jagerstatter a young Austrian farmer with a wife and three young daughters. Karl Leisner grew up in Germany in the years Hitler rose to power. Rupert Mayer had met Hitler in the political arena in 1919 and quickly realised that a German Catholic could never be a Nazi. Their lives were inextricably sucked into the tentacles of the evil men can do. Each refused to condone a wicked political system, so raising up the light of Christ crucified and risen in the total darkness. Pope John Paul II invites us never to forget these modern martyrs of our own time.”

The chapters and sections in the volume are:

Maximillian Kolbe 
     Ordination and Crusade 
     Knight of the Immaculate 
     Missionary work in Japan 
     Imprisonment .. 
     Killed in Auschwitz 
     Saint of our times 

Franz Jagerstiitter 
     Farmer and family man 
     Prison and execution 
     Conscientious objection 
     The right not to kill 
     Question of conscience 
     The message for us 

Karl Leisner 
     National Socialism
     Early life and seminary 
     Freiburg and Elisabeth
     Tuberculosis and prison 
     His ordination 
     Freedom and death 

Rupert Mayer 
     Early life as a priest 
     War chaplain 
     A parish in Munich 
     Works of charity 
     Catholic can never be a Nazi 
     Arrest and imprisonment
     Concentration camp 
     After the war 
     Apostle of Munich 

I am well versed in the life of Saint Maximillian Kolbe, but must admit I know far less about the other three martyrs profiled in this volume. Once I started reading this booklet I could hardly put it down. I read it in two sittings over my lunch breaks at work. M.N.L. Couve de Murville who edited this volume, also contributed a piece and wrote the preface. In that preface he states:

“As the Pope says, "the martyrologium of the first centurie was the bas is of the veneration of the Saints. By proclaiming and venerating the holiness of her sons and daughters, the Church cave the supreme honour of God him elf; in the martyrs she venerated Christ, who was the origin of their martyrdom and their holiness." (Tertio Millennio Adveniente.)”

And also:

“That is why the CTS is republishing the lives of seven victims of the Nazi regime in Germany. As recorded in the two booklets Victims of the Nazis, these are the stories of on German Jewess, two German priests, two laymen one Austrian the other French) and two friars (one a Pole and the other a Dutchman). They all chose to lay down their lives rather than accept an evil political system based on totalitarianism and racism. They died because of their fidelity to Christ and his Church. Their witness must not be forgotten.”

And that is why I state this is a volume we must read. And these are stories we should be aware of. I highlighted many passages while reading this volume. I will share some of them below with section heading of the person and author. 

Maximillian Kolbe by Mary Craig

“In his infancy Raymond seems to have been normally mischievous but we are told that one day, after his mother had scolded him for some mischief or other, her words took effect and brought about a radical change in the child's behaviour. Later he explained this change. 'That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding twin crowns, one white, the other red. She asked if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.’ Thus early did the child believe and accept that he was destined for martyrdom. His belief in his dream coloured all his future actions.”

“The love of fighting didn't leave him, but while he was in Rome he stopped seeing the struggle as a military one. He didn't like what he saw of the world, in fact he saw it as downright evil. The fight, he decided, was a spiritual one.”

“The fight was still on, but he would not be waging it with the sword. At that time many Catholics in Europe regarded freemasonry as their chief enemy; and it was against the freemasons that Maximilian Kolbe began to wage war. On 16 October 1917, with ix companions, he founded the Crusade of Mary Immaculate (Militia Immaculatae), with the aim of 'converting sinners, heretics and schismatic, particularly freemason s, and bringing all men to love Mary Immaculate'.”

“His love of Mary Immaculate now became the devouring characteristic of his life. He regarded himself as no more than an instrument of her will, and the only time he was known to lose his temper was in defence of her honour. It was for her that he strove to develop all the good that was in him, and he wanted to encourage others to do the same.”

“1922 he began to publish a monthly review, the Knight of the Immaculate, in Cracow. Its aim was 'to illuminate the truth and show the true way to happiness'. As funds were low, only 5,000 copies of the first issue were printed. In 1922 he removed to another friary in Grodno and acquired a small printing establishment; and from now on the review began to grow. In 1927 70,000 copies were being printed.”

“Years later, after the war, the Polish bishops sent an official letter to the Holy See claiming that Fr Kolbe' s magazine had prepared the Polish nation to endure and survive the horrors of the war that was soon to follow.”

“Just before the Second World War broke out Fr Maximilian spoke to his friars about suffering. h y must not be afraid, he said, for suffering accepted with love would bring them closer to Mary. All his life he had dreamed of a martyr's crown, and the time was nearly at hand.”

“The friars shared everything they had with the refugees. They housed, fed and clothed them, and brought all their machinery into use in their service.”

“On 28 May Fr Maximilian was with over 300 others who were deported from Pawiak to Auschwitz. There he received his striped convict's garments and was branded with the number 16670.”

“Fr Zygmunt Rusczak remembers: ‘Each time I saw Father Kolbe in the courtyard I felt within myself an extraordinary effusion of his goodness. Although he wore the same ragged clothes as the rest of us, with the same tin can hanging from his belt, one forgot this wretched exterior and was conscious only of the charm of his inspired countenance and of his radiant holiness.’”

Franz Jagerstatter by Bruce Kent

“He is better and better known as a Catholic Christian who was prepared to follow his conscience and say 'No' to the orders of an unjust state whatever the cost.”

“His was the simple brave story of an ordinary man who refused to conform to the standards of society of his day because he thought that what was asked of him was against the will of God.”

“This unknown man, in the face of quantities of well-meaning advice, persisted, because he was a Catholic Christian, in refusing to fight for Hitler's Germany in a war which he knew to be unjust, even if it meant his own execution.”

“If this was a conventional account of a holy youth then Franz's early life would leave very much to be desired. Though he is well remembered and well liked he must have been very often a thorough nuisance in the village. He was a member of the local gang of lads, and violent battles with boys and young men of other villages were not unknown. He was clearly 'one of the boys', often in the village inn and always after the local girls.”

“In 1936 he married and became in time the father of three little girls. As part of the honeymoon he and his wife went to Rome and though opinion varies about the speed of the change there is no doubt that after marriage his attitude to his religion changed considerably.”

“As a farmer hi compulsory military service was twice deferred but finally he was ordered to report on 25 February 1943 at the recruiting centre. A few days later he answered the call but only to register an unconditional 'NO!'.”

“Unfortunately, such recognition has not been achieved everywhere. Amnesty International has expressed concern that hundreds of young people are in jail in more than a dozen countries because of their refusal to perform military service on grounds of conscience. These countries have included Cyprus, Finland, France, both East and West Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and the USSR. Some young people refuse to fight on political grounds (for example, some of the young whites who were called up in South Africa). Many of them are also Christians who believe that militarism is not a long term Christian answer to the problems of the world.”

“By refusing certain fields of research, inevitably destined, in the concrete historical circumstances, for deadly purposes, the scientists of the whole world ought to be united in a common readiness to disarm science and to form a providential force for peace. (Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 12 Nov. 1983.)”

“But the message of Jagerstatter for us is that whether it is remembered in history or not, no act of witness is lost. In one way or another, we are all called to bear witness to God and to the truth he shows us. Christians today have a special duty to listen to the voice of conscience on matters of life and death.”

“But work for peace does not start only when war breaks out. It was Pope Paul VI who said that peace was the fruit of anxious daily care to see that everyone lives in the justice that God intends. Peace is not just an easy word, but a commitment to work for human rights everywhere in God's family.”

Karl Leisner by M.N.L. Couve de Murville

“The first concentration camps for political dissidents were created and by July 1933 all other parties had been outlawed.”

“For Catholics of the post-Vatican II era, Karl' s story has an additional message. He was a priest for such a short time and he only said Mass once; he never preached or heard confessions. He was never well enough to exercise a parish ministry, and yet who can doubt that priesthood was at the centre of his life and fulfilled the aspirations of his ardent soul. The priesthood cannot be understood only in terms of ministry and effectiveness; it cannot be reduced to a function. At its centre there is a unique consecration of the person to Christ; once given it can never be taken away; once accepted it is fruitful, whatever the circumstances. In preparing to offer the
Eucharistic sacrifice, and in his one celebration of that mystery as a priest, Karl found the supreme meaning of his own self-sacrifice. He was conformed in a way that is exemplary for all, but especially for priests, to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary, a sacrifice ever continued in Christ's intercession before the Father and sacramentally present in the Eucharistic offering of the Church. It was from the power of the Son's self-gift in love to the Father, a power released into the world as the Holy Spirit, that Karl drew his strength, and was able to share it with others.”

Rupert Mayer by Paul Riesterer, SJ

“When the First World War broke out he immediately volunteered as an army chaplain, serving with such outstanding courage and devotion that he received four decorations including the Iron Cross 1st class, which in those days was the equivalent of the V.C. He was the first chaplain to be given this and there was some opposition from anti-clerical quarters.”

“During his trail Father Mayer once said: 'Some are going to say, 'This Father Mayer's a fighting cock. First he attacks the Communists and now he's going for the Nazis. Some people always have to be fighting something." A trouble-maker as I was once kindly called. That just suits me!'”

I hope those quotes will give you a sense of this volume. It is well worth tracking down. These are amazing stories and it is well worth the read.  It is an excellent volume in an important series. I highly recommend it, and encourage you to track it down and give it a read.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Oscar Romero: Martyr for Faith - Ashley Beck
Pedro Poveda - Bernadette Lally

Books by M.N.L. Couve de Murville:
The Man Who Founded California: The Life of Saint Junipero Serra
Catholic Cambridge
Slave from Haiti: Saint for New York? - Life of Pierre Toussaint
John Milner: A Study of One of the Most Notable Bishops of the Midlands
The Unsealed Fountain: Essays on the Christian Spiritual Tradition
Christians in China: A.D. 600 to 2000
Niels Stensen: Scientist and Saint

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