The Martyrs of Lübeck: 3 priests beatified and a Lutheran minister honored

From CNA:

Three priest-martyrs of Nazis beatified in Germany

Hamburg, Germany, Jun 25, 2011 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Three Catholic martyrs executed under the Nazi regime were beatified in Germany today, June 25. The event was also noteworthy for its rememberance of their Lutheran companion[Non-Catholics cannot be beatified.]

Fathers Hermann Lange, Eduard Müller and Johannes Prassek, along with Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, were guillotined in a Hamburg prison in November 1943. The Nazi regime found them guilty of “defeatism, malice, favoring the enemy and listening to enemy broadcasts.”  [In an article such as this, it might be hard to figure out how those things constitute the criteria for “martyrdom”.  To be a martyr, you have to be killed for hatred for Christ, Christianity, the Church or those doctrine and virtues which cannot be separated from faith in Christ.  Of course we don’t know from the description of the sentence, above, what the real reasons are… yet.  Let’s read on.]

At a ceremony in the northern German city of Lubeck, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared the trio of Catholic clergy to be ‘blessed.’ He also expressed an ‘honorable remembrance’ for the priests’ fellow Christian martyr, Pastor Stellbrink.

“What distinguishes these four also is the fact that in the face of National-Socialist despotism they overcame the divide between the two faiths to find a common path to fight and act together,” says the official history which accompanied the ceremony.  [I am still waiting for an explanation of the martyrdom, knowing that the writer may not have known that it should probably be given.  Having worked together, Catholics and Lutherans, is not grounds for being declared “martyrs”.]

It’s estimated that over 9,000 pilgrims – both Catholic and Protestant – attended today’s ceremony. Twenty Catholic and four Protestant bishops planned to attend.

On June 24 Lutheran Vespers were prayed for the martyrs at Lubeck’s Memorial Church. Former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, spoke at the ceremony.

The official history recounts that the men would copy and distribute the anti-Nazi sermons of Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen of the Catholic Diocese of Munster[Okay!  We are getting closer.  The Nazis really hated the Lion of Munster, Bl. Clemens von Galen.]

“They felt, like many others, the liberating tone of these sermons, which broke the silence and proclaimed aloud the thoughts many had in their hearts, when the Nazi action for the ‘destruction of unworthy lives’ began, the euthanasia of innocent mentally retarded persons,” the history says.  [So… were they killed because of their defense of human life?]

The men’s last letters, written just hours before their deaths, have been preserved and were put on display this weekend. Father Johannes Prassek wrote his family:

“I am so happy, I can hardly explain how happy. God is so good to have given me several beautiful years in which to be his priest. [Several?  Sounds young.]

“Do not be sad! What is waiting for me is joy and good fortune, with which all the happiness and good fortune here on earth cannot compare.”

Father Eduard Muller wrote to his bishop:

“It gives me great pleasure to be able to write a few lines to you in this, my last hour. Whole-heartedly, I thank you first of all for the greatest gift which you gave me as a successor of the apostles, when you placed you hands on me and ordained me as God’s priest.

“But now we must embark upon this – in human terms difficult- final walk, which is to lead us to Him, whom we served as priests.”

Beatification is public recognition by the Catholic Church that a deceased person has entered Heaven. It is the third of the four steps towards canonization and confers the title “blessed.”

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on the “Martyrs of Lübeck“.  It seems as if these men were killed because of the hatred of Christian resistance to the diabolical aims of National Socialism.

Perhaps some of you readers can add more about the details.

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  1. shane says:

    Very interesting. Co-operation between Catholic and Protestant clergy against the Nazis in Germany, Holland, etc. is a key factor in the breaking down of denominational barriers in those countries and in disposing Catholic laity and clergy alike to ecumenical and existentialist ideas. A few years later the bishops of these same countries would successfully push for change in the Church at the Second Vatican Council (hence the title of Fr Wiltgen’s book: ‘The Rhine Flows into the Tiber’)

  2. skull kid says:

    I recall reading an article about ecumenical pro-life work. The writer said it was a bad idea. For similar reasons. Check it out:

    The Problem with the Pro-life Movement
    by Robert Siscoe
    To win the battle against abortion, we must take the ax to the root!

  3. digdigby says:

    Murdered priests are not ‘interesting’ to me. Not even ‘very interesting’ to me. I doubt if you really mean that.

  4. Banjo pickin girl says:

    The youngest priest looks to be in his late twenties maybe (I could be wrong, policemen are getting younger looking every year).

    I loved the writings of Corrie ten Boom from Holland. Her book The Hiding Place and her followups to it were a big influence on me. Her father could have looked the other way and just ran his watch repair shop but he didn’t. His friendships with rabbis and other people were important. He hid Torah scrolls in his house. And also hid people.

    One of the reasons the ten Booms were spied on was their involvement with mentally handicapped people who were some of the first the Nazis wanted to rub out as worthless. Corrie had a club for such people and she would take them on outings. This is described in two of her books.

    I am handicapped too so all this means a lot to me. I am not good enough to be a martyr but I can always pray.

    If Corrie and Caspar ten Boom had been Catholic…

    How many priests ended up being martyred by the Nazis and others at the time, does anybody know?

  5. Norah says:

    I too am a bit puzzled as to what is the criteria for martyrdom. I was taught that a martyr was a person who was killed because they a Catholic but it seems that today’s definition is a bit more elastic e.g. why was Fr Maximillian Kolbe declared to be a martyr? I am not trying to undermine what he did but he died because he took another’s place [an heroic act] not because he was a Catholic priest.

  6. heway says:

    As I recall there were questions about Edith Stein – martyred for being a jewess or a catholic religious?

  7. digdigby says:

    Father Kolbe was a Martyr of CHARITY (and was he ever!). Another Martyr of Charity was Father Damien of the lepers. Father Kolbe took the place of a stranger BECAUSE he was a Saint not just a ‘hero’. Other Catholics have been rounded up and slaughtered as Catholics (in Spain for instance) in circumstances that gave them no opportunity to demonstrate ‘heroic faith’ but were declared martyrs en masse ‘for having been killed’. Don’t confuse the sublime Father Kolbe with any of the accusations of JPII wholesale saint-making. He had a vision of Mary in his youth, his lifelong suffering from TB was brutal and a martyrdom in itself considering his work load and as for miracles the number of Auschwitz prisoners who even casually came in contact with him and survived defy all the odds by a factor of 500 to 1. Just having known him was enough. By the way, he’s my patron and thirty years ago at Auschwitz this Jewish convert’s first brush with the miraculous was in the dark candle-lit prayer filled cell where he died.

  8. ghp95134 says:

    “…The Dortmund court prison, Lübecker Hof, was occasionally one of the central execution places of the Third Reich. After 1943 a Guillotine had been set up there, in order to relieve the execution place in Cologne, to date responsible for Dortmund. Between 2 July 1943 and 5 January 1945 more than 300 women and men were executed there. It often concerned itself with foreign or German resistance fighters….”

    Copied from a WWII Axis History site.

  9. Fr_Marc says:

    For those of you who read German, there is a very good documentation on the Martyrs of Lübeck on the official site, run by the archdiocese of Hamburg:

    The three priests were killed out of hatred for the church. The nazis did not dare to kill Bl. Clemens August Graf von Galen, the bishop of Münster. So they murdered the three young fathers, who copied and spread von Galen’s sermons, instead.

    Father Johannes Prassek learned the Polish language in order to care for Polish forced laborers and administer sacraments to them, which was strictly forbidden by the nazis as an act of “favoring the enemy”. This is just one example for the junction between these men’s priestly ministry and their execution by the nazis.

  10. liebemama says:

    What Fr. Marc said.
    This morning in Mass our Priest said that the 3 young Priests worked with the youth of the area doing similar activities as the Nazis with the Naziyouth , but emphasizing Catholic values. During their imprisonment they showed extraordinary faith and gave witness even as they knew their ultimate fate of the guillotine.
    I don’t know what exactly is necessary to be named “Blessed”, but our young Priest (28yrs) did not doubt that they were worthy. Our Priest did not once mention the word “ecumenism” in his homily today, as it was not a factor.
    The young Martyrs lived in a protestant area of Germany. In contrast, all of Muensterland(Catholic) was prepared for the instance of Bl. Cardinal von Galen’s arrest. ALL of the church bells were to ring and the people would have come in masses protesting. The people were prepared and willing to protect their beloved Cardinal.

  11. Lucas says:

    I like how on wikipedia it says that the Cardinal pleaded for clemency for the priests but for the lutheran minister he got no support from his church authorities.

    “Pastor Stellenbrink received no support from his Province’s church authorities, and prior to his execution was ejected from Holy Orders because of his conviction.”

  12. digdigby says:

    “Pastor Stellenbrink received no support from his Province’s church authorities, and prior to his execution was ejected from Holy Orders because of his conviction.”

    Am I the only one who seems to notice that Martin Luther had a mouth like a backed up toilet?
    “…but then eject them (the Jews) forever from this country. For, as we have heard, God’s anger with them is so intense that gentle mercy will only tend to make them worse and worse, while sharp mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, in any case, away with them!” And this is one of the milder diatribes. What a sick evil man Luther was – my personal opinion.

  13. I believe the point with the Lutherans was not that Lutherans were all evil and nasty, but that the Lutheran church/national organization was by its nature more vulnerable to being taken over by Nazis and bureaucrats.

    (Although the same thing could have happened to the Catholic Church in Germany, if not for the grace of God working through the Pope and the many valiant German Catholics — but also, there is something to be said for having a hierarchy in crisis situations.)

  14. Banjo pickin girl says:

    suburbanbanshee, the history of the Confessing Church is interesting and related to your post.

  15. Banjo pickin girl says:

    heway, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) was killed because the Nazis considered her to be a Jew. For them Jewishness was not about religion, it was about ethnicity. She was killed for being Jewish but she was targeted at that time because she was a convert. That current roundup was of all Jewish converts because the Nazis thought they were converting to change their Jewishness. The other people in her boxcar were all Jewish converts to Catholicism, though they were not all consecrated religious. Her martyrdom was also related to who she was, she was one of the most brilliant philosophical minds of the century. If she had lived we might have had another female Doctor of the Church.

    I have a great feeling for the Jewish people and when I became a Benedictine Oblate I took the name Benedicta partly in her honor, partly for our Pope, and partly for St. Benedict.

    Interestingly, she took the name Benedicta because even though she was a Carmelite for many years her spiritual director was a Benedictine Abbot.

  16. aviva meriam says:

    As a seriously flawed human being, I’ve often wondered if I would have the courage of faith required to stand against evil. The Catholic Church (and the Confessing Church) were responsible for seriously curtailing the Euthanasia program (T4) of the Nazis (aimed at “defectives). Bl von Galen and so many other priests and religious stood against Nazism because of their devotion to their Christian Faith…. These 4 men truly were martyrs. In response to Banjo Pickin Girl’s question regarding numbers of christian religious killed by the Nazis, I’m unsure of where to find the exact number (perhaps the Holocaust memorial in DC or Yad Vashem in jerusalem?). However, Auschwitz had a seperate Barrack for Male Christian Clergy. There were ENOUGH clergy to justify (in the evil Nazi mentality) a seperate barrack for them.

    I’m curious about the modern Lutheran Church: how does the modern church account for their prior actions ESPECIALLY regarding this pastor? Dietrich Bonhoefffer was an amazing man, whose honest and sincere devotion to his Christianity led him to acts of defiance and resistance against the Nazis. He was also responsible for bringing others into the resistance movement. I wonder if anyone knows how he is considered by the Modern Lutheran Church?

  17. Banjo pickin girl says:

    aviva meriam, the Augsburg Fortress publishing house distribution center is in my neighborhood and I used to frequently go to their twice a year book sales. Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison is considered must reading among the Lutherans I know and his books are some of the first to disappear from the sale shelves at the distribution center. He is considered by the Lutherans I know as their equivalent of a saint. The Methodists seem to revere him too.

  18. Charles E Flynn says:

    Suggested reading:

    Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas.

    From the Amazon description. Note the word “timid”:

    “In Hitler’s Germany, a Lutheran pastor chooses resistance and pays with his life. . . Eric Metaxas tells Bonhoeffer’s story with passion and theological sophistication, often challenging revisionist accounts that make Bonhoeffer out to be a ‘humanist’ or ethicist for whom religious doctrine was easily disposable. . . Metaxas reminds us that there are forms of religion — respectable, domesticated, timid — that may end up doing the devil’s work for him.” –Wall Street Journal

  19. EWTN Rocks says:

    Charles E Flynn,

    Thanks for the suggestion…sounds like an interesting book. I would like to recommend a book written in that era: Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book, available on

    ”…Our parents before us understood that strife is rarely far from even the best of us, and they girded themselves for warfare, actual and spiritual. Among the wisest of men who shepherded them was Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who won their hearts with his warm, engaging broadcast personality . . . but in secret he put on the armor of God. World War II thrust temptation, fear, danger, and death on the men and women Archbishop Sheen had formed through his popular radio shows in the 1930’s. Archbishop Sheen knew that no matter what our circumstances may be, the deadliest enemy we face is armed not with a gun but with temptation. In dangerous, uncertain times like ours, the Devil lures us quickly into lust, anger, hatred, and despair…Knowing that many of his listeners were now beyond the sound of his voice, fighting and dying on battlefields afar, he wrote this pocket-sized prayerbook so that they, too, could put on the armor of God as they faced their new trials, physical and spiritual. Yes, it’s for soldiers (and you should send it to every soldier you know so he will have it in his breast pocket when he needs it); but it’s for you and me, too. Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book will help keep you from these vices so that you, too, can put on the armor of God and triumph over evil in our day.”

  20. Well, of course Lutherans today (and probably the vast majority of German Lutherans in the pews back then, of those who weren’t Lutherans-in-name-only) regard Bonhoeffer as a hero. Probably Stellenbrink’s congregation and those who knew him, too. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

    It really doesn’t befit Catholics to get smug about this sort of thing. Supporting the wrong causes, even they are right in the Lord’s eyes, has been a danger to priests’ careers even in our own time and in the US. “If these things are done when the tree is green, what will be done when it’s dry?”

  21. Katherine says:

    These priests are now recognized as “Blessed”, joining Bl. Nikolaus Gross, a Catholic victim of the fascists and a German labor union leader.

  22. amsjj1002 says:

    Could someone connect the names to the photos please? Many thanks.

    Also, on a related note, today I read about the first Oratorian martyr to be beatified, who was killed seven years earlier in Spain, the Venerable Savio Huix Miralpeix, Bishop of Lérida:

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