World War II

Catholic Priests of Dachau

 

A very brave man has died:

The last surviving Catholic priest imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp has died at the age of 102, more than 70 years after surviving a Nazi death march.

 The Rev. Hermann Scheipers died on June 2 in Ochtrup, Germany, the Catholic website Aleteia said.

 He spent more than four years at Dachau after being arrested in 1940, reportedly for supporting Polish forced laborers. “Here, you are defenseless, without dignity or rights,” Scheipers recalled being told on arriving at the Nazi camp.

Go here to read the rest.

 

2,579 Catholic priests, seminarians and brothers were thrown by the Nazis during World War II into Dachau.  1,780 of these were from Poland.  Of these, some 868 priests perished, 300 in medical “experiments” or by torture in the showers of the camp.

The remaining priests, seminarians and brothers came from 38 nations.  Besides the Poles the largest groups were 447 German and Austrian priests, 156 French priests and 46 Belgian priests.

Continue reading

Ernie Pyle on Omaha Beach

Normandy - American Cemetery (1)

There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
Colonel George A. Taylor, commander 16th Infantry Regiment, Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944

Now that it is over it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all. For some of our units it was easy, but in this special sector where I am now our troops faced such odds that our getting ashore was like my whipping Joe Louis down to a pulp.

In this column I want to tell you what the opening of the second front in this one sector entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.

Ashore, facing us, were more enemy troops than we had in our assault waves. The advantages were all theirs, the disadvantages all ours. The Germans were dug into positions that they had been working on for months, although these were not yet all complete. A one-hundred-foot bluff a couple of hundred yards back from the beach had great concrete gun emplacements built right into the hilltop. These opened to the sides instead of to the front, thus making it very hard for naval fire from the sea to reach them. They could shoot parallel with the beach and cover every foot of it for miles with artillery fire.

Then they had hidden machine-gun nests on the forward slopes, with crossfire taking in every inch of the beach. These nests were connected by networks of trenches, so that the German gunners could move about without exposing themselves.

Throughout the length of the beach, running zigzag a couple of hundred yards back from the shoreline, was an immense V-shaped ditch fifteen feet deep. Nothing could cross it, not even men on foot, until fills had been made. And in other places at the far end of the beach, where the ground is flatter, they had great concrete walls. These were blasted by our naval gunfire or by explosives set by hand after we got ashore.

Our only exits from the beach were several swales or valleys, each about one hundred yards wide. The Germans made the most of these funnel-like traps, sowing them with buried mines. They contained, also, barbed-wire entanglements with mines attached, hidden ditches, and machine guns firing from the slopes.

This is what was on the shore. But our men had to go through a maze nearly as deadly as this before they even got ashore. Underwater obstacles were terrific. The Germans had whole fields of evil devices under the water to catch our boats. Even now, several days after the landing, we have cleared only channels through them and cannot yet approach the whole length of the beach with our ships. Even now some ship or boat hits one of these mines every day and is knocked out of commission.

The Germans had masses of those great six-pronged spiders, made of railroad iron and standing shoulder-high, just beneath the surface of the water for our landing craft to run into. They also had huge logs buried in the sand, pointing upward and outward, their tops just below the water. Attached to these logs were mines.

In addition to these obstacles they had floating mines offshore, land mines buried in the sand of the beach, and more mines in checkerboard rows in the tall grass beyond the sand. And the enemy had four men on shore for every three men we had approaching the shore.

And yet we got on.

Continue reading

Padre of Guadalcanal

BE058992

 

 

(This is a post I did in 2009.  It seemed appropriate to repost it today in tandem with my Halsey post.  Father Gehring pray for us that we may have the courage to face our challenges in life and win victories over them.)

 

Frederic Gehring was probably lucky that he was born and reared in Brooklyn.  It has always been a tough town and it prepared him for the adventurous life he was to lead.  Born on January 20, 1903,  he went on to attend and graduated from Saint John’s Prep.  Setting his eyes on being a missionary priest, he entered the minor seminary of the Vincentians, Saint Joseph’s, near Princeton,  New Jersey.  Earning his BA in 1925, he entered the seminary of Saint Vincent’s in Philadelphia.

Ordained as a priest on May 22, 1930, he was unable to immediately go to China due to military activity of the Communists in Kiangsi province.  For three years he traveled throughout the US raising funds for the missions in China, and, at long last, in 1933 he was able to pack his bags and sailed for China.  Laboring in the Chinese missions from 1933-1939 in the midst of warlordism, civil war and the invasion of China, commencing in 1937, by Japan must have been tough, but Father Gehring was always up to any challenge.  For example,  in 1938 Japanese planes strafed a mission he was at.  Father Gehring ran out waving a large American flag in hopes that the Japanese would not wish to offend a powerful neutral nation and would stop the strafing.  The Japanese planes did fly off, and Father Gehring was pleased until someone at the mission pointed out that maybe the Japanese had simply run out of ammo!  In 1939 Father Gerhring returned to the States to raise funds for the missions.

 

Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Father Gehring joined the Navy as a Chaplain.  In September 1942 he began an unforgettable six month tour of duty with the First Marine Division fighting on Guadalcanal.  Marines, although they are often loathe to admit it, are a component of the Department of the Navy, and the US Navy supplies their support troops, including chaplains.  (One of my friends served as a Navy corpsman with a Marine unit in Vietnam.  After his tour with the Navy he enlisted with the Marines, was commissioned a Lieutenant, and spent his entire tour with a detachment of Marines aboard an aircraft carrier.  As he puts it, he joined the Navy and spent his time slogging through the mud with Marines.  He then joined the Marines and spent his time sailing with the Navy.)

Guadalcanal marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.  In August 1942 the US went on the offensive for the first time when the First Marine Division, the Old Breed,  landed on Guadalcanal and took the Japanese air base there.  This set off a huge six month campaign, where US forces, often outnumbered on land, sea and in the air, fought and defeated the Imperial Army and Navy.  The importance of Guadalcanal is well captured in this quote from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey: “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.

Guadalcanal

Upon arrival on Guadalcanal, Lieutenant Gehring quickly became known as “Padre “ to the men of the Old Breed, the title usually bestowed upon chaplains, especially if they were Catholic priests.  He soon became known for wanting to be where the fighting was in order to help the wounded and administer the Last Rites.  Initially this took some of the Marines by surprise.  Jumping into a foxhole during a heavy fire fight, a shocked Marine already in the foxhole, noticing the crucifix dangling from his neck, cried out to him, “Padre, what are you doing here?”  Gehring calmly replied, “Where else would I be?”  He would routinely say Masses so close to the fighting, that the Marines said that he would say Mass in Hell for Marines if he could drive his jeep there.  The Marines quickly decided that it was a lost cause asking the Padre to stay behind the lines.  They were doing well if they could convince him to stay within friendly lines!  Three times he went out on behind the line missions to rescue trapped missionaries on the island, mostly Marist priests and sisters, rescuing 28 of them, assisted by natives of the Solomons.  For this feat he was the first Navy chaplain to be awarded the Legion of Merit by the President. Continue reading

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

There are no great men, there are only great challenges, which ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.

Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

Earlier this week I was watching the movie The Gallant Hours (1960), starring James Cagney as Admiral William Halsey, Jr.  (Halsey hated the nickname “Bull” that the press fastened upon him during the War.)  The film focuses on the time in late 1942 to 1943 when Halsey was theater commander during the Guadalcanal campaign.  This was in tandem with my reading of the latest bio of Halsey, Admiral Bill Halsey:  A Naval Life, by Thomas Alexander Hughes.

Halsey is an interesting figure partially because his public image is so at odds with the reality.  During World War II Halsey was the “Patton of the Pacific”, a fighting Admiral who swore as he viewed the carnage of Pearl Harbor on December 7,  that by the time the US was done the only place that Japanese would be spoken was in Hell.  Halsey in the popular perception was a rampaging bull in a Japanese china shop.

The reality was different.  Halsey, who got his wings at the advanced age of 52, was an inspired commander of carriers.  Strike quick and run was his method in the early days of the War, when his daring carrier raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific gave a very badly needed boost to national morale.  (“I hauled ass with Halsey” was a fond remembrance of veterans of those raids for decades after the War.)   However, unlike his unwelcome “Bull” image, Halsey was a thoughtful and careful planner, who paid close attention to such un-glamorous, but essential, topics as logistics and intelligence as he plotted every move his forces made.  He was also an officer beloved of his men because of his reputation of making sure that they were taken care of regarding food, leave and mail.  Throughout his career Halsey was known as a sailor’s officer who always looked out for the enlisted men under his command.  (A typical story told about Halsey by his sailors.  On board a carrier sailors were waiting in line for some prized ice cream.  An Ensign decides to cut to the head of his line.  He suddenly hears a stream of profanity directed at him.  He turns around to chew out the sailor cussing him.  He finds out that the man yelling at him is four star Admiral Halsey who has been patiently waiting his turn in the line with his men.) Continue reading

Father Ranger

raaen&lacy

The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day.  These were young men, in peak physical condition.  Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches.  He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.”  No way would he be able to keep up when they  invaded France.

 

On the trip across the Channel to France,  Chaplain Lacy told the men:  “When you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If I do I’m gonna come up and boot you in the tail. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.”  A few of the men began to think that maybe this priest was tougher than he looked.

On June 6, 1944 at 7:30 AM,  LCA 1377 landed the Rangers on Omaha Dog Green Beach, the first landing craft to land on that section of Omaha Beach.  Father Lacy was the last man out just before an artillery shell hit the fantail.  Everything was chaos with the beach being swept by German artillery and small arms fire.  Wounded men were everywhere, both on the beach and in the water feebly trying to get to the beach.  Father Lacy did not hesitate.  With no thought for his own safety he waded into the water to pull men out of the ocean and onto the beach.  He began treating the wounded on the beach and administering the Last Rites to those beyond human assistance.  On a day when courage was not in short supply men took notice of this small fat priest who was doing his best under fire to save as many lives as he could.  While his battalion led the way off Omaha Beach, and sustained 50% casualties doing so, Father Lacy continued to tend their  wounded and the wounded of other units.  For his actions that day Father Lacy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor, after the Medal of Honor, in the United States Army.

Here is the text of his citation: Continue reading

British World War II Sub Found

An appropriate story for a Memorial Day weekend.

 

“It is 100 per cent the P311, as this was the only submarine with those very special characteristics that set it apart,” said Ms Pegararo. 

“He went down Sunday with a go-pro on his helmet, but decided to go down again today with lights to take better quality video. He has made all the announcements to the competent authorities.”

Mr Bondone dove to a depth of 103 meters to explore the submarine, which he reported as intact, with some damage to the bow believed to be from a mine, but otherwise “hermetically sealed.” 

“When it sunk, it went straight down as it is intact on the seabed, and still very well preserved, with a lot of crustaceans and colourful marine life,” Ms Pegararo said. 

“It looks like it probably went down with air sealed inside, leaving the crew to die eventually of oxygen deprivation,” Mr Bondone told La Nuova Sardegna.

HMS P 311  was lost while engaged in Operation Principle, the Chariot attack on Italian cruisers at La Maddalena.

HMS P 311 left Scotland in November 1942 with sister-boats HMS Thunderbold and HMS Trooper after addition of human torpedo deck-mounted watertight containers, direct for Malta.

P 311 departed from Malta on 28 December 1942. She sent her last signal on 31 December 1942 from position 38º10’N, 11º30’E.

After this signal she was not heard from again and she is presumed sunk by Italian mines in the approaches to Maddalena on or around 2 January 1943.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

 

A film is being released today on the final voyage of the USS Indianapolis.  I will be seeing it on the first weekend in June, to be followed by a review from me.

 

 

The USS Indianapolis, was immortalized in popular culture by the Jaws video clip above.  The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945.  On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58.  900 of the crew made it into the water.  SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off.  Three Navy stations received the SOS signal.  At the first station the commander was drunk.  At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed.    The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank.  The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved.  When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1945, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.

This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol.  Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors.  321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter.  Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors.    Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain.  He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair.  When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.

Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued.  He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer.  Instead McVay  was court-martialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy.  He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II.  Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the court-martial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949.  Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.

After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father.  In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott, launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name.  The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack.

In 2000 Congress passed a resolution calling for the Navy to exonerate McVay.  The resolution stated in part: Continue reading

Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’

 

Something for the weekend.  Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.  A historical curiosity of 1943.  The only gospel song that I am aware of that praises Joseph Stalin, it was inspired by this remark in a speech by FDR:

The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self sacrifice, that have been displayed by the Russian people and their armies under the leadership of Marshall Joseph Stalin.  The song was performed a cappella by the gospel group Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.  The song was a moderate success in 1943 and has mercifully been largely forgotten since that.  A tribute to war time tunnel vision and the delusional view of Stalin firmly embraced by President Roosevelt and many other liberal Americans, inside and outside of his administration, at the time.

The Year Of the Missing Federal Income Tax

1942 was the year of the 1942 revenue bill, perhaps the largest tax increase in American history.  Thirteen million more Americans would find themselves paying federal income tax.  This was out of a population of 130,000,000 and where, prior to the War, most families had only the father of the family as a breadwinner.  Only the War made such a radical expansion of the federal income tax politically feasible.  In 1943 wage withholding of taxes would begin.  The problem was that all of these new federal taxpayers would be trying to meet their 1942 tax obligations as their checks were being subject to federal income tax withholding, a train wreck in the making.  Beardsley Ruml, chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and chairman of R.H. Macy and Co. hit upon an ingenious solution:  forgive the federal income tax owed for 1942!  Ruml compared it to daylight savings time, moving”the tax clock forward, and cost the Treasury nothing until Judgment Day.  One  wag completed the thought that on Judgment Day, “no one will give a damn.”  President Roosevelt was reluctant, viewing the forgiveness as a windfall to wealthy Americans used to paying income tax, but the idea was overwhelmingly, unsurprisingly popular in Congress and with the American people, and the tax debt for 1942 was duly forgiven.

Von Galen on Martyrdom

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.   On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munich he then took on the Nazi program of euthanasia, the precursor to the Holocaust, which may be read here.  Today we examine a sermon that he preached at the Cathedral of Saint Victor’s in Xanten, Germany on February 9, 1936, long before the three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.

I have just consecrated a new altar in your venerable and splendid cathedral,in a small space deep beneath the choir. But why? Your church is already so richly endowed with altars.

Beginning a sermon with a question is an approach that I wish more priests and bishops would use.  It engages the minds of the listeners from the outset.

You know the answer. The researches of the past few years have given proof that there below us lies a holy and particularly venerable place. Not only has the tradition been substantiated, according to which several previous churches were said to stand on the site of this present church, the oldest of them dating back to the time of the martyrs, to the fourth century A.D. We are also provided with fresh evidence that holy martyrs, who with their blood bore witness to Christ, were interred here, to await the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection of the body. Christ’s words have given us this promise: The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. Whosoever does not
believe in the independent life of the individual soul, in its continued existence after the death of the body, in its reunification with the bodyand in life everlasting, this man is no true Christian. We hold these beliefs, because we believe in Christ, who is the truth. Because we hold fast to the beliefs of the Apostles and of our Christian forebears. The entire history of your city, speaking to you through the its towering churches, which are monuments in stone, proclaiming itself in the stones found lying beneath them, is evidence of our faith.

The martyrs have always been the human bedrock for Catholicism, from Saint Stephen, the first of the ever glorious martyrs, to our own day with the recent martyrdom of the brave Shahbaz Bhatti. Continue reading

Von Galen Contra Euthanasia

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.  On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munster, he preached a third sermon which, along with an overall attack on the Nazi regime, attacked an evil that, alas, unlike the Nazis, remains with us today.

My Beloved Brethren,

In today’s Gospel we read of an unusual event: Our Saviour weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be either in physical or mental anguish. At that time Jesus was not yet in bodily pain and yet here were tears. What depth of torment He must have felt in His heart and Soul, if He, the bravest of men, was reduced to tears. Why is He weeping? He is lamenting over Jerusalem, the holy city He loved so tenderly, the capital of His race. He is weeping over her inhabitants, over His own compatriots because they cannot foresee the judgment that is to overtake them, the punishment which His divine prescience and justice have pronounced. ‘Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace!’ Why did the people of Jerusalem not know it? Jesus had given them the reason a short time before. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! I your God and your King wished it, but you would have none of Me. . . .’ This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God. . . . Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man’s willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree. . . . It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem.

“the capital of His race.”  What courage it took in Nazi Germany to remind people of the fact that Jesus was a Jew!  Von Galen had always been a friend to Jews, and would hide a Jewish boy, with the help of a Protestant pastor, at an institute Von Galen controlled, from the Nazis.  After his death he would be highly praised by the Munster Jewish community for the care and assistance he had shown them.  Would that all Germans had acted the same way.  It is a canard to say that all Germans hated Jews:  even with the Nazis pumping out the vilest anti-semitism imaginable 24-7 since they took power that was not the case.  However, it is fair to say that a majority of Germans were indifferent to the fate of the Jews and were unwilling to raise their voices against the Nazi persecution of the Jews.  This attitude of most of the German people is well described in the film Judgment at Nuremberg where Burt Lancaster, as German judge Ernst Janning, gives riveting testimony:

Von Galen I think realized this indifference and his sermons were meant to show Germans that the evil of the Nazis was not restricted only to people they were shamefully indifferent to. Continue reading

Von Galen Contra the Swastika

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the second of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

Today the collection which I ordered for the inhabitants of the city of Münster is held in all the parishes in the diocese of Münster which have not themselves suffered war damage. I hope that through the efforts of the state and municipal authorities responsible and the brotherly help of the Catholics of this diocese, whose contributions will be administered and distributed by the offices of the Caritas, much need will be alleviated.

Charity, always a prime duty of Catholics.

Thanks be to God, for several days our city has not suffered any new enemy attacks from without. But I am distressed to have to inform you that the attacks by our opponents within the country, of the beginning of which I spoke last Sunday in St. Lambert’s, that these attacks have continued, regardless of our protests, regardless of the anguish this causes to the victims of the attacks and those connected with them. Last Sunday I lamented, and branded as an injustice crying out to heaven, the action of the Gestapo in closing the convent in Wilkinghege and the Jesuit residences in Munster, confiscating their property and possessions, putting the occupants into the street and expelling them from their home area. The convent of Our Lady of Lourdes in Frauen­strasse was also seized by the Gau authorities. I did not then know that on the same day, Sunday 13th July, the Gestapo had occupied the Kamilluskolleg in Sudmühle and the Benedictine abbey of Gerleve near Coesfeld and expelled the fathers and lay brothers. They were forced to leave Westphalia that very day.

The Nazi war on the Church is becoming more brazen in the midst of the War. Continue reading

Von Galen Contra Gestapo

 

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the first of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  In the summer of 1941 the Third Reich was at its zenith.  Operation Barbarossa had been launched, and the Soviets were reeling, with German armies advancing rapidly against a Red Army which appeared to be on the verge of dissolution.  In North Africa, the Desert Fox was besieging Tobruk and it seemed only a matter of time until Egypt might fall to him.  American still slumbered in an isolationist dream.  World domination by Nazi Germany seemed to be approaching reality.

At this point, when his Nazi foes were their strongest, on July 13, 1941, Bishop von Galen threw down his episcopal gauntlet to the Gestapo, the secret police of the Nazis, who brutally terrorized Germany and occupied Europe:

 

My dear Catholics of St. Lambert’s:

 I have longed to read personally from the pulpit of this church today my pastoral letter on the events of the past week and in particular to express to you, my former parishioners, my deep-felt sympathy. In some part of the city, the devastation and loss have been particularly great. I hope that by the action of the municipal and government authorities responsible, and above all by your brotherly love and the collections taken today for the work of the Caritas Union and the Parish Caritas, some of the hardship and suffering will be relieved. I had in mind also, however, to add a brief word on the meaning of the divine visitation: how God thus seeks us in order to lead us home to Him. God wants to lead Münster home to Him.  How much at home were our forefathers with God and in God’s Holy Church! How thoroughly were their lives — their public life, their family life, and even their commercial life — supported by faith in God, directed by the holy fear of God and by the love of God! Has it always been like that in our own day? God wants to lead Münster home to Him!

Von Galen here is speaking about the devastation caused by British bombing raids.  Note his comments about the practical steps necessary to help the victims through special collections, and the overriding necessity of turning to God.

Concerning this I had meant to put some further reflections before you. But this I cannot do today, for I find myself compelled to openly and in public speak of something else — a shattering event which came upon us yesterday, at the end of this week of calamity.

What could be more important than the damage wreaked upon us by the enemy bombers I am certain was the thought that first occurred to many of von Galen’s listeners.  Continue reading

The Lion of Munster

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

The Nazis hated and feared Clemens August Graf von Galen in life and no doubt they still hate and fear him, at least those now enjoying the amenities of some of the less fashionable pits of Hell.  Going into Lent, I am strongly encouraged by the story of Blessed von Galen.  I guess one could come up with a worse situation than being a Roman Catholic bishop in Nazi Germany in 1941, and confronting a merciless anti-Christian dictatorship that was diametrically opposed to the Truth of Christ, but that would certainly do for enough of a challenge for one lifetime for anyone.  (Hitler privately denounced Christianity as a Jewish superstition and looked forward after the War to “settling accounts”, as he put it, with Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.)

Priests who spoke out against the Third Reich were being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps.  What was a bishop to do in the face of such massive evil?  Well, for the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, there could be only one answer.

A German Count, von Galen was from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Westphalia.  Always a German patriot, the political views of von Galen would have made my own conservatism seem a pale shade of pink in comparison.  Prior to becoming a bishop, he was sometimes criticized for a haughty attitude and being unbending.  He was chosen Bishop of Munster in 1933 only after other candidates, no doubt recognizing what a dangerous position it would be with the Nazis now in power, had turned it down.  I am certain  it did not hurt that he was an old friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.

Von Galen immediately demonstrated that he had not agreed to become Bishop of Munster in order to avoid danger.  He successfully led a fight against the Nazi attempt to take over Catholic schools, citing article 21 of the Concordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany.  He then began a campaign, often using humor and ridicule, against the Aryan racial doctrines proposed by Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi race theorist, and a man even some high level Nazis thought was little better than a crank.  Von Galen argued that Christianity totally rejected racial differences as determining how groups should be treated, and that all men and women were children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Bishop spoke out against Nazi attacks on the “Jewish Old Testament” stating that Holy Writ was Holy Writ and that the Bible could not be altered to suit current prejudices.

In early 1937 he was summoned by Pope Pius XI to confer with him on an encyclical in German, highly unusual for an encyclical not to be written in Latin as the primary language, that the Pope was in the process of drafting.  The encyclical was the blistering Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Heart) that the Pope ordered be read out in every parish in Germany on Palm Sunday 1937.  A head long assault on almost every aspect of National Socialism, it may be read here.

The language in the encyclical was blunt, direct and no doubt benefited from von Galen’s input and his experience from the battles he was waging with the Nazis. Continue reading

January 26, 1945: Audie Murphy Earns Medal of Honor

The real heroes are dead.

Audie Murphy

When Audie Murphy starred in his aptly titled World War II biopic, To Hell and Back, his battlefield exploits were downplayed.  Partially this was due to Murphy’s modesty, he had not wanted to appear in the movie and did so only after he was promised that much of the focus of the film would be on his buddies who died during the War, and partially due to the fact that what he did during the War was so unbelievably courageous that film audiences might have refused to believe it.  Here is his Medal of Honor citation that he earned in truly hellish fighting near Holtzwihr, France on January 26, 1945:

By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. the enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.

* * * * *
BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:
OFFICIAL:
EDWARD F. WITSELL
Major General
Acting the Adjutant General
G.C. MARSHALL
Chief of Staff

January 4, 1945: Isadore S. Jachman Dies Fighting

Jachman

For some American soldiers in World War II, the War was not simply a matter of foreign affairs, but intensely personal.  That was certainly the case with Staff Sergeant Isadore S. Jachman  of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division.  His family had come from Germany to America when he was two.  The Nazis murdered several of his relatives, including six uncles and aunts.  Maybe that was part of his motivation when the chips were down for his unit seventy-one years ago.  His Medal of Honor citation tells us what happened:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at Flamierge, Belgium, on 4 January 1945, when his company was pinned down by enemy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, 2 hostile tanks attacked the unit, inflicting heavy casualties. S/Sgt. Jachman, seeing the desperate plight of his comrades, left his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire. S/Sgt. Jachman’s heroic action, in which he suffered fatal wounds, disrupted the entire enemy attack, reflecting the highest credit upon himself and the parachute infantry. Continue reading

Bob Hope Show: Christmas 1945

Broadcast on December 18, 1945, the Bob Hope Christmas show for 1945 gives an interesting insight into America as it observed its first peacetime Christmas in five years.  Hope mentions product shortages in his jokes and in a skit the housing shortage comes up.  His guest star was actor Wayne Morris.  Morris had served as a Navy flier, shooting down seven Japanese planes and contributing to the sinking of five ships, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  He earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.  A rising star before the War, Morris never recovered from putting his career on hiatus during the War.  He spent the rest of his career mostly in low budget Westerns.  He died of a heart attack in 1959 at age 45 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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