1. Karl Leisner
I will try and sum up his story as briefly as I can without leaving out the vital details- the information in quotation marks fills in exact information which I could not remember and is taken from http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2001/12/12/2121201.htm :
Karl was only 24, the same age as me, when he was arrested by the Nazis. He was still a seminarian in his native Germany yet he had unashamedly opposed the Nazi regime. He had struggled in his decision to become a priest at one point falling deeply in love with a girl named Elizabeth after staying with her family for a summer. However, he had decided that the path God wanted him to follow was the priesthood writing in December 1933 "Solitude has strengthened me; it has given me the definitive courage to dare to take upon myself the burden of a priestly vocation"
However, as his devotion to his vocation was deepening and gaining strength so too was Hitler's hold over Germany. Karl was in Hospital when the Nazi's closed in on him. It was November 1939 and an attempt had been made on Hitler's life. Karl was heard to express disappointment that it had not been successful to a friend. This friend told others of Karl's reaction and inadvertently placed his friend in a position of peril. Karl was arrested when he fearlessly admitted what he had said. He never tried to deny his opposition to Hitler- this in itself inspires me since it would have been easy for him to deny.
In a weak state of health Karl was sent to sachsenhausen concentration camp, near Berlin and then onto Dachau which was the Nazi concentration camp of choice when it came to priests. Here Karl would become a comforter and a friend to many. His one regret was that he had not had the chance to be ordained. His health continued to deteriorate and he ended up in the "Hospital" where rather than being cared for experiments were carried out on the sick. Sometimes he would cry as he tried to comprehend his situation with another priest or prisoner. On September 6, 1944 French Bishop Gabriel Piguet fro Clement Ferrand arrived in the camp and gradually it was arranged for Karl should to be ordained by him. A postulant from a convent in a nearby town carried letters for prisoners and she began to go about carrying the letters that would gain Karl the permission and authorization necessary:
"At the beginning of December 1944, Karl received a letter written by one of his sisters, bearing in the middle of the text these words, in someone elses handwriting: «I authorize the ceremonies requested provided that they are done validly and that there remain of them definite proof.» This was followed by the signature of Bishop von Galen, whom Pius XII would not delay in making a cardinal."
Karl would be ordained in spite of poor health and not only was this act of courage and defiance supported and upheld by Catholics in the camp but it became an act of unity which brought together Catholic, Luthran and Jew to celebrate one mans desire to live the life God had asked of him even in the most terrible of circumstances:
"Indeed, such was the planning that nothing was left out, down to the last detail. Red cheeks gave away the fever that was devouring the sick man. The emotion of three hundred witnesses, with whom the 2,300 other priests at the camp were united, was indescribable. During the ceremony, a Jewish prisoner played the violin outside, to divert the guards' attention. At the end of the Mass, Bishop Piguet and Karl gathered around a breakfast prepared by the group of Protestant ministers. What complicity and ingenuity were needed to prepare this spread: white tablecloth, porcelain service, coffee and cake... «Karl Leisner's priestly ordination was a big event for the group of Protestant ministers,» wrote their senior member, Dr. Ernst Wilm. Karl wrote «After more than five years of prayer and waiting, days filled with very great happiness... That God could, through the intercession of Our Lady, answer our prayers in so gracious and unique a manner, I still cannot grasp.» "
Karl would only ever say two masses. He was still alive when Dachau was liberated on April 29th 1945 by the Americans. From here he was taken home to Germany where he felt his peace was restored but TB had ravaged his young body. Too sick to say mass he prayed and wrote from his bed. The part that always makes me weep most is that his parents crossed war torn Europe risking their lives to see him again and his mother stayed with him throughout his final days. I am just so happy that in his final days he had the great comfort of his mother- he who other prisoners described as "the angel of comfort". All he wanted at the end was to be with those he loved:
"«We are together!» On July 25, Karl was able to celebrate a second Mass. That day, he ended his spiritual journal with these words: «Also bless, O Most High, my enemies.» He had eight days to live. He told his mother, «Mother, I have to tell you something—but don't be sad. I know that I am going to die soon, but I am happy.» The evening of August 8, his three sisters arrived. What a joy to be able to chat at length with them! Finally, on August 12, he began his death agony, and expired peacefully to join the choir of holy angels in Heaven."
Karl Leisner (left) was someone who loved life and did not want to give it up. Yet he recognised that life was worth so much that he needed to witness its value- he could not stand back and let the Nazis destroy life all around him and degrade all humans as a result. He could not let this pure evil triumph. He did not let this happen.
I cannot help but feel inspired by his endurance, courage, love, faith and commitment to his vocation. Beautiful! He was beatified in 1996 by John Paul II.
Pray for us Blessed Karl Leisner and let us be beacons of courage, hope, comfort and truth- as you were!
I first learned about Karl through a small booklet (left) published by CTS (Catholic Truth Society). http://www.cts-online.org.uk/acatalog/info_B449.html