by Larry Peterson
January 27 marked the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the most prolific and deadly of all the Nazi death camps. The day is called International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Interestingly, or might I say, unbelievably, this day was not officially “remembered” until November, 2005, 60 years after the Russian army liberated the camp. This anniversary marks the beginning of the end of the reign of terror that had engulfed Europe and ultimately the entire world under the demonic leadership of Adolf Hitler and his evil minions of Nazi followers.
There were over six million Jews and close to six million others who perished during this dark time. It is hard to fathom the scope of this depravity and how it could have even happened. But–it did. Okay, to the point.
The word “Holocaust” has a number of synonyms: annihilation, extermination, carnage, genocide, and slaughter, might be a few. But the word does not bring you to the very core of what it actually represents— the victims of human evil. They were just people who became victims simply because they were perceived as being “different” and therefore unacceptable to the rest of society. Who decided such a thing? The people in power, that’s who. They took that power to a level of unheralded arrogance deciding who should live and who should die. We tend to think of the “millions’ who perished but we rarely think of them as individuals unless some story grabs our attention like “The Diary of Anne Frank”, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” and, of course, “Schindler’s List”.
Each and every one of the people who had their very God given existence taken away from them were like all of us. They had their hopes and dreams. They had mothers and fathers and wives and husbands and children and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and, of course, friends. They loved, they worked, they played, they enjoyed holidays and walks in the park on a Sunday afternoon where the kids might feed the ducks or the squirrels. They quietly embraced the dignity of their own selves, just as we all try to do. They were proud of their families and their jobs and professions. And then they came. The other people. The ones in power. The ones who had the law on their side and the people following them willing to carry it out, no matter how heinous; even willing to commit torture and murder under the “rule of law”.
Can you imagine having your very self stripped away with such indifferent, arrogant disdain? Can you imagine having your own children bludgeoned to death right in front of you as you are forced to watch, helpless to do a thing about it. This treatment of human beings by other human beings went on for over 12 years. And through all of the Godless depravity that filled the very hearts and souls of those carrying out this abhorrent treatment of their fellow human beings there were many stories of the love and kindness and respect for life that had been embraced by the victims themselves. Many who offered this Godly assistance to others were tortured and murdered for it. Let me tell you about one of them.
His name was Otto Neururer. He was from Austria and was a Catholic priest. Father Neururer was the very first priest to die in a Nazi concentration camp. What was his “crime”? Well, he was a parish priest when a young woman came to him for advice about whether or not she should marry a divorced man. The man had a shady past and Father Neururer advised her against the marriage. The man reported the priest to his friend, who was a party leader in the area. Father Neururer was promptly arrested and charged with “slander to the detriment of German marriage”. He was sent to Dachau, the first concentration camp established by the Nazis. From there he was sent to Buchenwald which was under the command of Martin Sommer aka “The Hangman of Buchenwald”.
Father Neururer performed a “forbidden” baptism while at Buchenwald and was sent to the punishment block. Martin Sommer had the priest hanged upside down and left him that way until he died on May 30, 1940—all for performing a baptism. He was 58-years old. Father Otto Neururer was beatified and declared Blessed Otto Neururer by Pope John Paul II in 1996.
Blessed Otto Neururer, thank you. Please pray for us asking God to hear our prayers and give us the resolve to teach our children so that future generations may always be prepared to fight such evil before it rears its demonic head.