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His crime…He Baptized another Prisoner—His “Reward”—He was hanged upside down. Meet Otto Neururer; the first priest executed in a Nazi concentration camp

Blessed Otto Neururer                                             commons.wikipediia.org

By Larry Peterson

The word  “Holocaust” has a number of synonyms:  annihilation, extermination, carnage, genocide, and slaughter, might be a few.   We tend to think of the “millions’ who perished but we rarely think of them as individuals unless some story grabs our attention such as; “The Diary of Anne Frank”,  “The Devil’s Arithmetic”, or bios about St. Maximilian Kolbe,, or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). What follows is the story of a simple, humble priest who simply loved his God, his Faith, and his fellow man. His name was Father Otto Neururer.

Each and every one of the people who had their very God-given existence taken away from them was like all of us.  They had their hopes and dreams.  They had families and 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.  They were living their God-given life.

And then they came. The other people. The ones in power. The ones who held the power of life and death in their hands.The ones who had the “law” on their side and the people following them willing to carry it out, no matter how heinous; even ready to commit torture and murder under the “rule of law.”

Yet 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 always rises an unquenchable love,  and respect for life from some of the victims. They try to help others who are suffering. Many who offer this Godly assistance are tortured and murdered for doing so.

Otto Neururer was born in Tyrol, Austria on March 25, 1881. He was the twelfth and youngest child of a peasant farmer, Alois Neururer and his wife, Hildegard. When Otto was eight, his dad died. His mom,  a devout Catholic, began suffering bouts of depression. Otto was a bit frail and also timid and, like his mom, also began experiencing bouts of depression. However, he did have a brilliant mind and recognized his vocation to the priesthood.  He followed his calling and was able to enter the seminary when he was 21 years old.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1907 and celebrated his first Mass in his hometown. He wanted to join the Jesuits and do missionary work, but his frail health prevented that. He served as a  parish priest, teacher, and was finally assigned as pastor to  St. Peter and Paul Parish in Innsbruck.

In 1938, while he was still pastor, a young woman came to him for advice. She wanted his opinion on whether or not she should marry a divorced man. Father Neururer knew of this man and that he was a philanderer and a con-artist. He advised the woman against marrying him. She told her “fiancé” that she could not marry him and why. He was good friends with the Nazi party leader in the area and reported Father Otto to him. On December 15,1938, Father Otto was promptly arrested and charged with, “slander to the detriment of German marriage.”

On March 3, 1939, he was sent to Dachau, the first concentration camp established by the Nazis,  also known as the “priest’s barracks.” Here he was routinely tortured, but this would not be his last stop. On September 26, 1939, he was sent to Buchenwald, which was under the command of Martin Sommer, aka “the Hangman of Buchenwald.” This would be Father’s last stop.

A prisoner came to Father Otto and asked him to baptize him. The kindly priest could not decline and did as asked. The priest realized he was being ‘set-up” but would not refuse in case he was mistaken. He was not wrong, and Martin Bormann decided to make an example of the priest. He ordered him taken to the “punishment block” and hung upside down.

The chaplain who witnessed Father Otto’s torturous death said he never complained. The priest lived for 34 hours, and even towards the end, he could be heard mumbling his prayers. He died on May 30, 1940. He was fifty-eight years old. He was the first of more than 2600 Catholic priests killed during the Holocaust.

Father Otto Neururer died “in odium fidei” and was beatified at St. Peter’s Basilica on November 24, 1996, by Pope St. John Paul II.

Blessed Otto Neururer, please pray for us all.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019