The Real Thanksgiving Story

by Meghan Ferrara  Although it is commonly believed that the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 when the English Puritans gave thanks and shared a meal with Native Americans who had helped them survive the harsh New England winter, this is not the historical reality. How Squanto was able to communicate with the Pilgrim Fathers is a … Read more

Father Christmas Comes Home To St. Walburge

By Michael Durnan Updated December 2020 The heart-breaking truth is that Saint Walburge’s was a church no longer able to sustain parish life; it was threatened with closure when Bishop Michael Campbell made a creative and forward-looking decision. Saint Walburge’s would become a “shrine”– giving a new lease on life to a church where generations … Read more

Strength, Grit and Faith

The Woman Who Helped Forge Irish Catholicism by Meghan Ferrara Saint Brigid, known as ‘Mary of the Gael,’ is one of Ireland’s most beloved saints. Along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba, she is a patron saint of the Emerald Isle. Her influence was as essential as St. Patrick’s in the spread of Catholicism among … Read more

The Young German Christians Who Spoke Truth to Power

The Young German Christians Who Spoke Truth to Power

By Teresa Limjoco

Scholl-Denkmal,_MünchenOne used his Faith as a shield in the face of brutal Gestapo interrogation; he did not talk. Another converted on his way to the guillotine. All were inspired by the heroic resistance of one Catholic bishop.  Today, they would be regarded as very odd, indeed. What would modern Germans think of university students with strong Christian beliefs — many sustained by a deep attachment to Catholicism — defying the government? It is almost unheard of.

In this look back at the heroic young Germans who died defying the Nazi terror, Teresa Limjoco reveals the truth about where their strength came from.

In the 1930s, they were young, middle class and well-educated. They discussed philosophy, sang in a Bach choir, enjoyed music, poetry, art, and books. They could easily have continued with such lives, but their consciences were awakened as they watched 1930’s Germany succumb to Nazi  barbarism.

Moving beyond the passive ‘inner emigration’ most intellectuals resorted to, these University of Munich students formed the ‘White Rose’ (‘Die Weisse Rose’), a resistance movement which dared to speak truth to power. 

It would cost them their lives.

Speaking Truth to Power

Enthusiastic Hitler Youth members as teens, siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl grew disillusioned when the anti-Jewish hooliganism of Kristallnacht in 1938 revealed the ugly, ruthless face of Nazism. Disillusion would turn to outrage as they learned of ever-escalating heinous Nazi attacks on defenseless Jews.

  GalenBAMS200612       In 1941, Hans heard of a homily preached by von Galen, the Roman Catholic bishop of Munster, (pictured to the left) who bravely denounced Nazi euthanasia of the disabled and mentally ill. In this, Hans – a medical student who had served as a medic on the Eastern front – found his inspiration.

With medical students Christel Probst and Willi Graf, and their friend Alexander Schmorell, Hans formed the ‘White Rose’, one of the only groups that ever dared to voice opposition in Hitler’s Germany. His sister Sophie and Professor Kurt Huber joined them.  

Their weapon? Leaflets. The first, in mid-1942 incited Germans to passively resist the Nazis, whom they termed ‘an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.’1

In eight months, they distributed six leaflets. Their bravery would be short-lived, however; the Scholls and Probst were soon arrested. The White Rose was mercilessly crushed.

Their sixth and last leaflet was sent out between February 16 and 18, 1943, an especially dangerous time. After the disastrous defeat of the Wehrmacht in Stalingrad, Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels gave a ‘scorched-earth’ speech on February 18 at the Sportpalast that called for ‘total war’. (Coincidentally, Sophie’s correspondent-boyfriend, Lt. Fritz Hartnagel, was assigned to Stalingrad).

As glimpses of their vulnerability surfaced, the Nazis ramped up their brutality. More death sentences were meted out to dissidents. Yet the need to oppose such a malevolent entity trumped fear. Hans and Sophie knew the risk of their fateful decision to distribute those leaflets in the university. They were quickly reported.

Hans and Sophie knew the risk of their fateful decision to distribute those leaflets in the university. They were quickly reported. Hans Scholl (left), Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst, leaders of the White Rose resistance organization. Munich 1942 (USHMM Photo)

The Nazis prosecuted and executed the three on February 22, 1943 with unusual swiftness and stealth, fearing they would become martyrs. Their sentences would serve as an example. After a sham ‘trial’, they were condemned to death by guillotine for ‘high treason’ by Hitler’s ‘hanging judge,’ Roland Freisler.

What They Believed

While their incredible courage has made them latter-day film heroes, most people today have no idea that the extraordinary acts of the Scholls, Christel Probst, and Willi Graf were grounded in a firm belief in God.  Their fourth leaflet boldly called Hitler the Anti-Christ, and declared that ‘[o]nly religion can reawaken Europe, establish the rights of the peoples, and install Christianity in new splendor visibly on earth in its office as guarantor of peace.’1, 2, 6

The Scholls’ mother, Magdalena, was a Lutheran deaconess who taught her children the Bible.  Her son Hans also found guidance in Catholic works such as St Augustine’s Confessions and Paul Claudel’s writings.3, 6  [St Augustine’s City of God (Civitas Dei) would even find mention in the third leaflet]. (2) Sophie kept a well-worn copy of Confessions in the compulsory labor service camp. One line in particular resonated with her: ‘Thou hast created for us Thyself, and our heart cannot be quieted till it find repose in Thee.‘ 2

German historians Jakob Knab and Guenther Biemer believe  today that Cardinal John Henry Newman’s writings influenced Hans and Sophie’s moral, spiritual, and intellectual formation  —  including the Christian understanding of conscience. 2 

Professor Carl Muth had introduced them to St Augustine’s works, and also to Cardinal Newman’s work through his friend, Theodor Haecker. Haecker was a Catholic convert who had translated Newman’s writings into German. ‘ [C]onscience,’ Newman wrote,  ‘is the voice of God….’5  Sophie apparently valued Newman’s ideas enough to share them with Fritz Hartnagel, giving him two volumes of the Cardinal’s sermons in 1942. 2, 4, 7

Christel’s Story

Like many Germans today, ‘Christel’ Probst grew up with no religion. As a young adult, however, he’d felt a closeness to the Catholic Church. News of the Nazi euthanasia program and persecution of the Jews outraged him. As he wrote his sister Angelika, ‘…it was not given to any human being, under any circumstance, to make judgments that are reserved to God alone. … Every individual’s life is priceless. We are all dear to God.’3 

Evidence linking Christel to a draft for the seventh leaflet led to his arrest by the Nazis.  He asked to be received into the Roman Catholic Church on the day he was to die. He was baptized and received First Communion, after which he said, ‘Now my death will be easy and joyful’.3  He left behind a wife, two young children, and a newborn baby.

Willi’s Story

Willi_graf_005

As a Roman Catholic, Willi Graf felt deeply the Nazi persecution of his Church. While serving as a medic during the invasion of Poland and Russia, Willi was horrified by the atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht there. He could not but reject a system that went against his deepest beliefs. He would help write the leaflets, but it was July 1943 when the Gestapo finally caught up with him.

He was executed in October following Gestapo efforts to extract more information from him. His Faith gave him strength to withstand brutal interrogations without compromising his friends. 2 

On his last day, he wrote to his family, ‘On this day I’m leaving this life and entering eternity. … strength and comfort you’ll find with God and that is what I am praying for till the last moment … Hold each other and stand together with love and trust…. God’s blessing on us, in Him we are and we live …’.6

Addendum 2018

2018 was the 100th anniversary of his birth and the 75th anniversary of his execution. He deserves much more recognition than he’s received in the past. Unlike the other White Rose members, he refused to join the Hitler Youth and never did, despite threatened with being prevented from taking the university admittance test. Instead, he joined illegal Catholic youth groups for boys and was arrested in early 1938 for his participation. He and his friends spent a few weeks in jail. He served as an altar boy at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Saarbruecken where he grew up, joined the Red Cross as a university student, and pursued medical studies as opposed to the liberal arts which he maintained were corrupted by the Nazis. His main concern had been for the victims and was deeply troubled by the indifference and/or alignment of those in authority with the Nazis. His favorite bible verse, which inspired him throughout his life, was James 1:22. He strove to be a “doer of the Word.” He also recited Psalm 90. After two deployments on the Russian Front and his resistance with the White Rose, he was arrested by the Gestapo in Munich on February 18, 1943. Of the core White Rose members, he spent the longest time in prison (8 months) and never cooperated with the Gestapo, thereby saving the lives of those whom he had tried to recruit for the White Rose.  He also experienced the most time on the battlefield as a combat paramedic and witnessed crimes against humanity committed by his fellow Germans. He was executed for high treason on October 12, 1943 in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison, today one of Germany’s largest prisons. He was declared a martyr by Saint Pope John Paul II. (7)

Willi, the Roman Catholic, was executed in October following Gestapo efforts to extract more information from him. His Faith gave him strength to withstand brutal interrogations without compromising his friends.

Sophie Calmly Faces Nazi Torture and Death

All who witnessed their last days were struck by their ‘Seelenkraft,’ their ‘strength of soul.’3  Sophie’s calm fortitude so impressed her interrogator, Robert Mohr, that he actually offered her a way out: that she admit to having misunderstood what National Socialism meant and must regret what she did.

“Not at all,” Sophie defied him. “It is not I, but you, Herr Mohr, who have the wrong Weltanschauung (‘world view’). I would do the same again.”3

The executioner himself, a veteran of thousands of such tasks, said that he had never seen anyone meet her fate so calmly as Sophie Scholl did. She was 21 years old.

The executioner himself, a veteran of thousands of such tasks, said that he had never seen anyone meet her fate so calmly as the 21-year old Sophie Scholl did.

Not ideology, but Faith sustained them

Seventy years after their deaths, the exceptional moral courage of these young people remains astounding. It was not a political agenda nor an ideology but basic human decency and life-affirming beliefs based on strong religious convictions that inspired and sustained the White Rose martyrs.

Hans was 24, Sophie was 21, Christel was 23, and Willi was 25 years old when their brave young lives were extinguished. 

Would that their heroism live on to inspire more bravery in us all.

References

1 Scholl, Inge. The White Rose: Munich, 1942-1943. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.  [NOTE: Inge Scholl was the sister of Hans and Sophie. The book was originally written in 1970, and a new Introduction by Dorothee Soelle is included in the 1983 edition.]

2 McDonough, Frank. Sophie Scholl: The Real Story of the Woman Who Defied Hitler, Stroud, Gloucestershire: History Press, 2009.

*Note 13 in Chapter Three mentions Jakob Knab’s findings on the Cardinal Newman influence.

[NOTE: The latest, with a few additional tidbits that have not been mentioned in previous publications.  ]

3 Hanser, Richard. A Noble Treason: The Story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Revolt Against Hitler. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979. [NOTE: Excellently written, hard to put down.]

4 Cardinal John Henry Newman and the Scholls http://newmaninspiredresistance.blogspot.com

5 Quotation from Cardinal Newman.

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/newman-norfolk.asp#Conscience



6 Dumbach, Annete and Newborn, Jud. Sophie Scholl and the White Rose. Oxford, England: Oneworld, 2006.[NOTE: Another fine and credible source.]



7 Excerpts from Fritz Harnagel’s letters to Sophie Scholl.  http://pedrokolbe.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/john-henry-cardinal-newman-and-the-white-rose/

8. Several images from Wikipedia

9. Richards-Wilson, Stephanie. PhD, EdD. http://kritische-ausgabe.de/artikel/faith-under-fire; http://fountainsofcarrots.com/2018/06/.  

Why the Christmas Tree Is Christian

A Story of Old England and Germany By Michael Durnan Christmas is the darkest time of year in Northern Europe and North America. In these frigid lands, the Christmas tree is a potent Christian symbol, a light shining in the winter darkness. Its evergreen foliage enlivens our bleak and barren winter landscapes at a time … Read more

Not Just Christmas Carols

William Byrd’s Secret Catholic Masterpieces

He was a hit-maker — Queen Elizabeth’s favorite composer, highly regarded at her wealthy and powerful Court. But in reality, William Byrd led a double life. Modern scholars, like Duke Musicology professor Kerry Robin McCarthy, continue to unearth more  details of how Byrd somehow kept his reputation, his job, his property, and his life, as both a Court composer who played Elizabeth’s tune and as a heavily-fined recusant Catholic who wrote Mass music for hounded Catholic worshipers — all at the same time.  It may be safe to say that  Queen Elizabeth and his other Protestant contemporaries, like many of the rest of us, simply could not resist his genius.  This is about not just Christmas Carols.

This article was inspired by Suzanne Duque Salvo’s July 2013  article “Upper Class and Underground,” in Regina Magazine. All quotes in this article are from Professor McCarthy’s 2013 biography, ‘Byrd,’ from The Master Musician series published by Oxford University Press.

by Roseanne T. Sullivan

As Duke University Music scholar Kerry McCarthy noted in her biography of William Byrd, the Catholic composer was born at “an unusually volatile moment in English history.”  1540 was the year that King Henry VIII “finished dismantling the monasteries and convents.” Monastic libraries were looted and their books used for scrap paper — some of which made its way into toilets, so despised were the ancient liturgies and music of the Catholic Church.

The Latin Mass was banned altogether; replaced with a stripped-down English service.  “What had taken place daily at every pre-Reformation altar, from the humblest parish church to the greatest cathedral, was now a rare and dangerous luxury.”

But a closer look at two of Byrd’s works for Christmastide reveal a fascinating story. The first is an English carol from a Byrd songbook, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I’s Chancellor. The second is a set of Propers for a Christmas Mass from a collection that Byrd published later in his life and dedicated to a Baron who secretly held prohibited Catholic Masses in his home.

Holbein portrait of King Henry VII:  “1540 [Byrd’s birth year] was the year the workshop of Hans Holbein produced the iconic ‘Rome portrait’ of the forty-nine-year-old Henry VIII, glowering at the viewer with fists clenched, the massive canvas barely able to contain his bulk.”

William Byrd published a wide variety of music, including religious music not specifically Catholic.  Protestants allowed polyphonic settings of Psalm texts,  so most of the religious works he published were motets that set Psalm texts in Latin or English. He also published religious songs in English.

It is clear, however, that Byrd subtly thumbed his nose at the Protestant majority by his choice of texts.  Many were about throwing off oppressors and pleading for God to rescue an (allegorical) Jerusalem. Some were ‘gallows texts’—Psalm verses that were well-known among Catholics in England’s underground as the last words of martyred priests.

Monastic libraries were looted and their books used for scrap paper — some of which made its way into toilets, so despised were the ancient liturgies and music of the Catholic Church.

“Lullaby,” a Christmas Carol

In 1588, Byrd published an elegant songbook, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs. According to McCarthy, the elegance of this songbook may have been part of an attempt to reestablish his reputation at court. “He spent most of the decade under constant suspicion of illegal Catholic activities.“

Psalms, Sonnets and Songs (1588) title page, which reads in part “Songs very rare and newly composed are here published for the recreation of all such as delight in music, by William Byrd, one of the gentlemen of the Queen’s Majesty’s honorable Chapel. With the privilege of the royal majesty.”

Fortunately for Byrd’s reputation, the 1588 songbook was a hit, and his English Christmas carol  from that songbook, “Lullaby,” became an enduring favorite. The Earl of Worcester wrote fourteen years later, in 1602,  that “we are frolic [joyful] here in court … Irish tunes are at the time more pleasing, but in winter Lullaby, an old song of Mr. Byrd’s, will be more in request, as I think.” 

In view of his earlier thinly-disguised protests in the texts of his Psalm settings, it is tempting to see a similar vein in his Lullaby, with this line, “O woe and woeful heavy day when wretches have their will!”  and a prediction that even though the wicked king sought to kill the King (Jesus), the Son of God would reign, “whom tyrants none can kill.”

In spite of all the attendant risks, Byrd increasingly used his talents to serve the Catholic liturgy while almost the entire English population abandoned the ancient Faith.

Third Mass of Christmas Day, Puer Natus Est

In 1607, nineteen years after Lullaby, and about a decade after he published settings for the Ordinary of the Mass (his immortal Masses for Three, Four, and Five Voices still sung today), Byrd published his polyphonic setting of the Latin Propers for the third Mass of Christmas Day. This Mass was published in a collection called Gradualia, along with Christmas motets. Byrd had retired from the Royal Court to live in Essex by then, where he worshiped with, played and created sacred music for a gathering of Catholics in the home of Baron John Petre.

Byrd wrote in the dedication of his second Gradualia that the music had “proceeded from [John Petre’s] house, most generous to me and mine.”

Byrd had retired from the Royal Court to live in Essex by then, where he worshiped with, played and created sacred music for a gathering of Catholics in the home of Baron John Petre.

Byrd managed to get the necessary printing approvals for the Gradualia from no less a personage than Richard Bancroft, the Anglican Bishop of London. According to McCarthy, the bishop who gave the approval apparently did so because he thought the Propers would contribute to dissension in the ranks of Catholics.

Perhaps partly due to the danger of discovery that he envisioned for singers of his  propers, Byrd  kept the individual propers short. “His elegant little offertories and communions—some of them are barely a minute long—could hardly be further removed from the leisurely Latin motets.”

 “When he described his settings of the Mass Proper in his 1605 preface, he called them ‘notes as a garland to adorn certain holy and delightful phrases of the Christian rite.’”

In spite of all the attendant risks, Byrd increasingly used his talents to serve the Catholic liturgy while almost the entire English population abandoned the ancient Faith. Perhaps he had his own end in mind.

In the will he signed in 1622, the year before he died, Byrd wrote this prayer, “that I may live and die a true and perfect member” of the “holy Catholic Church, without which I believe there is no salvation for me.”

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Portrait commonly (but mistakenly) believed to be of Byrd, according to historian Kerry McCarthy. “There is no evidence that the well-known engraved portrait of Byrd; is anything but a fanciful eighteenth-century artist’s rendition of an Elizabethan gentleman.” This engraving by Gerard van der Guch, after a drawing by Nicola Francesco Haym, c.1729, is in the British Museum.

In his 1622 will, Byrd wrote this prayer, “that I may live and die a true and perfect member” of the “holy Catholic Church, without which I believe there is no salvation for me.”

 

Christmas Schkatalata in Italian Brooklyn

by Camille Loccisano There’s no getting around it. As an Italian-American, my holidays have always included great food, especially at Christmas.  Christmas Schkatalata was a favorite. I grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn — a middle-class neighborhood which nestles like a small jewel under the Verrazano Bridge. In the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, it was … Read more

TALES FROM THE JOURNEY HOME: Conversion at Auschwitz

Like many people, I struggled with the Faith in my youth. I never doubted, but from my teens to mid-twenties I violently resented and disliked God. These were strongly conflicted feelings and for every measure of resentment and dislike, I felt equal or greater parts love and desire for God. I defied and rejected God, … Read more