Father Bernhard Lichtenberg was a German Catholic priest who defied the Nazi regime and paid a heavy price.
Born in Prussia in 1875, Father Bernhard grew up among the Catholic minority of a largely Protestant city. He was ordained as a priest in 1899 and served as a military chaplain during World War I. He served in several parishes in Germany. As the Nazis rose to power in the 1930’s, he was assigned to St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin.
During the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, German churches kept quiet, and most Christian clergy stood idly by. Father Bernhard was the only Catholic priest in Berlin who spoke out publicly against the atrocity. His voice grew louder in 1939, when the Third Reich began implementing a merciless child euthanasia program, in which disabled children were secretly killed by the thousands. Horrified, Father Bernhard went to Nazi headquarters and vehemently protested the euthanasia program. Nazi officials laughed at him. He wrote a letter to the Chief Physician of the Reich, saying “I, as a human being, a Christian, a priest, and a German, demand of you, Chief Physician of the Reich, that you answer for the crimes that have been perpetrated at your bidding, and with your consent, and which will call forth the vengeance of the Lord on the heads of the German people.” Over 200,000 people were killed in the euthanasia program.
Father Bernhard often preached from the pulpit against the Nazi regime. He prayed publicly every day for Jews and other victims, and ended every mass with a prayer for the Jews of Germany. Two female students heard him pray publicly for Jews that had been sent to concentration camps, and denounced him to the police. In 1941, Father Bernhard was arrested by the Gestapo. He refused to disavow his moral objections to the Reich. Father Bernhard was imprisoned for two years, enduring terrible conditions and physical abuse. In 1943, he was transferred to Dachau. He died in a cattle car on his way to the camp. He was 68 years old.
In 1996, Father Bernhard was beatified by Pope John Paul II and declared a Blessed Martyr. The beatification ceremony was held in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. He was honored as Righteous Among The Nations by Yad Vashem, the official Holocaust Memorial of Israel, in 2004.
For his profound moral courage at the cost of his life, we honor Blessed Father Bernhard Lichtenberg as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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