In 2012, while visiting the German city of Trier, I stumbled upon the birthplace of Karl Marx. This Baroque townhouse at Brückenstrasse 10 is now a museum, a kind of shrine to its most famous former resident. Not many steps away is the beautiful old seminary church for the Diocese of Trier. As I walked by the seminary gate, I noticed seven small brass plaques among the cobblestones on the sidewalk. One of them read: Johannes Schulz, date of death August 19, 1942. Place of death? Dachau.
I later learned that these plaques honored the priest martyrs of Trier—seven Catholic clergymen who stood up to the Nazis and died in camps between 1942 and 1945. These stolpersteine—or “stumble stones”—are the work of Gunter Demnig, an artist who has devoted himself to commemorating numerous Jewish and Gentile victims of National Socialism. As of this past winter, Demnig has laid down some 75,000 stolpersteine in over twenty countries.
I thought of the stumble stones recently when I learned just as unexpectedly about some other priest martyrs of the World War II era. A neighbor was getting rid of some books. Before discarding one slim old paperback, he checked to see if I might want it.
I was grateful for the book. Titled The Martyrdom of Silesian Priests, 1945–46, it was published in 1950 by the Kirkliche Hilfsstelle of Munich. Remembering the plaques in Trier, I assumed it was about more priests killed by Nazis. But then I realized: The scores of clergymen whose stories appeared inside were victims of Communist Russia’s Red Army as it marched into Germany toward the end of the war.
I’d like to share three of the many stories from this book, copies of which are available in only a few libraries and which are hard to come by otherwise.
Read more at First Things