Father Bernhard Lichtenberg, a priest and martyr

Father Bernhard Lichtenberg was born on December 3,1875 in Ohlau, Prussian Silesia, Germany. He was the second of five children in a devout Catholic family. He studied theology in Innsbruck, Austria-Hungary and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1899. The following year, he began his ministry in Berlin, as a pastor in Charlottenburg. During World War I (1914-1918), he was a military chaplain for the Imperial German Army. In 1931, Bishop Christian Schreiber of Berlin appointed Father Lichtenberg as a canon of the Cathedral chapter of St. Hedwig. He encouraged German Catholics to see the 1930 anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the novel of Erich Maria Remarque (a Catholic himself). Joseph Goebbels (future Nazi propaganda minister) attacked the film in his newspaper Der Angriff. He was active in the Catholic Centre Party until party was shut down by the Nazi government under Adolf Hitler in 1933. In 1938, he named provost of St. Hedwig Cathedral by Bishop Konrad von Preyssing. Father Lichtenberg was also put in charge of the Relief Office of the Berlin episcopate and in this position he helped many German Catholics of Jewish descent to flee from Nazi persecution. After Kristallnacht (November 9,1938), the first organized Nazi pogrom against Jews in Germany, Father Lichtenberg condemned the pogrom and warned at St. Hedwig Church that, “The burning synagogue outside is also a house of God!” After Kristallnacht, Father Lichtenberg publicly prayed for persecuted Jews at Vespers and Bishop von Preyssing entrusted him with the task of helping the Jewish community of Berlin. In 1941, he protested the T4 euthanasia program against mentally sick and ill men, women, and children, as well as the persecution of the Jews. The Nazis dismissed him as a nuisance and warned him with arrest if he continued his activities, Father Lichtenberg refused to bow to Nazi pressure. In 1942, he wrote a letter to the chief physician of the Third Reich condemning euthanasia:

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.”

For this, Father Lichtenberg was arrested and sent to prison. He was considered incorrigible. The Gestapo offered to release him if he stop protesting. He refused and said that he would rather be deported with Jews and Christians of Jewish descent in exile, in order to give them spiritual aid. He was sent to Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria. On November 5,1943, he died in Hof, Bavaria, when he collapsed while in transit. On June 23,1996, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II. He was named a “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad Vashem on July 7,2004.

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