The Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg (3 December 1875 – 5 November 1943) was a German Roman Catholic priest and theologian, who died while in the custody of forces of the Third Reich. He has been awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations and has been beatified by the Catholic Church.
Blessed Bernhard Lichtenberg
Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg
|Priest and martyr|
|Born||3 December 1875|
Ohlau, Prussian Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
|Died||5 November 1943 (aged 67)|
While being transported from Berlin to Dachau concentration camp, Germany
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||23 June 1996, Germany, by Pope John Paul II|
|Major shrine||St. Hedwig's Cathedral,|
Lichtenberg was born in Ohlau (now Oława), Prussian Silesia, near Breslau (now Wrocław), the second of five children. He studied theology in Innsbruck, Austria-Hungary and he also studied in Breslau (which is now polish Wroclaw) and was ordained in 1899. Lichtenberg began his ministry in Berlin in 1900, as the pastor of Charlottenburg. He served as a military chaplain during World War I. During the period of 1913-1930 he was a minister at the cathedral Herz-Jesu-Gemeinde(Sacred Heart) in Charlottenburg, Berlin.
In 1932, the Bishop of Berlin appointed him as a canon of the Cathedral chapter of St. Hedwig. His encouraging Catholics to view a screening of the film version of Erich Maria Remarques' anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front, prompted a vicious attack by Joseph Goebbels' paper Der Angriff. In 1933 the Secret State Police of Germany (Gestapo) had searched his house for the first time.
Named provost of the cathedral, in 1938, Lichtenberg was put in charge of the Relief Office of the Berlin episcopate, which assisted many Catholics of Jewish descent in emigrating from the Third Reich. After Kristallnacht, the first organized Nazi pogrom in Germany, Lichtenberg warned at the Berlin Church of Saint Hedwig: "The burning synagogue outside is also a house of God!" Until his arrest in October 1941, Lichtenberg would pray publicly for the persecuted Jews at the daily Vespers service. Bishop Konrad von Preysing later entrusted him with the task of helping the Jewish community of the city.
He protested in person to Nazi officials against the arrest and killing of the sick and mentally ill, as well as the persecution of the Jews. At first, the Nazis dismissed the priest as a nuisance. Father Lichtenberg was warned that he was in danger of being arrested for his activities, but he continued nonetheless. Deploring the regime of concentration camps like that of Dachau, he organized demonstrations against them outside certain camps.
In 1941, Lichtenberg protested against the involuntary euthanasia programme by way of a letter to the chief physician of the Reich, Minister of Public Health Leonardo Conti (1900-1945):
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.
The euthanasia in the health institutions of Nazi Germany was purportedly stopped soon after the church protests against euthanasia headed by the bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen and bishop Theophil Wurm. "Nazi leaders faced the prospect of either having to imprison prominent, highly admired clergymen and other protesters – a course with consequences in terms of adverse public reaction they greatly feared – or else end the programme".
Lichtenberg was arrested on October 23, 1941 and condemned to two years in prison. Because he was considered incorrigible, he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, but he collapsed and died while in transit, on 5 November 1943 in Hof, Bavaria.
On 23 June 1996, Pope John Paul II declared Lichtenberg and Karl Leisner blessed martyrs. The beatification ceremony took place during a Mass celebrated in the Olympic stadium in Berlin. The date of his death, November 5 was designated as the liturgical memorial day of Bernard Lichtenberg by Pope John Paul II.
In the memorial area of the former concentration camp Esterwegen a memorial plaque was installed to honor Bernhard Lichtenberg for his activities for the prisoners of the camp.
In the historic center of the town of Hof, the area in front of St. Mary's church has since 2013 been named Bernhard-Lichtenberg-Platz and on the initiative of pastor Hans-Jürgen Wiedow a new parish center named after Bernhard Lichtenberg was constructed in 2016/17 under the St. Konrad's church in the town.
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