Gerhard Hirschfelder

Blessed Gerhard Hirschfelder (17 February 1907 - 1 August 1942) was a German Roman Catholic priest.[1] He was a vocal critic of Nazism and used his sermons to condemn Nazi propaganda and other aspects of Nazism which drew suspicion on him from the authorities who monitored him and even interrogated him on occasion. He was a staunch supporter of the role of adolescents in the life of the Church and made them a focus in his pastoral activities. In his imprisonment he became a member of the Schoenstatt Movement.[2][3]

Hirschfelder's beatification drew intense support after the priest died and 10 000 signatures were put to a petition in a request for his beatification; the formal cause began in the late 1990s and he became titled as a Servant of God. The beatification was celebrated on 19 September 2010 in Münster with Cardinal Joachim Meisner celebrating on the behalf of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gerhard Hirschfelder
Priest; Martyr
BornKłodzko, German Empire
DiedDachau concentration camp, Nazi Germany
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church
Beatified19 September 2010, Münster Cathedral, Germany by Cardinal Joachim Meisner
Feast2 August
AttributesPriest's attire
  • Persecuted Christians
  • Young people


Gedenktafel für Gerhard Hirschfeld in Telgte 01
A Gerhard Hirschfelder memorial plaque.

Gerhard Hirschfelder was born on 17 February 1907 as an illegitimate child to the unmarried Maria Hirschfelder.[1] He received his baptism on 19 February from Father Bertmanna in the Assumption parish.[2]

He attended high school at the Glatz school (where he graduated in 1926)) and then underwent his theological and philosophical studies at the University of Wrocław. But his time there was often tarnished with the knowledge that he was an illegitimate child and he was sometimes ridiculed for that. Hirschfelder received his elevation into the diaconate on 29 December 1931 in the Wrocław Cathedral from Cardinal Adolf Bertram. He received his ordination to the priesthood on 31 January 1932 from Cardinal Bertram.[1] He celebrated his first Mass on 1 February 1932 in the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Długopole-Zdrój. He first served as a chaplain in a small parish until February 1939 when he was transferred to the Habelschwerdt parish. In July 1939 he was called to Glatz to work with adolescents and became a popular pastor and dominated his activism on the children and teenagers because he believed them to be the future of the Church.[1][2]

His grave in Czermna (Silesia)

He worked with adolescents and discouraged them from joining the Hitler Youth movement and from being influenced from all the Nazi propaganda circulated at the time. He criticized Nazism in his sermons and was denounced as a result of this. In late July 1941 he condemned the destruction of Christian images and said: "He who tears from the heart of young people their faith in Christ is a criminal" and for this was arrested within a week on 1 August when he was taken to the Glatz prison.[1] It was there at that prison that he wrote an intense and deep memoranda on the Via Crucis and a series on the Pauline letters as well as on the priesthood and marriage.[3] He was sent straight to the Dachau concentration camp]] in mid-December 1941 (without a trial) where he received the prisoner number 28927; he arrived there on 27 December. While in Dachau he became a member of the Schoenstatt Movement.[3] Hirschfelder was imprisoned in block 26/3 alongside the Oblate of Mary Immaculate priest Engelbert Rehling who said he was "almost timid" in his disposition as well as being quite humble.

Hirschfelder died on 1 August 1942 due to starvation coupled with acute pneumonia he had contracted. His remains were cremated and buried some weeks later though recovered; his official cause of death was never disclosed. His grave is located on the cemetery in Czermna (Silesia) in Poland.


There were 10 000 signatures collected asking officials in Münster and Rome to begin the cause for beatification.[2] The beatification process opened in the Münster diocese in a diocesan process from 18 September 1998 until its closure in March 1999 though the formal introduction to the cause came under Pope John Paul II on 19 December 1998 once the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued the "nihil obstat" and titled Hirschfelder as a Servant of God. The C.C.S. later validated this process on 15 October 1999 and received the Positio in 2002. Theologians approved the cause on 2 October 2009 as did the C.C.S. on 9 February 2010. Pope Benedict XVI approved that Hirschfelder died "in odium fidei" (in hatred of the faith) on 27 March 2010 and thus approved the beatification.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner presided over the beatification on the pope's behalf in the Münster Cathedral on 19 September 2010 with about 4000 people in attendance. The previous week on 13 September saw the pope reference the late priest to the German ambassador at Castel Gandolfo as one of hundreds of priests killed in concentration camps during World War II. Archbishop Erwin Josef Ender attended the beatification as did Dominik Duka and Bishop Felix Genn of Münster.[2] Meisner said in his remarks that Hirschfelder placed his trust in "the power of faith".[3]

The current postulator for the cause is Dr. Andrea Ambrosi.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Blessed Gerhard Hirschfelder". Saints SQPN. 10 June 2016. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Blessed Gerhard Hirschfelder". Santi e Beati. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d "Martyred German priest who died at Dachau beatified at Mass". Catholic Standard. 23 September 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2017.

See also

External links

August 1

August 1 is the 213th day of the year (214th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 152 days remain until the end of the year.

Catholic resistance to Nazi Germany

Catholic resistance to Nazi Germany was a component of German resistance to Nazism and of Resistance during World War II. The role of the Church during the Nazi years was always, and remains however, a matter of much contention. Many writers, echoing Klaus Scholder, have concluded, "There was no Catholic resistance in Germany, there were only Catholics who resisted." The Vatican policy meant that the Pope never challenged Catholics to side either with National Socialism or with Catholic morality, and Pius XII was so adamant that Bolshevism represented the most terrible threat to the world that he remarked, 'Germany are a great nation who, in their fight against Bolshevism, are bleeding not only for their friends but also for the sake of their present enemies'. In a letter of autumn 1941 Pius XII wrote to Bishop Preysing, "We emphasise that, because the Church in Germany is dependent upon your public public declarations you are duty bound to exercise restraint" and "requires(d) you and your colleagues not to protest."From the outset of Nazi rule in 1933, issues emerged which brought the Church into conflict with the regime and persecution of the Church led Pope Pius XI to denounce the policies of the Nazi Government in the 1937 papal encyclical Mit brennender Sorge. His successor Pius XII faced the war years and provided intelligence to the Allies. Catholics fought on both sides in World War II and neither the Catholic nor Protestant churches as institutions were prepared to openly oppose the Nazi State.

An estimated one-third of German Catholic priests faced some form of reprisal from authorities and thousands of Catholic clergy and religious were sent to concentration camps. 400 Germans were among the 2,579 Catholic priests imprisoned in the clergy barracks at Dachau. While the head German bishop generally avoided confronting the regime, other bishops such as Preysing, Frings and Galen developed a Catholic critique of aspects of Nazism. Galen led Catholic protest against Nazi "euthanasia".Catholic resistance to mistreatment of Jews in Germany was generally limited to fragmented and largely individual efforts. But in every country under German occupation, priests played a major part in rescuing Jews. Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide estimated that Catholic rescue of Jews amounted to somewhere between 700,000 and 860,000 people - though the figure is contested. The martyrs St Maximilian Kolbe, Giuseppe Girotti and Bernhard Lichtenberg were among those killed in part for aiding Jews. Among the notable Catholic networks to rescue Jews and others were Hugh O'Flaherty's "Rome Escape Line", the Assisi Network and Poland's Żegota.

Relations between the Axis governments and the church varied. Bishops such as the Netherlands' Johannes de Jong, Belgium's Jozef-Ernest van Roey and France's Jules-Géraud Saliège issued major denunciations of Nazi treatment of Jews. Convents and nuns like Margit Slachta and Matylda Getter also led resistance. Vatican diplomats like Giuseppe Burzio in Slovakia, Filippo Bernardini in Switzerland and Angelo Roncalli in Turkey saved thousands. The nuncio to Budapest, Angelo Rotta, and Bucharest, Andrea Cassulo, have been recognised by Yad Vashem in Israel. The nationalist regimes in Slovakia and Croatia were pro-clerical, while in Slovene, Czech, Austrian and Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany, repression of the church was at its most severe and the Catholic religion was integral to much Polish resistance.


Hirschfelder is a German surname. Notable people with the surname include:

David Hirschfelder (born 1960), Australian musician and film score composer

Egbert Hirschfelder (born 1942), German rower

Gerhard Hirschfelder (1907–1942), German Catholic priest and martyr

Joseph O. Hirschfelder (1911–1990), American physicist

List of people beatified by Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI beatified 843 people. The names listed below are from the Vatican website and are listed by year, then date. The locations given are the locations of the beatification ceremonies, not necessarily the birthplaces or homelands of the beatified.

Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany

The Roman Catholic Church suffered persecution in Nazi Germany. The Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all collective and social activity and the party leadership hoped to dechristianize Germany in the long term. Clergy were watched closely, and frequently denounced, arrested and sent to concentration camps. Welfare institutions were interfered with or transferred to state control. Catholic schools, press, trade unions, political parties and youth leagues were eradicated. Anti-Catholic propaganda and "morality" trials were staged. Monasteries and convents were targeted for expropriation. Prominent Catholic lay leaders were murdered, and thousands of Catholic activists were arrested.

In all, an estimated one third of German priests faced some form of reprisal in Nazi Germany and 400 German priests were sent to the dedicated Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration Camp. Persecution of the Church in Germany was at its most severe in the annexed Polish regions. Here the Nazis set about systematically dismantling the Church and most priests were murdered, deported or forced to flee. Of 2,720 clergy imprisoned at Dachau from Germany and occupied territories, the some 2,579 (or 94.88%) were Catholic.

Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration Camp

The Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration (in German Pfarrerblock, or Priesterblock) incarcerated clergy who had opposed the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. From December 1940, Berlin ordered the transfer of clerical prisoners held at other camps, and Dachau became the centre for imprisonment of clergymen. Of a total of 2,720 clerics recorded as imprisoned at Dachau some 2,579 (or 94.88%) were Roman Catholics. Among the other denominations, there were 109 Protestants, 22 Greek Orthodox, 8 Old Catholics and Mariavites and 2 Muslims. Members of the Catholic Society of Jesus (Jesuits) were the largest group among the incarcerated clergy at Dachau.

White Rose

The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in the Third Reich led by a group of students and a professor at the University of Munich. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi party regime. Their activities started in Munich on 27 June 1942, and ended with the arrest of the core group by the Gestapo on 18 February 1943. They, as well as other members and supporters of the group who carried on distributing the pamphlets, faced show trials by the Nazi People's Court (Volksgerichtshof), and many of them were sentenced to death or imprisonment.

The group wrote, printed and initially distributed their pamphlets in the greater Munich region. Later on, secret carriers brought copies to other cities, mostly in the southern parts of Germany. In total, the White Rose authored six leaflets, which were multiplied and spread, in a total of about 15,000 copies. They denounced the Nazi regime's crimes and oppression, and called for resistance. In their second leaflet, they openly denounced the persecution and mass murder of the Jews. By the time of their arrest, the members of the White Rose were just about to establish contacts with other German resistance groups like the Kreisau Circle or the Schulze-Boysen/Harnack group of the Red Orchestra. Today, the White Rose is well-known both within Germany and worldwide.

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