Lübeck martyrs

The Lübeck Martyrs were three Roman Catholic priests – Johannes Prassek, Eduard Müller and Hermann Lange – and the Evangelical-Lutheran pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink. All four were executed by beheading on 10 November 1943 less than 3 minutes apart from each other at Hamburg's Holstenglacis Prison (then called Untersuchungshaftanstalt Hamburg-Stadt, in English: Investigative Custody Centre of the City of Hamburg). Eyewitnesses reported that the blood of the four clergymen literally ran together on the guillotine and on the floor. This impressed contemporaries as a symbol of the ecumenical character of the men's work and witness. That interpretation is supported by their last letters from prison, and statements they themselves made during their time of suffering, torture and imprisonment. "We are like brothers," Hermann Lange said.

Lübecker Märtyrer
Memorial plaque, prison walls, Hamburg investigative custody centre
The Lutherkirche in Lübeck is dedicated to the three Catholic clerics and their Evangelical Lutheran colleague Karl Friedrich Stellbrink


The Catholic priests worked at the Herz-Jesu Kirche (Sacred Heart Church) in the centre of Lübeck, Prassek as a chaplain, Müller as assistant minister and Lange as vicar. Stellbrink was pastor of the city's Lutherkirche (Luther Church). The four had been close friends since 1941, exchanging information and ideas, and sharing sermons, including those of Clemens August Graf von Galen, Catholic bishop of Münster.

In his Palm Sunday sermon, 29 March 1942, Stellbrink said "In the misery of our home city we hear God's voice" [quoted from Stellbrink's Statement given during interrogation 9 April 1942[1]] which some had interpreted then as Stellbrink meaning God's judgment upon the city was expressed in the effects of a British air raid on Lübeck the previous night. More than 300 people had been killed, the worst civilian casualties in an Allied bombing raid up to that time in the war.[2]

Stellbrink was arrested on 7 April 1942, followed by Prassek on 18 May, Lange on 15 June, and Müller on 22 June. In addition to the clerics, a further 18 Catholic lay people were arrested, including Stephan Pfürtner, who later became a moral theologian.

A year later, between 22 and 23 June 1943, the trial of the four men took place before the second chamber of the People's Court, with Wilhelm Crohne presiding. He had journeyed to Lübeck specifically for the trial. Following Joseph Goebbel's directive that the People's Court's judges "must base their decisions less on law and more on the basic idea that the law-breakers be removed from the national community",[3] the clerics were sentenced to death for 'broadcasting crime [specifically, listening to enemy broadcasts [4]], treasonable support for the enemy and demoralisation of the Armed Forces'. Some of their co-accused lay brethren received long prison sentences. The trial became known as the "Lübeck Christians' Trial", an indication of the anti-Christian bias in the proceedings.

The clerics were immediately transferred to Hamburg's Holstenglacis Prison, which had become the regional center for executions in 1936 and had added an execution building with permanently mounted guillotine in 1938.[5] The Catholic bishop under whose care the Catholic priests fell, Wilhelm Berning (Diocese of Osnabrück) visited the priests in prison and wrote a plea for clemency, which was rejected. Pastor Stellbrink received no support from his Province's church authorities, and prior to his execution was ejected from Holy Orders because of his conviction. The four clerics were guillotined on 10 November 1943.

Karl Friedrich Stellbrink (28 October 1894 – 10 November 1943)

Son of a customs official, Karl Friedrich Stellbrink[6] served in the First World War until he was medically discharged in 1917 with a crippling wound to his hand. After completing his Lutheran theology studies, he was ordained in 1921 to the Evangelical Church of Prussia's older Provinces. In the early days of the Nazi regime he was briefly caught up by the political movement and joined the Party. He soon realized, however, its inhumanity and incompatibility with Christian teaching. He was called before a Nazi Party investigative board when he refused to break off his friendships with Jews. He quit the Party in 1937.

After his death, Stellbrink's widow was billed for his court costs, imprisonment, and execution.[2]

Fifty years would pass before the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church, successor of the Lübeck Lutheran church body, would initiate court proceedings to clear Stellbrink's name and admit their shame at how this noble martyr had been treated. In November 1993, the German courts officially overturned the guilty verdict against him.

Johannes Prassek (13 August 1911 – 10 November 1943)

Johannes Prassek[7] was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1937. Father Prassek was assigned to Herz-Jesu Church together with Eduard Müller and Hermann Lange. He openly warned soldiers and youth groups against antisemitism, and protested the shooting of prisoners and Jews. Under German law at that time, such words were subject to the death penalty if reported to the Gestapo. Because of his sympathy for Polish workers who were forced laborers in the area, Father Prassek learned Polish so he could minister to them. Again, such ministry was illegal and could have led to his arrest - but the Gestapo never found out.

Eduard Müller (20 August 1911 – 10 November 1943)

Eduard Müller[8] grew up in a very poor family, and he first trained to become a joiner, prior to studying for the priesthood. Ordained as a Catholic priest in 1940, he served at the Herz-Jesu Church. His youth group work and a discussion group he directed were very popular. Having experienced trade training himself probably gave him special rapport with young journeymen of the discussion group he led.

Hermann Lange (16 April 1912 – 10 November 1943)

Hermann Lange[9] was an intellectual preacher. He told young soldiers, in discussions, that participation in a war was strongly against the Christian faith. He wrote in a letter from prison on 25 July 1943 about the ecumenical consequences of the sufferings he and his fellow Catholics had shared with their Lutheran neighbors, even prior to the shared arrests and imprisonment: "The common sufferings of the past few years have brought about a rapprochement of the two Churches. The imprisonment of the Catholic and Protestant clergy is a symbol both of their joint suffering and of the rapprochement."[10]

Honors and Beatification

On the 60th anniversary of the executions, the Catholic archbishop of Hamburg Werner Thissen announced the start of the beatification process for the Lübeck Martyrs. At the same time, bishop Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter, bishop for the Holstein-Lübeck district of the North Elbe province of the Evangelical Lutheran church, announced the setting up of an ecumenical campaign group to ensure a memorial for all four men. The beatification took place on 25 June 2011.[11][12]

The crypt of the Herz-Jesu Kirche and the gallery of the Lutherkirche in Lübeck are dedicated to the memory of the four clerics.


  • Josef Schäfer (ed.): Wo seine Zeugen sterben ist sein Reich: Briefe der enthaupteten Lübecker Geistlichen und Berichte von Augenzeugen. Hamburg 1946 (in German).

English meaning: Where his witnesses die, there is his kingdom: letters of the beheaded Lübeck clerics and eyewitness reports

  • Else Pelke: Der Lübecker Christenprozess 1943., Mainz 1961/1974 (in German).

English meaning: The 1943 trial of Lübeck Christians

  • Ingaburgh Klatt: 'Lösch mir die Augen aus ...': Leben und gewaltsames Sterben der vier Lübecker Geistlichen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus, eine Ausstellung im Burgkloster zu Lübeck vom 8. November 1993 bis zum 10. November 1994. In: Demokratische Geschichte: Jahrbuch zur Arbeiterbewegung und Demokratie in Schleswig-Holstein 8 (1993), S. 205–280 (in German).

English meaning: Close my eyes in death: the life and violent death of four Lübeck clerics during the National Socialist period. An exhibition in Lübeck's Burgkloster church 8 November 1993 – 10 November 1994. In Democratic history: annals of the workers' movement and democracy in Schleswig-Holstein 8 (1993), pp 205 – 280

  • Martin Merz: 'Die Pfaffen aufs Schafott': ein Lübecker Prozess vor 50 Jahren, Begleitheft zur Ausstellung 'Lösch mir die Augen aus ...'; Leben und gewaltsames Sterben der vier Lübecker Geistlichen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus; überarb. Manuskript einer Rundfunksendung im Rahmen der Reihe 'Religion und Gesellschaft' am 6. August 1993 im Dritten Programm des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, Lübeck 1993 (in German).

English meaning: Priests on the scaffold: a Lübeck trial from 50 years ago. Guidebook to the exhibition 'Close my eyes in death: the life and violent death of four Lübeck clerics during the National Socialist period'. Edited manuscript of radio broadcast as part of the series Religion and society, 6 August 1993, NDR 3rd programme

  • Zeugen für Christus. Das deutsche Martyrologium des 20. Jahrhunderts, hrsg. von Helmut Moll im Auftrag der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz. Bd. 1., Paderborn 1999. S. 249–257 (in German).

English meaning: Witnesses for Christ: a list of 20th century German martyrs. Published by Helmut Moll on behalf of the German Bishops' Conference. Vol. 1 (Paderborn, 1999), pp 249 – 257

  • Ökumene im Widerstand. Der Lübecker Christenprozeß 1943., Lübeck 2001 (in German).

English meaning: The churches resisting together: the 1943 trial of Christians in Lübeck

  • Peter Voswinckel: Nach 61 Jahren komplett. Abschiedsbriefe der Vier Lübecker Märtyrer im historischen Kontext. In: Zeitschrift des Vereins für Lübeckische Geschichte und Altertumskunde 85 (2005), S. 279 – 330 (in German)

English meaning: The full story after 61 years: the final letters of the four Lübeck martyrs in their historical context. In Journal of the Lübeck Society for the Study of History and Antiquity, vol. 85 (2005), pp 279 – 330

  • Isabella Spolovjnak-Pridat und Helmut Siepenkort (publishers): Ökumene im Widerstand. Der Lübecker Christenprozess 1943, Lübeck 2006 (in German).

English meaning: The churches resisting together: the 1943 trial of Christians in Lübeck

  • Peter Voswinckel: Geführte Wege. Die Lübecker Märtyrer in Wort und Bild, Butzon & Bercker / St. Ansgar Verlag, Hamburg 2010 (in German).

English meaning: He guided their paths: the Lübeck martyrs in word and deed

  • Sebastian von Melle: Hermann Lange, in: Hirschberg, published by Bund Neudeutschland (Catholic youth organisation) - KMF e. V., 09-2010, p 572-577 (in German).


  1. ^ http://www.luebeckermaertyrer.de/en/geschichte/dokumente/vernehmung-stellbrink.html (Accessed 26 January 2018)
  2. ^ a b Beheaded by Hitler: Cruelty of the Nazis, Judicial Terror and Civilian Executions, 1933–1945; Fonthill Media, Stroud; 2014.
  3. ^ Quantifying Resistance: Political Crime and the People's Court in Nazi Germany; Springer Nature Singapore; Singapore; 2017
  4. ^ http://www.luebeckermaertyrer.de/en/geschichte/index.html (accessed 2 May 2011)
  5. ^ Untersuchungshaftanstalt Hamburg-Stadt website, German language. Between 1938 and the end of the war in 1945, 500 executions took place at this site. A plaque on the prison wall now honors the four Lübeck martyrs.
  6. ^ See biographical page(English)at the Memorial Center for German Resistance (GDW) in Berlin - http://www.gdw-berlin.de/bio/ausgabe_mit-e.php?id=290
  7. ^ Cf. GDW biographical page(English)- http://www.gdw-berlin.de/bio/ausgabe_mit-e.php?id=283
  8. ^ Cf. GDW biographical page(English)- http://www.gdw-berlin.de/bio/ausgabe_mit-e.php?id=282
  9. ^ Cf. GDW biographical page(English)- http://www.gdw-berlin.de/bio/ausgabe_mit-e.php?id=277
  10. ^ Quotation in: Conscience in Revolt: Sixty-four Stories of Resistance in Germany 1933-45. Collected by Anedore Leber, with Willy Brandt and Karl Dietrich Bracher. Vallentine, Mitchell and Co. Ltd., London. First published in Germany in 1954 under the title of "Das Gewissen Steht Auf" by Mosaik-Verlag, Berlin. Translated from the German by Rosemary O'Neill. Page 196
  11. ^ http://www.luebeckermaertyrer.de/en/seligsprechung/index.html (accessed 2 May 2011)
  12. ^ Three priest-martyrs of Nazis beatified in Germany

External links

English language:

  • [1] English translation of speech about these martyrs given at Sant Egidio by Lutheran pastor
  • "Lübeck martyrs". Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German).

German Language


Agabus (Greek: Ἄγαβος) was an early follower of Christianity mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as a prophet. He is traditionally remembered as one of the Seventy Disciples described in Luke 10:1-24.

Athleta Christi

"Athleta Christi" (Latin: "Champion of Christ") was a class of Early Christian soldier martyrs, of whom the most familiar example is one such "military saint," Saint Sebastian.

Bombing of Lübeck in World War II

During World War II, the city of Lübeck was the first German city to be attacked in substantial numbers by the Royal Air Force. The attack on the night of 28 March 1942 created a firestorm that caused severe damage to the historic centre, with bombs destroying three of the main churches and large parts of the built-up area. It led to the retaliatory "Baedeker" raids on historic British cities.

Although a port, and home to several shipyards, including the Lübecker Flender-Werke, Lübeck was also a cultural centre and only lightly defended. The bombing on 28 March 1942 was the first major success for RAF Bomber Command against a German city, and followed the Area Bombing Directive issued to the RAF on 14 February 1942 which authorised the targeting of civilian areas.

Cappadocian Fathers

The Cappadocian Fathers, also traditionally known as the Three Cappadocians, are Basil the Great (330–379), who was bishop of Caesarea; Basil's younger brother Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395), who was bishop of Nyssa; and a close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), who became Patriarch of Constantinople. The Cappadocia region, in modern-day Turkey, was an early site of Christian activity, with several missions by Paul in this region.

The Cappadocians advanced the development of early Christian theology, for example the doctrine of the Trinity, and are highly respected as saints in both Western and Eastern churches.

Confessor of the Faith

The title Confessor, the short form of Confessor of the Faith, is a title given by the Christian Church to a type of saint.

Dalua of Tibradden

Saint Dalua of Tibradden (Irish: Do-Lúe, Latin: Daluanus), also called Dalua of Craoibheach, was an early Irish saint who is said to have been a disciple of St. Patrick. He founded a church that became known as Dun Tighe Bretan (Tibradden) which is located today in the townland of Cruagh, Co. Dublin.

Eduard Müller (German politician)

Eduard Müller (born 15 November 1818 in Quilitz near Glogau - 6 January 1895 in Neisse) was a German Roman Catholic priest and politician from the Prussian Province of Silesia.

The priest was since 1852 a missionary vicar in Berlin who promoted the foundation of catholic communities in and near Berlin, like the St.-Eduard-Gemeinde (St. Eduard) which officially opened at Kranholdplatz in Berlin-Rixdorf in 1907.

In Protestant Prussia, Müller was elected to the Preußischer Landtag (Prussian Diet) in November 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War. At that time Bismarck on behalf of the North German Confederation negotiated with the mostly Catholic Southern German states in order to form a unified nation state. When the Prussian assembly first met in December, Müller lobbied for a unification of the Catholic members into a fraction He is credited as a co-founder of the Centre Party (Germany) (Deutsche Zentrumspartei) in 1871.

In the 1871 elections to the new Reichstag, he surprisingly defeated the incumbent in the constituency of the Duchy of Pless-Rybnik in of Upper Silesia, Victor Herzog von Ratibor, the Duke of Ratibor, a Free Conservative Catholic aristocratic landowner who recently had headed a delegation to the Vatican. Silesian magnates were accustomed to dictating elections.

Liberal deputy Eduard Lasker expressed the shock of the entire chamber about the "astonishing victory of a nobody" and that the eminent incumbent had been 'driven out of his district in the name of the Catholic religion', by a man like Father Eduard Müller "whose merits," as Lasker put it, "may be extraordinarily great, only the world knows little of them, and still less the district in which he has been elected." He used to live behind Katholische Kirche 4-5 in Berlin-Mitte where his house was a centre for workers, the poor, and travellers. In 1984 the Eduard-Müller-Platz square in Neukölln was named after him.

The 19th century politician in Reichstag minutes called "half-saintly" is not to be confused with the priest Eduard Müller (1911–1943) who in 1943 was executed as one of the Lübeck martyrs by the Nazis, for which these martyrs are considered for beatification since 2003.

Eduard Müller (martyr)

The Blessed Eduard Müller (20 August 1911 – 10 November 1943) was a German Catholic priest and martyr. He was guillotined in a Hamburg prison by the Nazi authorities in November 1943, along with the three other Lübeck martyrs. Müller was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.

Great martyr

Great Martyr or Great-Martyr (Greek: μεγαλομάρτυς or μεγαλομάρτυρ, megalomartys or megalomartyr, from megas, "great" + "martyr") is a classification of saints who are venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Rite of Constantinople.

Generally speaking, a Great Martyr is a martyr who has undergone excruciating tortures—often performing miracles and converting unbelievers to Christianity in the process—and who has attained widespread veneration throughout the Church. These saints are often from the first centuries of the Church, before the Edict of Milan. This term is normally not applied to saints who could be better described as hieromartyrs (martyred clergy) or protomartyrs (the first martyr in a given region).

Hermann Lange

The Blessed Hermann Lange (16 April 1912 – 10 November 1943) was a Roman Catholic priest and martyr of the Nazi period in Germany. He was guillotined in a Hamburg prison by the Nazi authorities in November 1943, along with the three other Lübeck martyrs. Lange was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.Lange along with two Catholic priest colleagues – Johannes Prassek and Eduard Müller – along with Lutheran Pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, spoke publicly against the Nazis – initially discreetly – distributing pamphlets to friends and congregants. They copied and distributed the anti-Nazi sermons of Bishop Clemens August von Galen of Münster. Then, following a March 28, 1942 RAF airraid, after which Stellbrink tended wounded, he delivered a Palm Sunday sermon which attributed the bombing to divine punishment. Stellbrink was arrested, followed by the three Catholic priests, and each were sentenced to death. The mingling of the blood of the four guillotined martyrs has become a symbol of German Ecumenism.

Johannes Prassek

The Blessed Johannes Prassek (13 August 1911 – 10 November 1943) was a German Catholic priest, and one of the Lübeck martyrs, guillotined for opposing the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in 1943. Prassek was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.

Judas Barsabbas

Judas Barsabbas was a New Testament prophet and one of the 'leading men' in the early Christian community in Jerusalem at the time of the Council of Jerusalem in around 50 A.D.

Karl Friedrich Stellbrink

Karl Friedrich Stellbrink (28 October 1894 – 10 November 1943) was a German Lutheran pastor, and one of the Lübeck martyrs, guillotined for opposing the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.


Lutherkirche or Luther Church are common names for churches named after Martin Luther in German-speaking countries.

Churches named Lutherkirche include:

Lutherkirche (Königsberg)

Lutherkirche, Wiesbaden

a church in Apolda

a church in Bad Harzburg

a church in Cologne

a church in Lübeck dedicated to the Lübeck martyrs

a church in Montabaur

a church in Schöneberg which hosts the American Church in Berlin

a church in Schwarzheide

a church in Tambach-Dietharz

German name of Church of Luther, Riga

Melchior (magus)

Saint Melchior, or Melichior, was purportedly one of the Biblical Magi along with Caspar and Balthazar who visited the infant Jesus after he was born. Melchior was often referred to as the oldest member of the Magi. He was traditionally called the King of Persia and brought the gift of gold to Jesus. In the Western Christian church, he is regarded as a saint (as are the other two Magi).

Michael of Synnada

Michael of Synnada (Michael the Confessor) (died 818) was a bishop of Synnada from 784. He represented Byzantium in diplomatic missions to Harun al-Rashid and Charlemagne. He was exiled by Emperor Leo V the Armenian because of his opposition to iconoclasm. Honored by the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, his feast day is May 23.


Silas or Silvanus (; Greek: Σίλας/Σιλουανός; fl. 1st century AD) was a leading member of the Early Christian community, who accompanied Paul the Apostle on parts of his first and second missionary journeys.

Virgin (title)

The title Virgin (Latin Virgo, Greek Παρθένος) is an honorific bestowed on female saints and blesseds in both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Chastity is one of the seven virtues in Christian tradition, listed by Pope Gregory I at the end of the 6th century. In 1 Corinthians, Saint Paul suggests a special role for virgins or unmarried women (ἡ γυνὴ καὶ ἡ παρθένος ἡ ἄγαμος) as more suitable for "the things of the Lord" (μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κυρίου).

In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul alludes to the metaphor of the Church as Bride of Christ by addressing the congregation

"I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ".

In the theology of the Church Fathers, the prototype of the sacred virgin is Mary, the mother of Jesus, consecrated by the Holy Spirit at Annunciation.

Although not stated in the gospels, the perpetual virginity of Mary was widely upheld as a dogma by the Church Fathers from the 4th century.

Zechariah (Hebrew prophet)

Zechariah was a person in the Hebrew Bible and traditionally considered the author of the Book of Zechariah, the eleventh of the Twelve Minor Prophets. He was a prophet of the Kingdom of Judah, and, like the prophet Ezekiel, was of priestly extraction.

Virgin Mary
See also

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