Holy Priest, Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen

In March 2012, Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry received a donation of two dozen icon paintings done by Robert Lentz, Lewis Williams and William Hart McNichols. These beautiful icons, now located in the Bonaventure House chapel, depict marginalized saints and martyrs.

Holy Priest, Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen 

Holy Priest, Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen, William Hart McNichols, 1993

This icon, which honors the anonymous priest murdered at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany, in 1940, is based on the eyewitness account of Heinz Heger in his book, The Man with the Pink Triangle (Boston: Alyson Publications, Inc., 1980, pp. 40-42.)  Here is part of that eyewitness account:

“Toward the end of February 1940, a priest arrived in our block, a man some sixty years of age, tall and with distinguished features.  We later discovered that he came from Sudetenland, from an aristocratic German family.

He found the torment of the arrival procedure especially trying, particularly the long wait naked and barefoot outside the block.  When his tonsure was discovered after the shower, the SS corporal in charge took up a razor and said, “I’ll go to work on this one’s head myself…” And he shaved the priest’s head…taking little trouble to avoid cutting the scalp…”

The priest returned to the dayroom of our block with his head cut open and blood streaming down.  He…said softly, “And yet man is good, he is a creature of God!”  I was sitting beside him and said…”Not all men; there are also beasts in human form, whom the devil must have made.”

The priest paid no attention to my words; he just prayed silently, merely moving his lips…His mute appeal to God, whom he called on for help and strength in his bodily pain and mental torment, went straight to my heart.”

The priest was subject to extensive and vicious beating, tying him to a bench, “punching and insulting him…” in specific relation to the pink triangle he wore indicating his homosexuality.  “The priest collapsed into unconsciousness, was shaken awake, and then fell unconscious again.  The priest just rattled and groaned.  We released him and laid him on his bed.  He tried to raise his hands in thanks, but he hadn’t the strength…He just lay without stirring, his eyes open, each movement contorting his face with pain.

I felt I was witnessing the crucifixion of Christ in modern guise…The torment of the Savior, however, was scarcely greater than that inflicted on one of his representatives 1900 years later in Sachsenhausen.

The next morning, when we marched to the parade ground, we had almost to carry the priest, who seemed about to collapse again from pain and weakness…the S.S. block sergeant came over to the priest and shouted ‘Can’t you stand up, you asshole?’ adding: ‘You filthy queer, you filthy swine, say what you are!’  The priest was supposed to repeat the insults, but no sound came from the lips of the broken man.  The SS man…was about to start beating him once again.

Suddenly, the unimaginable happened, something that is still inexplicable to me and that I could only see as a miracle, the finger of God.

From the overcast sky, a sudden ray of sunshine illuminated the priest’s battered face.  Out of thousands of assembled prisoners, it lit only him, and at the very moment when he was going to be beaten again.  There was a remarkable silence, and all present stared fixedly at the sky, astonished.  The SS sergeant himself looked up at the clouds in wonder for a few seconds, then let his hand…sink slowly to his side, and walked wordlessly away.

The priest bowed his head and murmured with a dying voice: ‘Thank you, Lord…I know that my time has come…’

He was still with us for the evening parade.  But we no longer needed to carry him: we laid him down at the end of the line with the other dead of the day, so that our numbers should be complete for the roll call—no matter whether living or dead.”




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