Faithful Even Unto Death: The Witness of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Fr. Albert Mčnch | IgnatiusInsight.com
Faithful Even Unto Death: The Witness of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Fr. Albert Mčnch
Editor's Note: Fr. Alfred Delp was a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned in Berlin. At the
time of his arrest, he was the Rector of St. Georg Church in Munich, and had a
reputation for being a gripping, dynamic preacher, and one who was an outspoken
critic of the Nazi regime. He was an important figure in the Resistance
movement against Nazism.
of conspiring against the Nazi government, he was arrested in 1944, tortured,
imprisoned, and executed on February 2, 1945. While in prison, Fr. Delp was
able to write a few meditations found in Advent of the Heart: Seasonal
Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944, which also includes his powerful reflections from prison
during the Advent season about the profound spiritual meaning and lessons of
Advent, as well as his sermons he gave on the season of Advent at his parish in
Munich. These meditations were smuggled out of Berlin and read by friends and
parishioners of St. Georg in Munich. Last year marked the 100th anniversary
of Fr. Delp's birth and the 70th anniversary of his ordination to
The following article contains some of the thoughts and recollections of Fr.
Albert Mčnch, a close friend of Fr. Delp. It was first published in Reden und
Ansprachen zum Gedenken an Pater Alfred Delp, S.J., Hammerich, Lampertheim, 1975, vol.
1, pp. 13-26. Translation from the German by Abtei St. Walburg.
experiences with Alfred Delp
know, he was born in the year 1907 in Mannheim and then moved with his family
to Lampertheim. The local pastor, Father Unger, helped him to go to high school
in order start him on the way to a career that would be "suitable" for him. I
met him in Dieburg, at the diocesan seminary for boys, and attended my last two
years of high school there with him.
tell you a few things about him: Delp was a difficult person; he was always
restless, but he fit with his times. If, today, we say that youth are restless
and that, in the past, they were different--that is nonsense. In the past, the
youth were also restless. And even in the youth movement, in which we were both
involved—he with "Neudeutchland", I with "Quickborn"—there was
plenty of unrest. However, one thing was certain: We always met one another on
a common foundation. We knew where to find our footing. We were people who were
believers, for whom the Lord God was in no way a problem, but rather, a part of
life. Faith gave us security, and we never tried any kind of hairsplitting,
either, over faith, or its deepest meaning, or the Lord God. We tried to
envision man and the world in such a way that they fit in with these thoughts
of God. That was the most important thing.
there was something else besides this, a second foundation. Back then, the
youth movement had a great idea: We wanted to get out into nature, to see in it
the will of the Creator, and to live out of His Creation. Our hiking and
camping trips came from this idea, and often we would hike from Dieburg to
Breuberg, through the forests of the Odenwald. In Breuberg, we met with Dr.
Gottron, a dear friend and youth leader, who gave us an introduction into the
liturgy, Vespers, and devotions. The singing of the Psalms there remains
were two foundations, and today, when we look back on Father Delp's life, we
can say that these were two points he never forgot. He stood by them and, we
can say, they were simply the Christian attitude, or simply a matter of course
in his life. He never turned aside from them.
graduated with us in 1926. Let me look back once more to the time before
graduation. Alfred Delp could not be still, as I said. His whole personality,
his mind and spirit sparkled. Therefore, there were often discussions, even in
the school with our teachers. Although we did not want to criticize them at
all, they often had their own pace, their own way. They often wanted no change.
And it was Alfred, of course, his mind bubbling over with ideas, who would
interrupt in a way that was fun. And many times, when he spoke that way, his
speech got ahead of him, you might say, and kept on going. He often floundered
just because his train of thought was already too far ahead, before the thought
thing showed up in his handwriting. I love to recall the moment when our German
teacher said: "Delp, buy yourself a typewriter, at long last! I can no longer
read anything you write." For when he wrote, his mind went on ahead and entire
lines came out almost like a stenograph, which nobody could read except him.
Thus, one can say he had a scintillating mind and, even back then, a restless
spirit that looked further ahead. However, he was someone who had foundations,
who stood for something. For him, the foundation would remain unquestionable
throughout all of his struggles and all of the difficulties he would have to
graduation, he went to Munich to the Jesuits. Another friend went with him, but
soon left the Order. One classmate went to Wčrzburg and studied theology there.
Unfortunately, as a pastoral assistant, the friend from Wčrzburg had a fatal
motorcycle accident when a child ran into the street. I went to Mainz. The
classmate who withdrew from the Jesuit Order became a physician. Delp studied
and worked in Munich. In the Jesuit Order, one had to be thirty years old for
ordination, but he was not idle during this waiting period. As early as the
year 1935, he wrote a book: Tragic Existence. He wrote it in opposition to
the fashionable philosophy of Heidegger. Not only the godlessness, but modern
man's "incapability of God", must be seen, for that was the tragedy of the
time. Delp saw this and worked it into his writings for Stimmen der Zeit. He wrote articles, books, and tried
to navigate his way through.
in 1937, on June 24 in Munich, that we saw one another again. He was ordained
to the priesthood there by the well-known Cardinal Faulhaber. I think we can
say that Delp was pleased to be ordained by such a famous person who stood up
and fought in those times.
Saint Andreas Church, we celebrated his first Holy Mass. We were together
again, but would very soon go our separate ways. Meanwhile, many things had
happened. If I may say a couple of personal things, it will perhaps give a
clearer view of those times. Oh, yes, you can hear how people make accusations:
"Why didn't the people resist?" Anyone who knows how hard it was to risk
saying just one word in the pulpit that was displeasing to those in power also
knows that prison was certain to those who took that risk.
Resistance and ministry
came to see me one more time, after the journal, Stimmen der Zeit, was abolished. After they had
plundered that whole building and stolen all there was to steal, he showed up.
We spoke about the situation. His plans seemed dangerous to me. "Be careful," I
warned him. "Maybe you don't know these brothers well enough." At that point,
I already had been in prison twice, and had been sentenced to four months in
prison, and only got out of that through an amnesty. I had to change my
workplace as Pastoral Assistant three times. Therefore I said: "Watch out!"
with what you could call boyish cheerfulness, he answered, "No problem. I've
got my documents here." At any rate, he believed he would be able to get out of
the country. Unfortunately that would no longer be possible. That was our last
meeting. It was tragic to hear later what had happened to him.
to Bogenhausen in Munich and worked in the parish, as rector of St. Georg. I
am sure he did well. We hear how he was a leader, decision-maker, and guide.
As I already mentioned, with every word that we spoke from the pulpit, we had
to very carefully consider how far we could go. Mostly we had to speak
metaphorically and, in this way, we were understood by the faithful. The men of
the Gestapo, the secret state police who mostly served as spies, understood us
too, but could not touch us. I, myself, was arrested for a third time and then
expelled from Germany.
for the future
Alfred Delp was faced with what can be called a challenge. Count Moltke asked
the Jesuit Provincial, Father RÜsch, to give him someone who could say
something about the social teachings of the Church. Helmuth von Moltke and his
people were not seeking to carry out a violent coup. However, they knew things
could not go on that way much longer. Anyone who followed the
situation—and I did, from Rome—had to say, "Maybe until 1944 or
'45, then the whole thing is going to collapse." And these men made plans for
what would become of our poor German people afterwards. First, of course,
everything would have to collapse and we would stand on the brink of horrifying
ruin—we experienced it in 1945.
invited Delp to join the group, which met in Kreisau on Moltke's estate, or in
Munich, or Berlin, anywhere. It was too dangerous to keep meeting at the same
place. They know that the "bloodhounds" were everywhere. I don't know if you
know this: ten million Germans were constantly under surveillance by the
Gestapo, and two million were in prisons and concentration camps. So you can
picture how things were, how it seemed, how careful one had to be, and how
dangerous it all was. Nevertheless, Delp worked with Moltke, with
Gerstenmaier, with Gross, with Sperr and the others. And all but Gerstenmaier
would lose their lives for it. Moltke was arrested in January 1944. He did
not want a violent revolution, and had stayed out of the plans of those
officers who, with Stauffenberg, were preparing to assassinate Hitler. He did
not want that, but wanted to prepare for the day of Germany's defeat.
Arrest and imprisonment
they came for Father Delp as well. On 28 July 1944, he fell into the hands of
the Gestapo. They arrested him in the morning after the Holy Mass. Two
officers had stood in the back of the church and, after the service, they
nabbed him and led him away. At first, friends thought he was in a camp, but
then they found him in Berlin, at the Lehrter Straβe prison. And then,
alongside his martyrdom, the heroism of the laity began. We know that in
Berlin and Munich, lay people cared for him and risked their own
freedom—maybe even their lives—to save him, to help him. Anyone
who has been in prison, who knows what it means to be stuck there with no
connection to the outside, also knows what a comfort it is to find a piece of
bread or a little message in a packet of laundry that someone was able to
bring. That was a sign that there were people who were thinking of him and who
read his letters and notes, written on small slips of paper that were smuggled
out of the prison, you have to ask, astonished, where in the world did he get
the strength? I return to what I said at the beginning, and answer, "From his
faith in God, from that foundation from which he lived. From the joy that he
had filled his soul with, not only through his studies and theological
knowledge, but through the strength that he stored up in his soul when he was
outside in nature, climbing mountains. That gave him a foothold to get through
difficulties and tough times.
on 8 December 1944 that Alfred finally arrived at what he had long desired. He
wanted to give himself completely and totally to his Lord God. It had already
been planned that he make his final profession of vows on 15 August, but, because
of his arrest, the date had to be postponed. On December 8, his confrere,
Father Tattenbach came with full authorization to Berlin, to receive his final
vows. It must have been an interesting scene, the two of them sitting at a
table with a prison guard keeping watch. And Father Delp made his vows in the
presence of his confrere.
Faithful unto death
came the day in January 1945, the horrible day of that stupid, idiotic,
terrible show trial before the People's Court. Perhaps you have heard the name
of Roland Freisler. In Berlin, they spoke of "Raging Roland" in his red robes,
who held forth, foaming at the mouth, and shouted down, screamed down, and
bellowed down everything, without rhyme or reason. It must have been a
Delp and the others stood before this man. It is astonishing how Father Delp,
who otherwise let the sparks fly, stood quietly and matter-of-factly before the
judge. The words of the Holy Scripture are true: When you stand before your
enemies, do not ask what you should say, for the Spirit of God will tell you
what you should say. And when Delp, in peace and certainty before the judge,
point for point refuted the charges against him, especially those related to 20
July, then one can only marvel and say that it was not the man speaking here,
he was condemned to death with Moltke. Let's keep it brief. On 2 February
1945, he was strangled. None of us was there. No one knows the details...let's
not speak of it—it is horrible. To think of these men who were
intellectually outstanding, men who had ideals, men who wanted to survive and
to give their best for their people—to think that these men had to depart
from this life because of such a satanic system!
to Father Delp: A man who consistently went the way that he had recognized as
the right way. Completely human, creature of God, completely Christian,
faithful to his Master even unto death.
Grateful acknowledgement is due to Father Hammerich of St. Andreas Church, Lampertheim, for permission to
publish text and photo. First published in Reden und Ansprachen zum
Gedenken an Pater Alfred Delp, S.J., Hammerich, Lampertheim, 1975, vol. 1, pp. 13-26. Translation
from the German by Abtei St. Walburg. Photo: Procession to the church for
Father Delp's first Mass on 4 July 1937. Father Albert Mčnch (far left),
Father Alfred Delp, S.J. (center).
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Father Albert Mčnch (1905-1980), was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Mainz in 1932 and immediately
became well-known as an outspoken and active opponent of Nazism. For example,
in 1933, after Hitler came to power, Father Mčnch organized a youth March for
Peace from Mainz to Paris. His parish work and preaching brought him into
constant conflict with the Nazis. After repeated arrests and incarceration, he
was forced to flee Germany for Rome in 1940. There he devoted himself to
relieving the suffering of the poor, and providing Jews with hiding places and
food. In 1951 he returned to Germany and worked as a pastor in the Mainz
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