Category Archives: World History

Bicentenary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte – May 5, 1821, on remote St. Helena following the former Emperor of France’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 that led to his forced abdication and exile in 1814.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Major facts of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are well known. Known as Napoleon I, the French Emperor who died two centuries ago was a shrewd, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.

Born on the island of Corsica that had recently handed authority from Italy to France, Napoleon rose rapidly in the French military during the unsettled period of the French Revolution after 1789 and until 30-year-old Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1799.

In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the presence of the pope. In the next decade Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations and expanded his empire. Following his disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 explored in some detail in this post, Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba not far from his native Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.

In 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France where he briefly returned to power in his Hundred Days campaign. He received a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in today’s Belgium and was exiled until his death on May 5, 1821 to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon Bonaparte was just 51 years old at the time of his death stemming from mysterious circumstances, though likely something such as stomach cancer.1

Napoleon on St. Helena, Franz Josef Sandmann (1805-1856), c. 1820. Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau.

The bicentenary of the death of Napoleon I is commemorated in 2021. The former French emperor died on May 5, 1821 on the island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean nearly halfway between the continents of Africa and South America. Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there in 1815 following his defeat at Waterloo. The British government selected it for the former French emperor’s place of exile after he escaped from Elba, the initial location of his forced exile. Napoleon lived on St. Helena for about 6 years; a hunk of rocky mass reachable only by sea. He died there at Longwood House, his permanent residence that was completed for him in December 1815. Today there is an airport on St. Helena built in 2011. Napoleon was 51 years old at his death and was buried on St. Helena. In 1840 his remains were transferred, not without controversy, to France. Napoleon’s tomb is in Les Invalides, the military hospital in Paris whose construction was begun by Louis XIV (1638-1715).

Napoleon’s plaster death mask, known as the Malmaison mask, May 1821.

The death mask was made on Saint Helena about two days after the former French Emperor’s death there on May 5, 1821 at his permanent residence of Longwood House. (see – http://www.lautresaintehelene.com/autre-sainte-helene-articles-malmaison2.html – retrieved May 5, 2021).

Longwood House on the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

In 1858, French emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, purchased the house and various other lands associated with Napoleon I on the island in the name of the French government. Though Napoleon’s remains had been returned to France in 1840 – they rest today in Paris at Les Invalides – Napoleon III’s purchase remains the property of France and is administered by a French representative under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Photo: “Longwood House (c) St Helena Tourism” by sthelenatourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

(see – https://fondationnapoleon.org/en/activities-and-services/preserving-heritage/operation-st-helena/retrieved May 5, 2021).

DISASTROUS INVASION OF RUSSIA BY NAPOLEON IN 1812

Three years earlier, during the War of 1812, world domination by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was done within a sagging, uncooperative economy in Europe. France had 300,000 French troops and a rafter of French generals occupying Spain to keep the blockaded British from invading. Napoleon, in a near constant state of war since 1793, had created an Empire whose subjected parts didn’t fully cooperate. With competing objectives—had he finally overextended his capacities?—Napoleon had to choose between potentially losing his blockade in Spain or in Russia.

Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 following the Battle of Friedland where Napoleon defeated the Russian army, Russia had still been trading with England. It was this violation of the treaty that was the pretext for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Though fifteen hundred miles away, Russia’s autonomy from the French dictator—along with a temptation to dominate some of Russia’s vast territory for future ventures—beckoned Napoleon to shut it down and take firm control. For Russia, Napoleon’s invasion required the defense of their homeland.

FRESH CONSCRIPTS FOR A NEW WAR-AND THE NEED TO SUPPLY A MILITARY HOST OF 700,000 SOLDIERS

To animate Napoleon’s newest military campaign, he needed more fresh conscripts—but nearly a third of Napoleon’s French draftees failed to appear. Many of Napoleon’s generals advised the dictator to stay home, in Paris, and enjoy his spoils. An ambitious and autocratic Napoleon refused. He explained that rest was not possible if he was to fulfill the dream to form a United States of Europe.2

Overcoming the lay-abouts, Napoleon assembled a military host of nearly 700,000 men and faced the exponentially monumental task to supply it. For years Napoleon stockpiled materials along the route to Russia. He also arranged for supplies to be delivered once into Russia. But Napoleon’s vision of universal dominion had been stretched to the breaking point—and the French Emperor, if not those who served him, realized the risk.

Napoleon left St. Cloud for Moscow in June 1812 for a high stakes gamble which involved not only the rise and fall of one man but the many inhabitants of the Empire.

Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), Campaign of France, 1814, 1864. Oil on wood, 51.5 x 76.5 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay.

Ernest Meissonier’s Campaign of France, 1814, was his first painting produced in a cycle of Napoleon’s conquests. Though the episode Meissonier depicts was painted for the fiftieth anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of France from Elba in 1814, it captures the overall desolation that surrounded the former French Emperor by the time of his invasion of Russia in 1812.

The series made by the 49-year-old artist, an admirer of Seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch small-format painting, captures the desolate landscape the Grande Armée endured and their solitary, unusually unkempt, and virtually tenuous figure of Napoleon leading the General Staff and troops in an over-extended military campaign that spelled defeat.

For the painting, the artist’s imagination was informed by historical documentation including interviews of surviving eyewitnesses, including the detail of, in 1814, the Emperor’s grey coat. The realist style was a prevailing aspect of mid-19th century artistic taste in the Second Empire headed by Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon I, from 1852 to 1870.

(see https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting/commentaire_id/campaign-of-france-1814-8947.html?tx_commentaire_pi1%5BpidLi%5D=509&tx_commentaire_pi1%5Bfrom%5D=841&cHash=41368ad16b#:~:text=Campagne%20de%20France%2C%201814%20%5BCampaign,demonstrates%20his%20nimble%2C%20polished%20style. – retrieved May 5, 2021.

From Paris to Vilna in Lithuania was a 1200-miles march. Yet the object of Napoleon’s campaign, the Russian army, had retreated. It was another 550-mile march towards Moscow. French troops found themselves unexpectedly suffering from distant or nonexistent supply lines. The reluctant new conscripts and battle-hardened veterans were sick and exhausted.

In the battle of Smolensk, the French invaders—viewed by some to be battling for strongman Napoleon’s united liberal Europe over petty church and small state autocrats—set the town on fire. Yet Napoleon’s criminal reputation preceded him: he murdered without mercy and often donned the smock of treachery. Not only royalists criticized him but articulate liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and Chateaubriand (1768-1848) who saw in the emperor an enemy of liberty. Chateaubriand wrote: “Les Français vont indistinctement au pouvoir, ils n’aiment pas la liberté, l’égalité est leur idole. Or l’égalité et le despotisme ont des liaisons secrètes” (“The French go to power indiscriminately, they don’t like liberty, equality is their idol. But equality and despotism have secret links.”) Reactionary French historian and journalist Jacques Bainville (1879-1936) assessed Napoleon’s legacy in this way: “Sauf pour la gloire, sauf pour l’art, il eut mieux valu qu’il n’eut pas existé.” (“Except for the glory, except for the art, it would have been better if he did not exist.”)

With casualties for one battle climbing to around 15,000 for both sides, the Czar appointed Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) as commander of all Russian forces to coordinate efforts.

Portrait of Mikhail Kutuzov, 1829, George Dawe (1781–1829). Oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace War Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Napoleon called Kutuzov, “The sly old fox of the north“ (cited in Roger Parkinson, The Fox of the North, 1976).

At 67 years old, Kutuzov was lazy and lecherous, but knew how to fight—and, regarding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, how to retreat strategically. The grand designs of modern internationalism and unification were ancient and medieval dreams that had proved difficult to implement in geo-political reality and usually led to its own forms of disaster and oppression. In a contest of geopolitical ideas, holing up in eternal Mother Russia provided its military advantages over an invading force set upon international commonwealth by way of military domination. In an address to his troops before the Battle of Borodino in the War of 1812 General Kutuzov observed: “Napoleon is a torrent which as yet we are unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that will suck him dry.”3

BATTLE OF BORODINO, SEPTEMBER 7, 1812, WAS A CONTEST OF 242,000 COMBATANTS AND MORE THAN 1000 BIG GUNS

Napoleon was aware of the trap. The years-long planning for an invasion supply chain was no match for the conditions on the ground. The failures of the supply chain left the army and its dictator high and dry. Napoleon ordered the troops to keep marching, telling his generals: “Motion alone keeps this army together.”4

The march from Smolensk to Moscow took 3 weeks. Many soldiers of the Grande Armée died on the march east. Kutuzov was preparing for battle. The Russian general set up a defensive position in Borodino, about 70 miles west of Moscow. On Sept. 7, 1812, French forces engaged the Russians. Both sides were well matched: the French possessed 587 guns and 130,000 troops and the Russians deployed 640 guns and 112,000 troops with the vast expanse of Mother Russia at their back.

Battle of Moscow (or Borodino), the Capture of the Great Redoubt. Engraving by unknown artist, 1820’s. State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.

Battle of Moscow (or Battle of Borodino) in 1812. Attack of the Lithuanian Life Guards Regiment, oil on canvas, 1912, Nikolay Semyonovich Samokish (1860-1944). State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.

General Uvarov at Borodino, Auguste-Joseph Desarnod (1788-1840), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the War of 1812 Fedor Petrovich Uvarov (1769 -1824) commanded the 1st Cavalry Corps and then the Cavalry of the 1st and 2nd Russian Armies. With the Cossacks of Matvei Platov (1753-1818), Uvarov distinguished himself in the Battle of  Borodino when he turned the left flank of the French army and made a raid to its rear. The Russian attack of the main French forces delayed Napoleon’s battle plans for two crucial hours.

Napoleon near Borodino, Vasily Vereshchagin (1842–1904), 1897, oil on canvas, State Historical Museum, Moscow.

The image of a sullen dictator seated on his field chair with boots raised onto a battle drum, as his General Staff views in their spyglasses the men of the Grande Armée in harm’s way at the Battle of Borodino, can be seen as indicative of Napoleon’s exercise of arbitrary power as the first of modern history’s tyrants.

Hanging over the battlefield was the feeling that the destiny of Europe—whether united under Napoleon or giving space to a later attempt at a balance of powers– depended on these warriors. The battle’s outcome was a draw. The French remained master of the field but the Russians retreated to fight another day. It was one more day of immense military slaughter—the combined French and Russians losses was 80,000 soldiers—a full third of the total.

Battle of Borodino, 7th September 1812, 1822, Louis-Francois Lejeune (1775-1848).

In the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Lejeune was made général de brigade and chief of staff to Davout (1770-1823). During the retreat, Lejeune was frostbitten on the face and left his post where he was subsequently arrested on Napoleon’s orders.

During his military service, Lejeune produced a series of important battle-pictures based on his experiences. They were generally executed from sketches and studies made on the battlefield. Known for their lofty perspective which, according to Chase Maenius in The Art of War[s], “offer[ed] a panoramic view of the totality of the battle’s events,” the Battle of Borodino… of 1822 is considered his masterwork.

When Lejeune’s battle-pictures were shown in London, they were met by eager crowds who viewed them for their realistic and detailed depictions of significant contemporary events.

In his Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, aide-de-camp to marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (translation, 1897), Lejeune related one of the many wretched scenes that the Napoleonic Wars produced. He wrote: “As we were pushing on the next day, we came upon two poor creatures at a turn in the road whose condition tore our hearts. They were a handsome well-built man of about forty and a woman of about thirty, also with a fine figure, both stark naked. They approached us and said to us in very good French, ‘Our home has been sacked by Cossacks, who stripped us of everything and left us as you see us. For pity’s sake help us.’ We could do nothing for them but give them a little food, and we felt very wretched as we turned away. The next day at a bivouac some distance off a fresh irresistible demand was made upon our pity, and our stock of provisions was so much reduced that I don’t know what we should have done but that some German peasants brought us a few sheep, with which we replenished our larder.” (p. 158, https://archive.org/details/memoirsbaronlej01maurgoog/page/n170/mode/2up
—retrieved May 5, 2021.)

The bodies of dead soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Armée left on the bridge over the River Kolocha after the Battle of Borodino, 1812.  Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur (1780-1857), published 1830’s.

Gen. Kutuzov at the conference of Fili deciding to surrender Moscow to Napoleon, Aleksey Kivshenko (1851–1895), 1880, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Following the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, the Russian army retreated towards Moscow and camped near Fili. A military council led by General Kutuzov assembled in a hut in Fili where, despite objections from younger generals, Kutuzov insisted on his plan to abandon Moscow.

The action not only saved the remains of the Russian army but worked to stymie and ultimately defeat Napoleon’s invasion drive. The personalities in the painting include Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818), who was replaced by Kutuzov on order of the Czar and sits in the corner below the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus icon. Fyodor Uvarov sits near Barclay holding a paper. Nikolay Raevsky (1771-1829) sits by the window with his fingers locked together. Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov  (1777-1861) stands on the far right. The much younger Yermolov resented old general Kutuzov’s plan and demanded to fight the enemy.

When Napoleon and no more 100,000 French troops reached Moscow on September 8, 1812, there were no Russian troops to fight inside the city. Instead, Napoleon found only Russia’s poor, displaced, and underprivileged. Some sex workers stayed there to ply their trade in exchange for limited food. Moscow was Russia’s largest city, its capital, its Holy City—and French troops of liberation took to looting it. As the military forces of western Enlightenment watched Moscow burn for four days, the event in the war was a watershed for the Russian resolve to not surrender.

Napoleon wrote a letter of apology and condolence to the Czar for the wanton destruction in Moscow. The Czar, Alexander I Pavlovich, the Blessed (1777-1825), did not answer. He was concerned with Kutuzov’s army. Russia’s Czar, the commanding general, the troops and people were of one mind: to fight the Western invader to the last Russian man, woman, and child. Moscow’s demise was the turning point for the autocratic world that viewed Napoleon as an atheist and butcher at the head of an international army of mercenary thugs and savages. Only the wealthy in Russia were willing to negotiate with Napoleon mainly from fear that he might try to free their serfs. In this clash of civilizations, Napoleon surmised, “I beat the Russians every time—but that does not get me anywhere.”5 Old general Kutuzov’s inaction attained his objective to defend Russia whereas his 43-year-old French counterpart’s active efforts to rally his men far from home on behalf of his Empire failed.

Posthumous Portrait of Czar Alexander I of Russia, 1826, George Dawe, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Napoleon’s interest now turned back to Paris. Having heard of an impending coup d’état led by Gen. Claude François de Malet (1754-1812), Napoleon had to raise more fresh troops to crush rebellions in Paris. There were rebellions to crush taking place in other lands of the Empire as they squirmed under his dictatorial rule and were emboldened by his latest inglorious defeat.

By late 1812, the weather in Russia turned to ice and snow. Whereas the Russians retreated prior to defeat, the French retreated in defeat. Reports of cannibalism among the retreating combatants is recorded. On Napoleon’s retreat, the French army lost another half of their men. Napoleon’s supply lines had long been sacked and looted by his anti-Empire enemies.

Famous tell-all graph by French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870) showing the size of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it marched towards Moscow (top gray line, left to right) in summer of 1812 and its retreat (bottom black line, from right to left) in the late fall of 1812. Frozen temperatures during the humiliating retreat are plotted on the bottom graph.

On the retreat, surviving warriors fought among themselves over any existing supplies. Napoleon’s retreat included the humiliation of being chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s redeployed 80,000 troops. The old man’s hot pursuit did not allow Napoleon, the once young Enlightenment military figure, to rest.

Under military surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), the Grand Army’s medical and sanitary measures were the finest in the world but the retreat route offered no food and no medical care. As a remedy for possible future ills, including his capture, Napoleon convinced his doctor to give him a vial of poison which the dictator could ingest if conditions deteriorated to become inescapably dire.

Portrait of Dominique-Jean Larrey, oil on canvas, 1804, Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826), Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France.

Baron Dominique Jean Larrey was a French surgeon and military doctor who distinguished himself during the near endless wars of the French Revolution and under Napoleon. Baron Larrey served as the Grand Army’s medical and sanitation leader and was an important innovator in triage who is considered the first modern military doctor and surgeon.

Napoleon: Retreat, 1812. /Ncrossing The Beresina River In Russia During The Retreat Of The Grand Army Under Napoleon Bonaparte, December 1812; Baggage Carts And Ambulances Have Been Abandoned In The Foreground. Watercolor, c. 1812, attributed to General François Louis Fournier-Sarlovèze (1773-1827).

During the Russian Campaign, Fournier commanded a brigade of light cavalry composed of French, German, and Central European horsemen, and led a noted cavalry charge at the Battle of Smolensk.

Generals Kutuzov and Wittgenstein attacked the retreating remnants of Napoleon’s army at a critical bridge crossing in modern-day Belarus. Hundreds of Frenchmen drowned. To stop the attack, Napoleon ordered the bridges destroyed. He stranded hundreds more of his company to the enemy’s gunfire.

Napoleon now told his aide-de-camp, Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, what the Russian campaign taught him: “I can hold my grip on Europe only from the Tuileries.” In Warsaw, when Napoleon met Abbé de Pradt, his ambassador there, he told the French clergyman: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”6

Napoleon had led almost 700,000 men into Russia with the intent of conquering the country. By the end of 1812, only about 30,000 had survived. Out of that number, less than 1,000 soldiers returned to active duty after their return to France. 7

NAPOLEON DEFEATED IN PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN

Simultaneous with the debacle of Napoleon’s blood-thirsty Russian invasion, French forces lost the long fight in Spain and Portugal (since 1808) to keep the British off the Continent.

Significant losses in the east and west of the Empire were followed in 1813 by the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon’s penultimate defeat by an international coalition that included Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.

FORCED ABDICATION, EXILE, WATERLOO, AND DEATH

After Napoleon withdrew into France, in March 1814 these allied forces captured Paris. By early April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor. Napoleon had to go for his pursuit of glory had become a menace to his country and the world.

With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and, following his brief escape into France in 1814, he was defeated for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena which held him until his death at 51 years old on May 5, 1821.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.

NOTES:

1. see- https://www.history.com/topics/france/napoleon

–retrieved May 5, 2021.

2. The Age of Napoleon, Will and Ariel Durant, Simon & Schuster: 1975, p. 698.

3. A Dictionary of Military Quotations, edited by Trevor Royle, Routledge: 1989, Section 105, quote 13.

4. http://www.military-info.com/freebies/maximsn.htm

5. The New York Times, “The Napoleon Legend—A New Look; How can we know the man whose transformation into a myth began long before his death?; Napoleonic Legend,” April 5, 1964. https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/05/archives/the-napoleon-legenda-new-look-how-can-we-know-the-man-whose.html#:~:text=When%20he%20failed%2C%20he%20never,in%20defense%20of%20their%20country.–retrieved May 5, 2021.

6. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 13th edition, p. 199.

7. https://slate.com/technology/2012/12/napoleon-march-to-russia-in-1812-typhus-spread-by-lice-was-more-powerful-than-tchaikovskys-cannonfire.html 

— retrieved May 5, 2021.




Long Live Freedom! Hans and Sophie Scholl and The White Rose in Germany (1942-1943).

By John P. Walsh

On February 18, 1943, following the illegal distribution of anti-Nazi leaflets by the White Rose at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München—the leaflets instructing students and all others to actively resist the 10-year-old Nazi regime—three young German university students were arrested. In the next four days these students will be tried in a Nazi kangaroo court, convicted of treason, and condemned to death. Their crime?—public vocal resistance to the totalitarian state that suppresses freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience in addition to reprehensible war crimes, including the Holocaust, during World War II.

On February 22, 1943, in Stadelheim Prison in Munich, Germany, these three White Rose resisters are the first of their group to die for freedom and whose legacy in the 21st century is to be listed as some of the most important Germans of all time—namely, 21-year-old Sophie Scholl, her brother, 24-year-old Hans Scholl, and 23-year-old Christoph Probst, a married father with three children.

Christoph Probst: It wasn’t in vain.

Sophie Scholl: The sun is still shining.

The execution scene from Marc Rothemund’s 2005 German film, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (“Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage”). On February 22, 1943 the three condemned White Rose students—Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch), Christoph Probst (Florian Stetter) and Hans Scholl (Fabian Hinrichs)—are allowed a final moment together before being beheaded in Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.

By the start of 1943, the Nazis were badly losing the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia that had been raging since August 1942. Its outcome was a major turning point in the war. The German armed forces experienced nearly one million casualties in six months. The American, British, and the Russian armed forces were closing in on Hitler’s Third Reich from many sides.

Since June 1942 five anti-Nazi leaflets had been written and distributed in and around the university in Munich. The distribution channels as well as the network of this new clandestine anti-Nazi group—who eventually called themselves the German Resistance Movement, a.k.a. the White Rose—had steadily expanded during the creation of these leaflets.

Conditions were growing tense in Germany. There was a developing global consensus—that included some even in Germany— that Hitler’s war was ultimately unwinnable for the Fascist tyrant. As these totalitarian thugs had lashed out to consolidate power so, as ultimate military victory was slipping away, the regime stooped to any means to crush its internal enemies.

Sophie Scholl, May 9, 1921-February 22, 1943.

Sophie Scholl had almost not graduated from high school in May 1940 because she was sick and tired of the curriculum’s relentless political (Nazi) indoctrination. Scholl was fond of children and took a job teaching kindergarten. But her motivation was not simply that she had found an early vocation but hoped to steer clear of Germany’s six-month National Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst).

The Nazis found her anyway— and Sophie taught at a National Labor Service-approved nursery as part of the war effort. Scholl might not have bothered with the National Labor Service at all except that the Nazis had set it up as a prerequisite for attending university.

In her personal reading Sophie Scholl had already developed an interest in philosophy and theology and wanted to pursue these subjects academically. The Labor Service experience did contribute, however, to Sophie’s outlook—she reacted completely against its militaristic aspects to the point where she started to practice forms of nonviolent resistance.

1940 Letter from Sophie Scholl to a Friend – White Rose Memorial Room – Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany.

In May 1942, 21-year-old Sophie started at the University in Munich. Her older brother Hans, studying medicine and philosophy at the school, introduced his younger sister to all his friends. Though Hans had evolving and increasingly strong anti-Nazi views, as did his friends, camaraderie revolved around the arts, music, philosophy and theology. The Scholls were also physically active—especially hiking and swimming.

Sophie pursued her intellectual interests at the university making connections with artists, writers, and philosophers. Her father, a hometown mayor, had been put in prison for an indirect critical remark he made about Hitler—and Sophie’s quest to understand how she, as an individual, should act under a dictatorship was intensely personal.

The White Rose formed and began writing and publishing anti-Nazi leaflets in June and July 1942—but Hans Scholl kept his dangerous undertaking secret from Sophie. But, in November 1942, when Sophie learned about the White Rose, she immediately joined.

Hans Scholl (Fabian Hinrichs), left, and Sophie Scholl (Julia Jentsch) in the 2005 German historical film, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.

On February 18, 1943, in the wake of the battle of Stalingrad, and major Allied victories in Africa which had the Americans and British closing in on Hitler’s Europe, the sixth and final leaflet produced by the White Rose was distributed by Hans and Sophie Scholl and others of the White Rose at Munich University. The leaflet had been written by Kurt Huber, a university faculty and White Rose member, and stated that the “day of reckoning” had finally come for “[Hitler,] the most contemptible tyrant that the German people has ever endured.”

The Atrium, Munich University, where the Scholls dropped the sixth leaflets on February 18, 1943, which led to their arrest by the Gestapo.

Atrium, Munich University.

Bringing the leaflets in suitcases, the Scholls stacked them in corridors of the main building—and the hurried activity, including tossing the last leaflets into the atrium, was noticed by a maintenance man who reported it. Before their arrest by the Gestapo, Sophie had successfully gotten rid of any incriminating evidence. But the Gestapo did find fragments of a seventh leaflet by Christoph Probst on Hans Scholl’s person and, upon searching the Scholls’ apartment, confirmed the White Rose writings. The Gestapo was going to let Sophie free, but when she discovered her older brother had been arrested, she confessed to her full role.

Hans and Sophie Scholl lived in the rear of this apartment building at 13 Franz-Joseph Strasse in Munich from June 1942 until their arrest on February 18, 1943 and execution on February 22, 1943.

Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

During the interrogation following her arrest, transcripts show that Sophie defended herself mainly by claiming her right to act based on an individual “theology of conscience.”

On February 22, 1943, the Scholls and Christoph Probst were tried in the Volksgerichtshof (The People’s Court) before rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler. Sophie interrupted the judge several times during his tirades. The court record shows her saying to the judge: “Somebody—after all—had to make a start. What we wrote and said is believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.” The trio were found guilty of treason and condemned to death. They were guillotined the same day at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.

Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst, a married father of three children, were tried in the Volksgerichtshof (The People’s Court) before the rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler. Transcripts show Sophie told the judge, Somebody—after all—had to make a start. What we wrote and said is believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did.

White Rose stamp – Sophie and Hans Scholl.

Hans Scholl was, with Alexander Schmorell (1917-executed by the Nazis in prison, July 13, 1943), a founding member of the White Rose in 1942. After serving as a medic on the Eastern Front in 1939, Hans Scholl became determined to do something to change the German people’s minds about the Nazi regime and its war effort.

By June 1942 the White Rose (Weiße Rose) had been founded on principles of nonviolent intellectual resistance to the Nazis—a highly dangerous proposition in a totalitarian regime.

Detail of Typewriter Used to Produce White Rose Anti-Nazi Leaflets – White Rose Memorial Room – Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany.

Between June and mid-July 1942, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell wrote four leaflets against the Nazis appealing to the truth of the people’s consciences based on facts. “Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of the government these days?’ the writers asked in their first leaflet. “Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of the shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible crimes reach the light of day?”

Alexander Schmorell was, with Hans Scholl, a co-founder of the White Rose. Schmorell co-wrote their leaflets. A Russian-German student at Munich University, Schmorell was sentenced to death at 25 years old on April 19, 1943 at the second trial of the White Rose at the Volksgerichtshof. With Munich University faculty member Kurt Huber, also a White Rose member and leaflet writer, Schmorell was beheaded at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison on July 13, 1943. In 2012, Schmorell was declared a saint and martyr in the Russian Orthodox Church.

In the second leaflet the White Rose spoke of the crimes of the Holocaust: “Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way…The German people sleep in a stupid sleep and encourage the Fascist criminals…”

The third leaflet appealed to the German people’s “spirit” to eliminate the Nazi system in their midst.

Leaflets, Memorial to Scholls at Munich University.

For the next four months, until November 1942, Scholl, Schmorell, and other young members of the White Rose were drafted to again serve as medics on the Eastern Front. War’s ongoing horrors that they witnessed only strengthened their resolve to resist.

At their return to Germany in autumn 1942 Sophie Scholl, Hans’ younger sister (born May 9, 1921), learned about the White Rose and Hans’ involvement in it, and eagerly joined the group.

Sophie Scholl bust, Munich University.

With the Battle of Stalingrad raging since August 1942, the White Rose (now called the German Resistance Movement) produced a fifth leaflet in January 1943. It was an appeal addressed to all Germans and the White Rose made almost 10,000 copies to distribute. The leaflet presented a straightforward analysis of the situation so to jog people’s intellect to take moral action. To state, as the leaflet did, that “Hitler cannot win the war; he can only prolong it.” was pure heresy to the all-encompassing propaganda arm of the dictatorship.

In the Battle of Stalingrad which the Nazis lost—it was the major turning point in the war—Hitler made an intense appeal to the German people’s patriotism. By one count, the German armed forces experienced nearly one million casualties in about six months.

The German populace—as well as people around the world– understood that Hitler’s defeat was inevitable. But, unlike the Americans and British who, in November 1942, successfully began and concluded Operation Torch in French Morocco pushing the Germans east and out of North Africa and next out of Southern Europe, few Germans were willing to even yet criticize the Nazi regime let alone take action as did the handful of young students and faculty of the White Rose.

White Rose Leaflets, memorial.

The White Rose’s fifth leaflet called all Germans to “Support the resistance movement!” The leaflet labeled Nazi policies as racist and subhuman, imperialist and militarist—and to be resisted. But further, a future Germany and Europe must, stated the White Rose in this penultimate leaflet, protect “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the individual citizen from the arbitrary action of any dictator states.”

It was in January 1943 that the White Rose was beginning to expand its operation to make connection with older anti-Nazi groups already formed and operating in Germany, such as the Kreisau Circle led by Helmuth James von Moltke (1907-executed by the Nazis in prison, January 23, 1945).

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (1907–1945) was one of the leaders of an early diverse group of anti-Nazi intellectuals known as the Kreisau Circle. In prison since January 1944, Von Moltke is photographed at his trial in July 1944. The Nazis executed Moltke in prison in January 1945. By early 1943, members of the mostly student-led White Rose were starting to expand their network of contacts to include other anti-Nazi groups such as the Kriesau Circle.

With the defeat at Stalingrad officially announced by the Nazis in early February 1943, the totalitarian regime blamed the German people. This included pointing a finger at university students as unpatriotic who did not serve in the army. Such slanderous and cowardly accusations from Nazi leaders who pompously impugned German intellectual youth in the wake of a massive Hitler-led military defeat making for one million casualties and devastating the nation’s morale, sparked a riot by students at the university in Munich. A growing chaos under the totalitarian regime had a heartbeat—and as in all totalitarian regimes, scapegoats must be found and made examples of. The leaflets of the White Rose had been disseminating anti-Nazi literature since June 1942. Its perpetrators had yet to be found out—and stood square at the tip of the Fascist dictatorship’s spear.

The White Rose, its members actively looking to capitalize on the energy of the students’ righteous indignation, decided to send out their sixth and last leaflet—which they did on February 18, 1943. The sixth leaflet, written by Munich faculty Kurt Huber (1893-executed by the Nazis in prison, July 13, 1943), and revised by Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, said that with “the dead of Stalingrad [to] adjure us!,” the “day of reckoning” had finally come for “[Hitler,] the most contemptible tyrant that the German people has ever endured.” The group also stenciled slogans on university walls and buildings throughout Munich, the Nazi Party’s home base, stating “Down with Hitler!” and “Freedom!”

Munich University, Main Corridor.

The distribution of the leaflets packed in suitcases—this time including the public participation of Sophie Scholl—took place on Thursday, February 18, 1943. It is what led to the arrest, trial, conviction, and execution by beheading of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst by the Nazis within the span of the next four days.

Sophie Scholl’s last words were: It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days? How many young, promising lives? What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted? Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt!

Hans Scholl’s last words were Es lebe die Freiheit! (Let Freedom live!)

Christoph Probst, Hans and Sophie Scholl graves, Perlach Cemetery in Munich.

Scholl graves, Perlach Cemetery, Munich.

PHOTO CREDITS–

Hans and Sophie Scholl, painting —“Hans and Sophie Scholl, painting” by Ralf van Bühren is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Sophie Scholl” by jimforest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“1940 Letter from Sophie Scholl to a Friend – White Rose Memorial Room – Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“White Rose film” by jimforest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Atrium, Munich University” by Alex J Donohue is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Atrium, Munich University” by Alex J Donohue is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“13 Hans Joseph Strasse, Munich” by Alex J Donohue is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst–“The White Rose” by jimforest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Sophie Scholl on trial – film” by jimforest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“White Rose stamp – Sophie & Hans Scholl” by jimforest is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Detail of Typewriter Used to Produce White Rose Anti-Nazi Leaflets – White Rose Memorial Room – Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“White Rose Public Memorial – Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany – 05” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Leaflets memorial for Hans and Sophie Scholl” by Alex J Donohue is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Sophie Scholl bust, Munich University” by Alex J Donohue is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“White Rose Movement Public Memorial – Geschwister-Scholl-Platz – Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany – 01” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

“File:Bundesarchiv Bild 147-1277, Volksgerichtshof, Helmuth James Graf v. Moltke.jpg” by Unknown is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

“Interior of Main Building of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany – 01” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

white flowers/leaflets–“White Rose Movement Public Memorial – Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat – Munich – Germany – 02” by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Probst–“Hans and Sophie Scholl graves, Perlach Cemetery in Munich” by Dage – Looking For Europe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Hans and Sophie Scholl graves, Perlach Cemetery in Munich” by Dage – Looking For Europe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Frieheit–“Hans and Sophie Scholl graves, Perlach Cemetery in Munich” by Dage – Looking For Europe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963: an account of the 72-minute post-march meeting of 8 civil rights leaders with President Kennedy at the White House.

Sensing a national breakthrough for civil rights, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined civil rights leaders to plan a March on Washington for Wednesday, August 28, 1963. The great march filled the VIP section at the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall to past the Washington Monument, a distance of almost one mile. The March on Washington is remembered for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the massive crowd’s hopeful jubilation. The meeting with President Kennedy was more than a polite courtesy call to the White House–it helped coordinate political strategy for the movement that would have concrete ramifications for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 following Kennedy’s death.

By John P. Walsh

President John F. Kennedy watched the march—and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech—from the White House on television. Both Kennedy and King were young men—King was 34 years old, Kennedy was 46 years old. Though mature beyond their years, each American proffered green oak in some ways—Kennedy was especially more personally sensitive than his “cool” public persona belied him to be. King, too, was mostly uncomfortable that day with the particular attention, from the media and others, that he was receiving for his remarks at the Lincoln Memorial.

As the civil rights leaders filed into the Cabinet Room at the White House the first thing Kennedy said when he took King’s hand was “I have a dream…” reiterating the line that immediately impressed the president when he heard it a short time earlier live on TV. King deflected the president’s compliment and immediately asked him what he thought of United Automobile Workers president Walter Reuther’s excellent speech which included criticizing Kennedy for defending freedom around the world but not always at home. Kennedy said: “Oh, I’ve heard [Walter] plenty of times.”

Civil Rights leaders in this group photograph at the Lincoln Memorial followed-up the March on Washington with a visit to the White House to meet President Kennedy. Seated left to right: National Urban League executive director Whitney Young (1921-1971); chairman of the Demonstration Committee Cleveland Robinson (1914-1995); labor union leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979); Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968); National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Roy Wilkins (1901-1981).

Standing left to right: director of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice Matthew Ahmann (1931-2001); Rabbi Joachim Prinz (1902-1998); Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leader John Lewis (1940-2020); Protestant minister Eugene Carson Blake (1906-1985); Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leader Floyd McKissick (1922-1991); labor union leader Walter Reuther (1907-1970).

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking at the March on Washington from the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Following the successful march for jobs and freedom, civil rights leaders went to the White House to visit with President Kennedy and pushed measures to strengthen the Civil Rights bill.

King and Kennedy hardly talked more during the visit, though when they did it led to an outcome for action. Rather, Kennedy and Roy Wilkins talked at length about strengthening the civil rights bill following the success of that day’s completely peaceful march. King moved down the line away from the president and near to then-23-year-old John Lewis, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

One section to the bill these activists wanted the president to add was a ban on employment exclusion based on race. Around that White House photo op in August 1963, among other things, they cited to the president the coming of increasing automation in the job market that would depress the availability of jobs. In that macro socio-economic light, they discussed the plight of the inner city. They told Kennedy that Black teenagers were dropping out of school in epidemic numbers. The president was told by A. Philip Randolph that this entire generation of young blacks “had no faith” in whites, black leadership, government or God. American society meant nothing to them but despair.

During the visit, Kennedy was lobbied to re-insert into the act a section that was stripped in 1957 giving authority to the Attorney General to investigate and initiate lawsuits on behalf of blatant civil rights infringements.

President Kennedy responded that with Robert Kennedy, his Attorney General, he had looked into the joblessness and school drop-out rate among Blacks in New York City and Chicago. On August 28, 1963, Kennedy encouraged the civil rights leaders to have the Black community do more. “It seems to me, ” the president said, “with all the influence that all you gentleman have in the Negro community that we could emphasize…educating [your]children, on making them study, making them stay in school and all the rest.”

In regard to the proposed add-ons to the civil rights bill, the existing legislation was already on the brink of defeat in a Democrat-controlled Senate and too close to call in a Democrat-controlled House. Wilkins countered that the Speaker of the House assured him that a stronger civil rights bill could pass the House and work to pressure the Senate to act. If the president would lead a crusade to win approval from the voters for these civil rights measures he could go over the heads of the Congress who obstructed passage of the bill.

Kennedy replied frankly to the leaders that civil rights will and must be a bipartisan effort. For a Democrat president to lead a crusade would allow the Republicans to support civil rights but in the South blame the Democrats exclusively for it. Kennedy assured the civil rights leaders that “treacherous” political games were presently being played in the legislature by Republicans and Democrats on the bill.

Kennedy was countered by Walter Reuther. “Look, you can’t escape this problem,“ the white labor leader said, “and there are two ways of resolving it—either by reason or riots. But now the civil war is not gonna be fought at Gettysburg, it’s gonna be fought in your backyard, in your plant, where your kids are growing up.” Reuther told JFK he didn’t much like the young president’s “seminar” style of governing where “you call a big meeting…and nothing happens.” Reuther, as he told JFK, preferred Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s approach where you “jawbone” it until you “get difficult things done.”

King stayed silent for most of the back and forth debate. When King finally spoke he asked JFK that if the sitting president led a crusade then perhaps his predecessor, Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, might get involved, and thus provide the bipartisan push. Kennedy snapped at King: “No, it won’t.” In reply, King made a knowing joke: “Doesn’t [President Eisenhower] happen to be in the other denomination?”

Ike’s personal pastor, Rev. Eugene Blake, was in the Cabinet Room because Blake was the march’s only white speaker. One reason that Rev. Blake, a powerful force and no pushover, spoke at the march was that he had been arrested in a civil rights demonstration in Baltimore and had gone to jail. Just hours earlier, Rev. Blake orated: “We come late, late we come, in the reconciling and repentant spirit.” The Protestant clergyman embraced the march’s agenda of civil and economic rights for African Americans as well as an end to racism though he rejected words like “revolution” and “the masses” used by some civil rights activists as alien dogma.

At that day’s White House visit, Blake intimated to Kennedy that certainly Ike could be approached about civil rights. The president quickly pivoted and urged Ike’s pastor to visit the former president at his home in Gettysburg—“and include a Catholic and maybe a businessman or two”—to discover any political role Ike might be willing to take for the civil rights bill. Then pointing to Reuther, Kennedy advised, “And leave Walter in the background.” Amid chuckles, Kennedy then left the room of civil rights leaders and assured them he would keep in touch in the months ahead.

SOURCES:

TAYLOR BRANCH, PARTING THE WATERS AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS 1954-1963. NEW YORK: SIMON & SCHUSTER, 1988.

DAVID GARROW, BEARING THE CROSS: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., AND THE SOUTHERN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, WILLIAM MORROW AND COMPANY, 1986.

On August 28, 1963 about 250,000 peaceful protesters descended on Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history.

PHOTO CREDITS:

Hundreds of thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s, Lincoln Memorial Aug. 28, 1963. Public Domain/U.S. Government Photo.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Leaders of the march posing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Memorial.) by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking from the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington by Rowland Scherman (b. 1937), for the U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (Aerial view of Washington Monument showing marchers.) U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Leaders of the march leading marchers down the street. U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

A 2-HOUR DRIVE FROM CANCÚN’S BEACHES, THE MYSTERIOUS AND LOOMING PYRAMIDS AND TEMPLES OF CHICHÉN-ITZÁ OFFER A FASCINATING JOURNEY INTO AN ANCIENT MAYAN CITY IN MEXICO’S YUCATÁN JUNGLE INTERIOR.

Chac-Mool statue on top of the Temple of the Warriors at the ancient Mayan archeological site of Chichén-Itzá. This impressive sculpture was used in ancient times as an altar for sacrifices.

Text and photographs by John P. Walsh

Cancún’s sandy spit of land at the northern tip of the Yucatán peninsula was uninhabited by the ancient Mayans. It was trodden by the conquistadores and used by pirates as a hide-out. Today, oozing like wet plaster into the Caribbean sea, the beaches are a new jet-age resort. I visited the Yucatán from Chicago for a few days in May 1988.

Though the tourist board in Cancún was telling of more resort development by the mid-1990s, it already boasted of 85 hotels and about 9,000 guest rooms during my trip.

After two days acclimating myself nicely to the Caribbean climate and working my way un poco with the Spanish language, I signed up with a local tour operator for a 12-hour bus tour. The destination was to one of the most famous sites on the Yucatán peninsula and the world: the ancient Mayan archeological site of Chichén-Itzá.

With its mysterious, virtually-intact looming pyramids and temples as well as startling tales of human sacrifice and one of the world’s most accurate cosmic calendar systems—all over 1,000 years old—I was excited to adventure out of the comfort of Cancún’s “Zona Hotelera” into the Yucatán jungle interior.

Setting out from Cancún into the Yucatán jungle

The ancient Mayan cities and later Spanish colonial ones that sit on top of them are a stark contrast to the touristy jet-set beaches of Cancún.

An extensive jungle stretches across the Yucatán’s three states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatán that are inhabited by human communities as well as wild animals such as jaguars. We frequently saw black-headed, blue-bodied birds called Yucatán jays. We saw iguanas on sun-washed rocks.

I left the hotel and met the bus in Cancún town at 8:00 a.m. Francisco drove the air-conditioned 40-seater as Raúl toted a microphone and told the group about some of the things we were seeing along the way.

They took us out of Quintana Roo’s Cancún to Yucatán’s Chichén-Itzá about 125 miles away. On arrow-straight highway 180 we drove into small local communities along the two-lane road. We would reach Chichén-Itzá out of Valladolid, the Mayan/Spanish colonial city which is sometimes called the most colorful town in Mexico.

Chichén-Itzá’s famous complex of Mayan ruins dates from the Classic period of 600 CE to 1200 CE. Important archeological sites in the Yucatán still await reclamation from the jungle today –such as smaller Cobá in Quintana Roo. Guided tours are recommended for an extensive and remarkably safe visit into these interesting backwater places.

Highway 180: Route From Cancún to Valladolid

Yucatán’s South 180.

The bus climbed onto south highway 180 and followed it through villages such as Cocoyol, Catzin, Chemax, Xalaú, and others. Along the route there were thatched-roof dwellings which held patterned hammocks inside. Outside, dogs slinked around and small farm animals sometimes shared the road. The entire Yucatán peninsula is sparsley populated with only a fraction (about 4%) of Mexico’s total population. 

Francisco told us that the thatched-roof dwellings were durable. One such dwelling could last almost 20 years. The huts were made of sticks which we were told kept dwellers cool and comfortable year-round. Raúl said that the average year-round temperature on the peninsula was 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Starting in April, humidity levels rose and the temperature hovered over 100 degrees. Thatched hut dwellings were the predominant local housing we saw from highway 180.

With exceptions, the lifestyle of modern Mayans has not strayed from their ancestors’ of the last millennia. Traditional Mayan homes are oval-shaped huts made of sticks bound together to form walls. Palm fronds are laid upon the wood frame for a peaked roof. Inside there is a main room usually with a dirt floor. Hammocks create a sleeping area.

In Valladolid, a Spanish colonial town founded in 1543, there were larger stores. From the bus windows, we saw local women in the huipil, the traditional garment worn by indigenous women from central Mexico to Central America, doing their errands. They outnumbered men on the street who were mostly absent on this sunny and hot May morning in the middle of the week.

Larger Stores in Valladolid

Raúl said the men worked in Cancún during the week for about eight dollars a day, This wage was significantly higher than the $5 a day usually earned on the peninsula. The workers, Raúl said, are “smart” because when they are working, they live at the hotels where they eat, shower, and live rent-free. When they return home to the villages, they bring all of their earnings with them to their families. In most of these outlying towns it requires about $40 per week in income to meet living expenses, whereas workers in Cancún can earn nearly twice that amount.

Iglesia de San Servacio in Valladolid was built in 1545

The Iglesia de San Servacio is in the center of Valladolid on the south side of the main square. It was founded and built by Fr. Francisco Hernandez on March 24, 1545.

In 1705 part of the original church was demolished by order of the Benedictine bishop of Yucatán, Pedro Reyes de los Ríos de Lamadrid (1657-1714). The bishop ordered this partial demolition following the desecration of the sacred building during a political battle in July 1703 known as the “Crime of Mayors.”

San Servacio in Valladolid, Mexico.

“Crime of Mayors” desecrated the church building in July 1703

After Captain Hipólito de Osorno lost political favor in Valladolid he decided, together with his lawyer Pedro Gabriel de Covarrubias, to take refuge in the church of San Servacio.

But the political excitement of the time had reached an uncontrollable situation. In the pre-dawn hours of July 1703, a frenzied mob, led by Valladolid’s newly-elected mayors, Señors Avuso and Tovar, broke into the sacred enclosure.

The lawyer De Covarrubias was killed in the church after being driven through by a spear. His blood spilled on the altar and and stained it. The captain was mortally wounded when the mob found him hidden behind the organ. The ruckus in no way benefitted the two new mayors. Both Señors Ayuso and Tovar were found guilty of murder and hanged.

Due to this murder in the cathedral the bishop had it rebuilt in 1706 as it is seen today. The altar’s position was moved to face north and west towards Rome. The church building is located on Valladolid’s main square named after Francisco Cantón Rosado (1833-1917), a conservative governor of Yucatán (1898-1902).

In early 18th Century Yucatán, a Benedictine Bishop and Franciscan Church

The church building’s main façade has a coat of arms carved on stone with arabesques, a royal crown, and a Franciscan cord. There are images of an eagle and a palm that were frequently used in the decoration of Franciscan churches in the Yucatán. Two square-shaped towers rise on either side of the central façade.

Downtown Valladolid.

Ancient Mayans predate oldest books of the Bible by 1,000 years

The Mayan civilization is shrouded in the mists of history. Archeologists, anthropologists and historians have speculated that they originated in about in 2600 BCE in the middle of the Bronze Age (3300 BCE to 1300 BCE). The origins of the Mayans therefore predate the oldest books of the Bible by 1,000 years.

Mayan technical skill extended to complex calendar systems and hieroglyphic writing whose images are in evidence at Chichén-Itzá. Mayan artisans were skillful weavers and potters and artifacts have been found in vast quantities at the site. The ancient Mayans also cleared routes for trade. Their main source of fresh water was from cenotes (sink-holes) and they stored rainwater in reservoirs called chultun.

Mayan civilization boasted advanced technology and complex, evolving social structures

Mayan culture made remarkable advances in mathematics and astronomy. Mayans are known for their impressive urban planning, farming methods, and architectural achievements. All of these impressive achievements are to be seen at Chichén-Itzá in its pyramids, temples, ball courts, palaces, and astronomical observatories.

By 300 BCE Mayan society had evolved into a hierarchical social structure where kings and priests ruled. Stretching from Cancún through the Yucatán, Belize, and Guatemala to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Mayan civilization was a highly structured society. It consisted of several independent states, each possessed of several classes—a ruling class, warrior class, and agricultural class. The society reached its apex in the Classic period from about 200 CE to 900 CE.

The stone monuments at Chichén-Itzá were built as a ceremonial center during the Classic period. As it continues to impress visitors today, it accomplished the same thing for ancient Mayans over 1,000 years ago.

Around 900 CE, Ancient Mayans are absorbed by the Toltecs

The decline of ancient Mayan civilization started around 900 CE as they began to surrender their independence to the Toltecs who absorbed them. The Toltecs were another pre- Colonial Mesoamerican civilization located in central Mexico that reached its height between around 900 to almost 1200 CE. Though Chichén-Itzá as a ceremonial center would not die for another 250 years, the city became a vestige of itself whose remnants alone of a great civilization survived when conquered by the Spanish colonists in the 15th century.

Arriving to Chichén-Itzá today

It was hot and humid when we arrived into Chichén-Itzá. Discovered by explorers as early as the 1830’s—and opened to the public in 1922—it was today an impressive and expansive series of ancient stone monuments on a grassy 1200-acre campus carved out of jungle. Do people live further into the jungle? Raúl said about one mile from the road there are small communities of two or three hundred people who live in farther from the main road.

The pyramids and temples of Chichén-Itzá are the Yucatán’s best known monuments. The Mayan city was absorbed by the Toltecs in 987 CE. According to legend, a man named Kukulcan—who is the same figure as Quetzalcoatl from the Toltec capital of Tula —arrived from the west “for the redemption of his people.” In Chichén-Itzá, Kukulcan built this magnificent city which combined the Puuc style of the Mayans and the motifs of the Toltecs, namely, the feathered serpent, warriors, eagles and jaguars.

Modern Mayan explorers, including American explorer Edward Thompson (1857-1935)

Starting in the midnineteenth century and again at the end of the century, there was a range of scientists and explorers associated with the discovery and excavation of the archeological site of Chichén-Itzá that is seen today.

As its great natural water well (or cenote) likely gave Chichén-Itzá its name, one major figure worth considering is the early American explorer Edward Thompson (1857-1935). For most of his adult life Edward Thompson lived and worked at Chichén-Itzá including famously dredging and diving into the sacred well in search of treasure and human remains for evidence of legends of human sacrifices.

A diplomat by profession and an amateur archeologist, Thompson had an indefatigable curiosity about the ancient Mayan ceremonial city and did important work here.

As a young scholar Thompson was inspired by the writings of American explorer and diplomat John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852). Together with English artist Frederick Catherwood (1799-1845) they were pivotal figures in the rediscovery of Maya civilization in Central America.

Catherwood’s detailed drawings of the ruins of the Maya civilization explored by Stephens led to best-selling books published in the early 1840s such as Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán. These were illustrated works that introduced Europe and the United States to the civilization of the ancient Maya.

Portrait of John Lloyd Stephens, whose Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán was published in 1854.

Lithograph of a maize god by Frederick Catherwood in Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán published in 1844.

Stephens and Catherwood in turn had been inspired by earlier pioneers of scientists and explorers. Two figures who influenced them were Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and Juan Galindo (1802–1840).

Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt by Joseph K. Stieler (1843). Charlottenhof.

Juan Galindo before 1839. From the book Ancient Maya Cities: The Hidden Wonders in the Forest.

Von Humboldt was a Prussian geographer, naturalist, and explorer whose work in botanical geography led to the development of the field of biogeography. Galindo was an Anglo-Irish military and administrative officer in the short-lived liberal Federal Republic of Central America (1823-1841) and who was actively engaged in Maya archeology.

In 1847 the Caste War of Yucatán broke out limiting access to the Yucatán’s unexcavated ruins. The Caste War restricted the borders of Yucatán and Quintana Roo to all but indigenous Maya for nearly 60 years, making travel to the area dangerous. When the United States appointed Edward Thompson archaeological consul to the Yucatán in 1895 he became one of the first to explore the land since the Caste War.

Edward Thompson, before 1920. Thompson famously dredged and dived the sacred well at Chichén-Itzá and brought up a fortune of gold and jade as well as human skeletons providing evidence for legends of ancient human sacrifice.

Edward Thompson arrived in the Yucatán at Mérida in 1895. He had purchased land in 1894 that included the unexcavated site of Chichén-Itzá. For the next 30 years Thompson dedicated his life to exploring the site.

Dredging the Sacred Well

In 1904 Thompson started to explore the bottom of the sacred well— the cenote sagrado. Thompson used divers (including himself) and dredges. Over six years he brought up a fortune in gold, copper and jade as well as a wealth of vases, obsidian glass knives and Maya incense called copal. Thompson did some of his explorations for major American museums such as The Field Museum in Chicago and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, among others.

From his arrival, the sacred well attracted Thompson’s intense interest. In his 1932 book, People of the Serpent, Thompson stated he became intrigued with the murky waters of the great well as soon as he first saw it from the top of El Castillo.

Though most ancient Maya artifacts as well as its codice books with its written language were destroyed by the local Catholic Church authorities in the 16th century, Thompson read the colonial Spanish accounts of Mayan history.

Spanish Franciscan Fray Diego de Landa (1524-1579), colonial bishop of Yucatán. De Landa later regretted destroying the Maya civilization’s cultural treasures and wrote a history of the Mayas (Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, c. 1566) to make up for his thoughtless, wholesale destruction. Edward Thompson read the bishop’s account of the “cenote,” where Fray Diego detailed the pilgrimages of ancient Maya priests and farmers to the sacred well to “appease the gods.” These pilgrimages included throwing gold and ornaments into the waters. The bishop’s history also told of human sacrifices there as well.

To implement his plan to explore the cenote, Thompson returned to his hometown of Boston where he raised money, took diving lessons, and constructed a specialized diving mechanism. Thompson sent the dredging bucket, winch, tackles, steel cables, derrick and 30-foot boom to Chichén-Itzá.

The dredge buckets brought up ornaments and objects of daily life. Thompson’s and another diver’s plunges discovered more precious treasures, including human skeletons. These discoveries were controversial. The fact that this ancient site was being disturbed brought critics. Further, Thompson was neither a scientist nor academic but simply an enthusiastic amateur. He published his Maya civilization studies in Popular Science Magazine. But these critiques aside, Thompson’s field work virtually single-handedly put Chichén-Itzá on every world explorer’s own bucket list.

Edward Thompson dredged the sacred well at Chichén-Itzá between 1904 and 1910.

The cenote in May 1988 from the platform of El Castillo. This is the view Edward Thompson had when he first became fascinated with the sacred well in the late 1890’s. Photograph by author.

Thompson excavated graves at the Ossario (High Priest’s Temple), the mid-sized step-style pyramid within the Ossario Group complex of Mayan temples found just south of the Kukulkan pyramid series. Thompson’s discoveries offered an outcome not unlike the cenote. In the Ossario pyramid and its cave Thompson found more jade, pottery, human bones, and various other ancient Mayan artifacts.

How the pyramids at Chichén-Itzá were built

Close to Chichén-Itzá Thompson discovered pits with quarried veins of lime gravel that the Mayan’s used for mortar. Nearby he found stones of calcite (to hammer), flint (to pick) and smooth stones used to produce flat surfaces on walls. Ancient Mayan craftsmen had no metal tools, but these stone implements helped scientists to reconstruct how the monumental buildings could be constructed. Thompson also uncovered shards of nephrite (a type of jade) as well as the so-called Mayan “date” stone, known later as the Tablet of the Initial Series. This stone let iconographers decipher the dates of Chichén-Itzá’s Classic period.

In 1926 Thompson’s land was seized by authorities of Mexico’s new nationalist government and Thompson was charged with removing artifacts illegally. It was only in 1944, almost a decade after Thompson’s death, that the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in the North American explorer’s favor.

Major sites at Chichén-Itzá

Visitors climb El Castillo’s steps to the top in May 1988. A visit to the pyramid (Temple of Kukulkan), is a highlight at Chichén-Itzá. Photograph by author.

It is thrilling to see the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican step pyramid that, at almost 80 feet tall, dominates the center of the archaeological site of Chichén-Itzá. It was built between 700 CE and 1100 CE.

Chichén-Itzá relief carving depicting a Mayan warrior in elaborate headdress and jewelry. Warriors were one of the major classes in Mayan society in the Classic period.

El Castillo served as a temple to the god Kukulkan. Each side of the pyramid has 91 steps for a total of 364 steps. With the platform at the top, it equals the 365 days of the year. There are 52 smooth stone panels on each side of the pyramid which coordinates with the ancient Mayan calendar’s 52-year cycle. The nine terraces on each side of the pyramid represent the 18-month solar calendar.

Twice during Spring Equinox (March 21) at sunrise and sunset, the sunlight is observed to move down stair by stair from the top stair of the northern stairway until it touches the famous serpent head stone carving at the base of the pyramid. In a marvel of nature, sunlight and shadow work to form a “serpent” that appears to descend into the earth. The cosmological phenomenon was an important fertility symbol for the Mayans whose society was agricultural. It signaled that the golden sun had entered the earth in the form of a serpent and that it was time to plant corn.

Serpent head at the base of El Castillo

Unexcavated El Castillo in 1882 in a photograph by Teobert Maler

El Castillo dominates the Great North Platform Series. Known as the Kukulkan Pyramid and the Temple of Kukulkan, the 8-story 1,500-year-old stone structure is a masterpiece of ancient Mayan Cosmovision. Author at Chichén-Itzá in May 1988.

Snakehead sculpture at Chichén-Itzá in Mexico. There are smaller pyramids inside the Chichén-Itzá ruins with “snakehead” statues scattered around.

Walking towards the Nunnery complex with the stone steps of its north side in the distance.

El Palacio in the complex of buildings called the Nunnery. Edward Thompson used these buildings as his headquarters during his first explorations of Chichén-Itzá.

Teobert Maler (1842–1917) was another pioneer of ancient Maya research. Maler’s expeditions in the Yucatán began furtively in the 1870s and he explored over 150 ruins.

This 1892 photograph of El Palacio (Templo de tres Cuerpos) of the building complex called the Nunnery at Chichén-Itzá gives record to one such expedition.

Several ruins Maler described and photographed had been discovered by him, and his photographs of its architecture and inscriptions aided further research in ancient Maya civilization.

Many sites Maler photographed were not visited by scientists until decades later. As the ruins were often further damaged by climate events or human impact—Maler’s photographs remain some of the best record of Maya ruins.

Because of Maler’s work at Chichén-Itzá and elsewhere, the German explorer is regarded as one of the most important research photographers of the 19th century.

At Chichén-Itzá, the buildings of the Nunnery (Las Monjas) –including La Iglesia (partial view, left) – are Mayan-temple structures in the Puuc style.

These buildings at Chichén-Itzá shared similar designs with the ruins at Kabah and Uxmal about 100 miles to the southwest of Chichén-Itzá.

Chichén-Itzá serpent head sculptures guard a staircase.

In the day’s heat and humidity, the profligate flora delights the visitor’s senses at Chichén-Itzá. On the site’s 1200 acres, the blooms of jungle growth offer a feast of fragrances, colors and living forms.

From the Temple of Warriors, the visitor can see nestled beyond a field of red flowers the Grupo de las Mil Columnas (“The Forest of 1,000 Columns”). These stone columns may once have had a thatched ceiling to enclose an expansive space.

In the landscape of Chichén-Itzá there are a variety of mammals, hundreds of species of birds and many reptiles. On the Yucatán peninsula there are almost 150 varieties of snakes, many of which, including at the archeological site, are highly venomous. A photograph of the jungle from the air in May 1988.

One visitor climbs atop the Nunnery, the Mayan temple complex built in the Puuc style during the Classic period of 600-1200 CE at Chichén-Itzá.

The El Caracol observatory temple at Chichén-Itzá. We visited the dark recesses of El Caracol’s central circular tower.

The Mayas built the observatory over an extended period of time to coincide its construction with their increasing knowledge of day-time and night-time skies.

The Mayas’ objective in building and using the observatory was to acquire more exact measurements of cosmic bodies.

The highly sophisticated Maya calendar system was based on their study of the movements of the sun, moon, and planets, particularly Venus’s orbit. The position of El Caracol’s front staircase aligns with Venus’s most northern position while the building‘s corners are affixed to the sun’s position at sunrise of summer solstice (June 21) and sunset of winter solstice (December 21).

The “Venus” staircase of the observatory at Chichén-Itzá.

The Observatory temple at Chichén-Itzá in a photograph by Teobert Maler. When explorers first viewed the ruin in the late 19th century, it was buried in centuries of natural debris.

Maya Calendar System. Ancient Maya time-keepers designed highly accurate methods to measure time that interwove calendars as space/time cycles. Mayan calendars formed an understanding of the interrelationships of cosmic bodies—the moon orbiting the Earth; the Earth orbiting the sun; and the sun as it travels in the galaxy.

The Great Ball Court at Chichén-Itzá from El Castillo. Almost two football fields in length (181 yards), it is enclosed by 13-foot high stone walls and is the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. Sports arenas like this were a staple in the sacred complexes of ancient Mayan cities. Some archeological anthropologists believe the nature of play in the ball courts had a purely sporting purpose, though the games may have had high-stakes cosmological and mythological dimensions.

Grand Ballcourt—field of play.

Temple of Warriors. The Chac-Mool sits atop the platform of this temple dedicated to the Mayan warrior class.

OTHER PHOTOGRAPH CREDITS:
YUCHATAN JAYS – Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic  license. Tony Hisgett – originally posted to Flickr as Yucatan Jays – immature
IGUANA – CC BY-SA 2.0 view terms.

Dachau Prisoner and Martyr: Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm., Catholic scholar and journalist.

Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942).

By John P. Walsh

August 14 is the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941). Fr. Kolbe died in a Nazi concentration camp (Auschwitz) after he traded places with another camp prisoner condemned to die who was a stranger. That camp prisoner, a husband and father, survived the war. He testified to Kolbe’s heroic and charitable action as a martyr during Kolbe’s canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church. Kolbe was pronounced a saint on October 10, 1982 by St. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005).

Another Catholic martyr out of the Nazi camps who is also much worth knowing is Blessed Titus Brandsma (1881-1942). Brandsma died in Dachau concentration camp, the Nazi’s first concentration camp. Opened in 1933 Dachau’s initial purpose was to imprison political opponents of the Third Reich. Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan and Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite. In 1985 Fr. Brandsma was declared a Blessed of the Church by St. Pope John Paul II setting him too on the road to sainthood.

Franciscan friar Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. His father was German and his mother was Polish. A journalist by trade he had dedicated his work to the Virgin Mary. Arrested in Poland on February 17, 1941 for sheltering Jews and anti-Nazi publishing, Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz on May 28, 1941. He died on August 14, 1941 after he traded places with another prisoner, a total stranger, who had been condemned to die in a retribution killing by the Nazis. In 1982 Kolbe was made a saint by St. Pope John Paul II.

Blessed Titus Brandsma as a young Carmelite friar. He became an ordained priest.

Both Frs. Kolbe and Brandsma were dedicated journalists. Brandsma was a university founder and teacher as well as a modern art advocate. In 1921 he famously defended the artistic freedom of the leading Symbolist and Expressionist painter in Belgium, Albert Servaes (1883-1966). The artist, a committed Catholic, once said “I have had only two masters. The Gospels and nature.” Yet his new art work for the Stations of the Cross caused an uproar among some Catholics who were offended by the contemporary depictions of Christ’s Passion. Brandsma supported Servaes’ work for the church of the Discalced Carmelites in Luythagen, a suburb of Antwerp (they can be found today in the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven in Tilburg, Netherlands). Brandsma arranged for the new art to be accompanied by Brandsma’s own meditations on them and published together in a newly-founded Catholic cultural review called Opgang, This helped present and clarify the profound religious content of the art work which worked to inspire the Catholic Flemish people as well as placate irate Carmelite superiors in Rome.

Much has been said and written on Titus Brandsma since his death in 1942 in Dachau concentration camp. One major theme about Brandsma from those who crossed paths with him in his lifetime was that he was a man of positive vitality, charity and cheer.

When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, the Catholic bishops named Titus Brandsma as the spokesman for the freedom of Catholic education and the press. Brandsma did his job seriously and effectively. Father Brandsma, who was a prolific writer published in scores of publications, had vociferously and publicly opposed Nazi ideology since 1933 when Hitler came to power in Germany. In July 1941 Brandsma authored a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the bishops that was read in all Catholic parishes. The letter officially condemned the Nazis’s anti-Semitic laws and Dutch Catholics were informed that they would be denied the sacraments if they supported the Nazi party.

Brandsma had been vehemently opposed to Nazi ideology from the time Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933. By speaking out and writing against it many times before the Second World War, he was finally arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in their infamous Dachau concentration camp where he died.

The Nazis hated Brandsma’s vehement and active long opposition to them. They finally arrested him and tried and condemned him as an “enemy of the state” in January 1942. Just seven months later, in July 1942, Titus Brandsma was dead. His death was caused by the terrible sufferings inflicted on him by the Nazis. At the very end, Brandsma, like other prisoners, was used as a guinea pig for Nazi “doctors.” To combat malaria affecting German soldiers, the Nazis experimented on prisoners, in this instance, involuntarily infecting them with malaria and then using exotic and dangerous drugs in an attempt at a cure. At that point in his captivity, Brandsma, already worthless to the Nazis since he couldn’t work—and whose convictions they could not beat or dehumanize out of him — became a dead man walking.

There were around 40 million Protestants and 20 million Catholics in Nazi Germany. A vast majority of Germans including Germany’s 20,000 Catholic priests lived under Hitler’s ideology and were not persecuted by the Nazis. The Nazis wanted all culture and thought to bend to their ideology and whoever spoke or acted against that imperative were imprisoned and often murdered. The first clergymen to arrive at Dachau were Polish priests sent there in 1939 for helping the Polish Resistance against the Nazi invasion. Many of these nearly 2,000 Polish priests suffered the same brutal treatment as did Titus Brandsma — a regimen of starvation, beatings, and involuntary medical experimentation. From 1933 to 1945, of the 3,000 clergymen who were inmates at Dachau—whether Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, or Muslim — about 1,100 perished. Nearly one-third of Dachau’s 200,000 prisoners (or 65,000) were Jews, many of them Germans and Austrians.

Titus Brandsma as a young Carmelite friar.

Titus Brandsma as a 30 year old Dutch Carmelite priest. Brandsma was a teacher, journalist, and modern religious art advocate.

Brandsma as a teacher in 1924.

Bradsma was university rector at Nijmegan in 1934. Hitler had rose to power in neighboring Germany the year before which Brandsma vehemently opposed for the rest of his life.

For weeks since his arrival into Dachau concentration camp just outside cheery Munich, Brandsma had been starved and savagely beaten regularly. His body depleted of strength, Brandsma became infected with camp plague. Refusing to go to the camp hospital called by camp prisoners “a hell within hell,” Brandsma was eventually admitted. Its doctors, having no mission to heal and restore their patients often used them, as they did Brandsma, for cruel medical experimentation. In the end, the camp doctor assigned to Brandsma’s case ordered that his patient, now dying of terminal renal failure, be given a lethal injection administered by a camp nurse. The woman, a lapsed Catholic and SS functionary, survived the war and, having at that time returned to her faith, testified to Brandsma’s cause of death that afternoon in the summer of 1942. She remembered his last moments and that he reached into his tattered pocket to give her his only personal possession. It was a crude rosary made and given to Brandsma by another Dutch prisoner who had been executed.

Titus Brandsma in studeerkamer. ‘den geleerden pater uit Oss’. (FOTO GPD/PR). Bob van Huet.

One of the last photographs of Titus Brandsma before his arrest and condemnation by the Nazis as an “enemy of the state.” Brandsma had been appointed by the Catholic Bishops in Holland as their chief spokesman to defend the freedom of Catholic education and the press. After Brandsma authored a Pastoral Letter on behalf of the bishops that was read in all Catholic parishes in July 1941 that officially condemned the Nazis’s anti-Semitic laws and informed Dutch Catholics that they would be denied the sacraments if they supported the Nazi party, the Nazis arrested the Carmelite friar. Brandsma spent most of the winter and spring of 1942 in Nazi jails in Holland and was taken to Dachau concentration camp in June 1942 where he died in July 1942.

A drawing of Titus Brandsma in Amersfoort prison in Holland in spring 1942. It was drawn by a fellow prisoner who was executed by the Nazis on May 6, 1942.

When the Nazis arrested Brandsma in Holland for his exercise of free speech, the journalist-priest marveled at his bad luck: “I’m 60 years old and I’m going to jail.” Confined in assorted jails of worsening condition all that winter and into spring he arrived at Dachau in June 1942. Brandsma worked to keep a positive, indeed charitable, attitude as far as possible within a hideously barbaric situation. When he went so far as to encourage other Catholic camp prisoners to include the Nazi guards in their prayers, the other prisoners violently demurred. Brandsma retorted: “I didn’t say you ought to pray for them all day long!”

Titus Brandsma’s signature with the abbreviation “O.Carm.” after it indicating his being part of the Carmelite Order.

When Brandsma died at, and in, Nazi hands on July 26, 1942, three days later camp staff took his remains and burned them in the camp’s old furnaces. By 1943 Reichsführer-SS Heinrich  Himmler (1900-1945) had ordered and installed new and bigger furnaces. They were used around the clock to dispose of prisoner remains until April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated by a large force of American soldiers. The Nazis scraped Brandsma’s ashes out of the furnace and disposed of them in the camp’s unmarked pit among thousands of other victims at Dachau. Inside this once-mass killing facility set within a leafy, banal German suburb that gives it its name, it is unknown the precise number of actual prisoner deaths that occurred here between 1933 and 1945, although 32,000 deaths are recorded.

Furnaces in the crematorium at Dachau. More than 31,000 prisoners died in Dachau concentration camp from 1933 to its liberation by American soldiers in 1945. The former concentration camp is situated in the middle of a leafy, banal German suburb of the same name.

At the Dachau Memorial Site, a Carmelite convent of contemplative nuns is one of the memorials close by. Built on the site of a gravel pit where prisoners were sent to work when punished for breaking camp rules, the convent’s entrance is through a former Dachau guard tower.

Always the writer, Titus Brandsma kept writing even in prison. These prison writings are a source for amazement and inspiration today. In the depth of his own terrible suffering at the hands of others, Titus Brandsma wrote: “In the depths of our being we come upon the activity of God by which he sustains us and we are led and guided by him. We have to go to its deepest source to rediscover ourselves in God.”

The author at Dachau concentration camp in July 1984. The sculpture memorial to Dachau prisoners from 1933 to 1945 by Yugoslav sculptor Nandor Glid (1924-1997) is just behind me. Glid was a Holocaust survivor who had been a forced laborer and partisan during the war and whose father and most of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.

My photograph of the entrance gate into the camp during a visit in July 1984.

Another of my photographs from Dachau in July 1984 — barbed wire, ditch, and a watch tower. The broad expanse of the prisoner barracks were dismantled leaving only their graveled footprint.

Brief newspaper announcement of the death of Blessed Fr. Titus Brandsma, Carmelite Order. Brandsma’s cause for sainthood continues to go forward today.

Oil painting by Steve Trizna of the stages of life of Blessed Fr. Titus Brandsma, O. Carm. Photograph by author.

St. Francis of Assisi and the Portiuncula Indulgence: since 1216, from sunset of August 1 to sunset of August 2.

Featured image above: Detail from St. Francis Receiving the Franciscan Order from Pope Honorius III by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494). The fresco, painted in the mid1480s (1483-85), was originally for Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy. It is today in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Ghirlandaio’s complete fresco image is included in this post.

Below: Giotto (1267-1337), St. Francis with two men (detail), 1297-1300, Upper Church, Basilica di S. Francesco, Assisi, Italy.

By John P. Walsh

A plenary indulgence in the Roman Catholic Church wipes clean all punishment for sins during a person’s entire lifetime. For something that may assure a soul is heaven bound, there are specific and precise earthly requirements to be followed. A plenary indulgence means that the punishment for sins that could well be experienced on earth or after death in purgatory are expiated or removed. A plenary indulgence stands in contrast to the more common partial indulgences which are less comprehensive and come in a far broader range.

The plenary indulgence granted by the Pope in 1216 to the Portiuncula, a lowly Franciscan chapel outside Assisi — the so-called Portiuncula Indulgence — is remarkable in church history. As with most things associated with the life of St. Francis of Assisi (c.1181-1226), the episode turned the church’s indulgence system on its head. The new pope, Honorius III (1150-1227, reign 1216-1227), who followed the powerful and influential Pope Innocent III (reign, 1198-1216), was asked by St. Francis himself for the plenary indulgence linked to the Portiuncula, the one-room chapel given to the Franciscans and the central place for many of their founder’s most profound religious experiences.

The Portiuncula (or “Little Portion”) is a 9th century chapel given to the Franciscans by local Benedictine monks. It was here that St. Francis of Assisi received his calling to be a mendicant or beggar following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Since the mid-17th century it has been enshrined within a massive basilica in Assisi called Santa Maria degli Angeli (“Our Lady of the Angels”).

Honorius III listened to the little poor man Francis and expressed extreme reluctance to grant his request. How could the mighty church bestow its fullest plenary indulgence on an obscure, rundown 180 square foot chapel when a holy place such as that might normally receive only a partial indulgence? Churches, usually at their dedication, would gain a partial indulgence of days or perhaps a year or two. The Portiuncula Indulgence which begins each year at sunset on the evening of August 1 and extends until sunset of the following day, is a plenary (or lifetime) indulgence that was approved at the highest levels of the church by virtue of St. Francis of Assisi’s bold request. The saint always insisted it was not he, but Jesus Christ Himself who was asking for the plenary Portiuncula Indulgence.

Pope Francis who when elected in 2013 took his name from St. Francis of Assisi sits inside the Portiuncula chapel during his visit to Assisi in 2016 for World Day of Prayer For Peace.

In the early 13th century the church’s only plenary indulgence was for the Crusades in the Holy Land — at first for the Crusaders themselves and later for those who provided their spiritual and material support. Interestingly, the distribution of and sharing in this sole plenary indulgence had been granted to the Franciscans. The new order (1209) which started in Assisi under St. Francis had quickly spread not only throughout Europe in Francis’s lifetime but the known world. The Franciscan Order would soon embrace both men and women, religious and laity. St. Francis’s own vocation started dramatically in 1208 at the Portiuncula, the tiny dilapidated chapel on a wide plain below Assisi, no more than an hour’s walk from the hill town’s main square.

Francis’s request to the pope who was holding court in Perugia was a bold one. The pope greatly hesitated; then assented. The cardinals and the Curia—as well as the local bishops—were opposed to the idea of a plenary indulgence for the Portiuncula. Francis’s “Little Portion” was just that and unworthy of the church’s fullest indulgence especially as an international banking system was watching and to which the church had become increasingly aligned. Unable to quash outright the Poverello’s request with its papal approbation, the cardinals and Curia worked successfully to limit its temporal parameters, that is, allowing the plenary indulgence for the Little Portion to work for the littlest of time. The plenary indulgence would be one day each year, from sunset of August 1 to sunset of August 2. This has remained its arrangement for more than 800 years.

St. Francis Receiving Confirmation of the Franciscan Order from Pope Honorious III, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494), originally in a central position in the Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy. It is housed today at the Piazza della Signoria. The approval of the Franciscan order by Honorius III depicted in this fresco occurred in 1223 which was about 7 years after the Portiuncula Indulgence, This late 15th-century art work provides insight into the almost public event that any papal encounter entailed.

To acquire any plenary indulgence including the Portiuncula Indulgence requires taking action regarding the work to which the indulgence is attached -– in this case, it began with pilgrimage to the Portiuncula in Assisi. It also means fulfilling three more conditions. The applicant must (1) make a sacramental confession, (2) receive holy communion, and (3) pray for the intentions of the pope. To acquire a plenary indulgence also means that not even the smallest attachment to any sin is permitted.

After their meeting in 1216 the pope offered Francis the appropriate paperwork for his extraordinary indulgence but like many times before and on integral events in the life of the Franciscan Order, Francis waved it off. This great saint concluded that even church documents could be superfluous to the actual manifestation of God’s work.

Simone Martini (c. 1285-1344), St. Francis with the Stigmata, Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi, Italy.

After St. Francis died on October 3, 1226 at the Portiuncula, its plenary indulgence’s lack of a contemporary document and continued animosity from grandiose church figures led early Franciscans to not highlight the privilege. By the 1270’s with the last of the Franciscans who personally knew Francis dying off, those brothers who had been at Perugia in 1216 to witness the Portiuncula indulgence set about making notarized statements attesting to its veracity.

In this first quarter of the 21st century Franciscans and other pilgrims continue to arrive to Assisi in a constant stream as they have since the 13th century. Their visits often include traveling the short distance to the Portiuncula which is the spiritual home of St. Francis and the Franciscan movement, all of which has made a noteworthy impact on world history. But not every visit— especially among 13th century Franciscans—provides easy historical documentation of their witness to the Portiuncula’s plenary indulgence in August.

In a certain way, the origin of the Portiuncula indulgence attributed to St. Francis is shrouded in history as much as possibly legend. In 2019 the Portiuncula indulgence will be in effect, as it has since 1216, from the evening of August 1 to that of August 2.

In addition to the sacramental requirements, its plenary indulgence may be received by visiting any Franciscan church in the world and that the pilgrim— in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi— has that tiny terra sancta called the Portiuncula uppermost in mind so that out of that place its graces may flow.

SOURCES:

St. Francis of Assisi, Johannes Jörgensen, translated from the Danish with the author’s sanction by T. O’Conor Sloane, Image Books in association with Longmans, Green & Company, Inc, 1955.

Manual of Indulgences,  USCCB Publishing , 2006.

Civilisation, Kenneth Clark, Harper & Row Publishers, New York and Evanston, 1969.

“Notre Dame is on Fire!”: the April 15, 2019 blaze that devastated the world-famous Gothic cathedral in Paris, its architectural history and what lies ahead.

By John P. Walsh, May 21, 2019.

Flames engulf Notre Dame de Paris in an historic early evening blaze on Monday, April 15, 2019.

The fire left the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral standing, but suffering extensive and serious damage.

Hundreds of Paris firefighters battled the blaze for hours at Notre Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019.

First responders saved the cathedral though its expansive timber roof, frame and spire burned and crashed into the nave.

Fire broke out with 1,000 people inside the building

Notre Dame de Paris suffered a devastating fire on April 15, 2019 causing most of its roof and a 300-foot oak spire to collapse. The fire broke out during an early evening Mass when more than 1,000 people were in the cathedral which is the most touristic site in the center of the most touristic city in the world. The priest had been in the middle of reading that day’s Gospel of John. It was Holy Monday, the first day of Holy Week where the gospel tells the story of Mary pouring oil over the feet of Jesus which will anoint him for burial. Judas complains the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor.1

Pledges to rebuild

Notre Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris” named in honor of the Virgin Mary) will take years, even decades, to rebuild and at great expense. This will be the case whether the edifice is simply restored or, as some have argued for, more creatively re-imagined for modern times. Whichever rebuilding vision or visions are followed – and there will be voices from many quarters involved in the restoration process ahead – French president Emmanuel Macron promised to complete its rebuilding by around 2024. Within 48 hours of the fire, donations poured in from around the world to rebuild the cathedral amounting to more than one billion dollars whose substantial amount may prove inadequate to fully cover rebuilding costs.2

Spotty maintenance record for 850-year-old stone and wood building

While the fire’s precise ultimate cause is yet to be fully determined, the conditions surrounding the blaze are recognizably available:

its spotty maintenance record over 10 centuries;

the anachronistic methods and complexity of its 21st century renovation going on when the fire broke out;

the twelfth and thirteenth century flammable oak “forest’” that constitutes the building’s roof and frame;

and, the challenges encountered by hundreds of firefighters owing to the cathedral’s size and the fire’s location and size.

Almost ironically, the Cathedral roof that burned—a major attic fire— was one of the larger parts of the original 12th century cathedral builder’s monied investment.3

BRIEF ACCOUNT OF NOTRE DAME DE PARIS’S ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY

Notre Dame de Paris is one of Paris’s famous icons–an historical and religious treasure–and one of France’s great cathedrals along with Reims (which was nearly destroyed by fire during World War I) and Chartres (reconstructed after a fire in 1194). Others on any short list of great French cathedrals would include Amiens and Bourges, among others.

Above: Notre Dame de Paris before the April 15, 2019 blaze. In touristy Paris, the cathedral is the tourist mecca.

Below: The cathedral’s great nave in the aftermath of the April 15, 2020 fire.

Reims Cathedral on fire in World War I. The cathedral was the site of the coronation of French kings. The Gothic cathedral was virtually destroyed by bombing. After the war, the massive cathedral was completely rebuilt.

In 1163 when it became time to roof the superstructure of Notre Dame de Paris’s choir which was the first part of the church to be constructed, Paris bishop Maurice de Sully (1120-1196) provided 5000 French livres so that it could be richly and securely layered with lead. That and other of the Cathedral roof’s protective lead covering was stolen during the French Revolution in the eighteenth century.

The roof’s space and design provided a large part of the church’s riddle of secret passages -– including spiral staircases in the nave’s columns -– that served mainly for the needs of the religious complex’s operation and maintenance. Engineering of the 12th and 13th centuries proved resilient over nearly 1000 years — through hardly impervious to obsolescence and decay.

The 2019 blaze caused serious damage to the cathedral infrastructure. The flames left behind many questions to be answered about the medieval stone and timber building’s ultimate stability. History’s endurance for more than a church was at stake. Notre Dame de Paris is Paris Point Zero – the very center of the Île-de la-Cité, Paris, and all distances in France and, by extension, the world, are to be judged.4

The Paris bishop Maurice de Sully (1120-1196). The visionary bishop and his chapter of cathedral canons started the building of Notre Dame de Paris in 1163. Most of the Gothic structure was completed in 1250.

Episodes from the life of a bishop, c.1500, oil on panel, 61.5 x 47 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Though the scene depicted is from about 300 years after the death of Bishop de Sully, the art work captures the grandeur and history of the archbishop at the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

The Gothic cathedral- a quintessentially French Story

The story of the Gothic cathedral, such as Notre Dame de Paris, is essentially a French story.

By the end of the Gothic Movement in the late 14th century, all corners of France -– and points between — possessed a Gothic church that displayed pointed arch, stained glass, and buttresses, some of them magnificently flying.

The style and power of Gothic art reflected not only a new theological thinking in the Renaissance of the 12th century but also an assertion of royal power.5

Notre Dame de Paris viewed from the south side of the Seine. Its flying buttresses support the nave and apse. The oak spire is a later addition (1860). It went up in flames like a torch and crashed full bore into the nave in the April 15, 2019 fire.

The Gothic church called Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Laurent d’Eu is in northeastern France. looking to paris for inspiration, it was constructed between 1186 and 1240.

Its subterranean crypt contains the tomb of Irish St. Laurence O’Toole (1128-1180). The saint’s heart is in Dublin at Christ Church Cathedral.

The main impetus for the building of the new Gothic church was to accommodate pilgrims who came to venerate at O’Toole’s tomb.

French Gothic building project stretched from a Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Laurent d’Eu (1186) in northeastern France to Toulouse Cathedral (13th century) in in France’s Languedoc in the south.

Impact of the Crusades on Notre Dame de Paris

The Gothic age was characterized by international crusades of Western conquest to the Holy Land. The French king, Louis IX, or St. Louis (1214-1270) led its seventh manifestation from 1248 to 1254. Louis died while on its Eighth.

In the Holy Land the French king purchased relics to bring back to France, including the highly prized Crown of Thorns reputedly worn by Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. Relics were an investment that could pay off by generating pilgrimages.

In the April 2019 fire, scores of ordinary people and cathedral personnel formed a human chain to save the cathedral’s artifacts, most irreplaceable, and prevent their consumed in the hellish blaze.

Louis IX (St. Louis) with his counselors and Blanche de Castile (1188-1252), Louis’s mother, in a miniature of the 15th century.

King Louis IX, or St. Louis (1214-1270) led the Seventh Crusade from 1248 to 1254.

As one of the first cathedrals built, Notre Dame de Paris is of enduring architectural significance. Monday, April 15, 2019 was a tragic day in history as fire broke out in the 850-year old edifice while the world watched.

Thousands of people gathered in the streets of Paris, and transmitted pictures of the dramatic blaze from smartphones and other devices onto the internet and television as a major news event. It caused many to shed tears and ask questions about what is ahead for a beloved symbol of Paris.

Notre Dame de Paris is on fire, April 15, 2019. Countless pictures were taken and transmitted instantaneously around the world on the internet.

Extent of the fire damage (in red) at Notre Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019.

THE FIRE’S IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH

In the aftermath of the 2019 fire, workers aimed to secure and protect the edifice which will take several months to finalize.

By May 2019, the north tower was stabilized and secured while the transept’s beams were declared in good condition.

Although the interior was not damaged, the structural integrity of the high vaults that protected it remains uncertain and requires further close study. The cathedral is undergoing a major effort to remove fire debris including the oak spire (or flèche) dating from 1860 as well as the arch that burned and crashed into the nave.

Cataloguing debris and predicting the building’s future

To the highest degree possible, each bit of fallen debris will be deciphered, cataloged and saved for potential reuse in a restoration. One month after the fire, it was declared premature to know if the building is completely stable or if it might further collapse.

Working on the cathedral in the 21st century are virtually the same type of skilled laborers who built it in the first place in the 12th and 13th centuries – namely, masons, stonecutters, carpenters, roofers, iron workers, and master glassmakers.6

The work associated with the Notre Dame de Paris in the aftermath of the 2019 fire promises to concentrate centuries of history into one location looking to sustain its continued thriving existence for future generations.

NOTES:

1. “Vows to Restore Notre Dame Following a Harrowing Rescue,” by Sam Schechner and Stacy Meichtry, The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2019; see Gospel of John, Chapter 12.

2. “Some say the $1 billion donated to the Paris cathedral should’ve been directed elsewhere,” by Sigal Samuel, Vox, April 20, 2019 – https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/4/20/18507964/notre-dame-cathedral-fire-charity-donations- retrieved May 21, 2019.

3. Gimpel, Jean, The Cathedral Builders, Grove Press, Inc., New York and Evergreen Books, Ltd., London, 1961, pp. 171-72.

4. see “Paris Point Zero” – https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/paris-point-zero – retrieved May 21, 2019.

5. Duby, Georges, The Age of the Cathedrals: Art and Society, 980-1420, translated by Eleanor Levieux and Barbara Thompson, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1981, p.97.

6. “Notre-Dame de Paris: Very serious damage that can be repaired,” Élodie Maurot, La Croix International, May 14, 2019 – https://international.la-croix.com/news/notre-dame-de-paris-very-serious-damage-that-can-be-repaired/10094 – retrieved May 20, 2019.

Robert F. Kennedy’s Politics of Inclusion: Fifty Years Later.

RFK.

By John P. Walsh

It was fifty years ago today (June 8, 1968) that Senator Robert F. Kennedy had his funeral in Manhattan and a train procession to Washington D.C., for his burial after being shot on June 5, 1968 after winning the California Democratic primary for president of the United States. His assassination, funeral, and the long train ride to Arlington National Cemetery are seared into the national memory as well as my own who heard and watched on radio and television all these historic events unfold as a child. It is a memorable series of life-changing happenings for the nation, similar to when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and his long funeral train procession from Washington, D.C. to Illinois took place in 1865. Before Lincoln’s funeral train went on to its final destination of Springfield, Illinois, the president’s body lay in state in Chicago. There, as it experienced in its other stops across several states, throngs greeted the Civil War president and, as History would have it, my great-grandfather who was in the Union army at that time served as one of Lincoln’s honor guards.

RFK Mississippi Delta April 1967

On June 8, 1968, brides and bridesmaids tossed their wedding bouquets at RFK’s funeral train when it passed in order to make their final good-byes. Though weddings and funerals are very different, they have similarities for being one of humanity’s great milestones, a significant rite of passage, where what was or has been, has died and what lies ahead is mysterious. It is recorded that one of RFK’s favorite songs was Where have all the flowers gone?, the modern folk song written by Pete Seeger which became a big hit, a number one musical sensation, in 1962, when RFK was Attorney General of the United States. The song is its own meditation on life’s transience – with its carriage of universal mortality – and whose lyrics, which Bobby Kennedy’s intuition understood perhaps more than he knew – grew more and more prophetic as the 1960’s moved forward.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Taken husbands every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago…

In the JFK Library in Boston, there’s a multi-page document which is RFK’s campaign schedule for president from June 7 to June 17, 1968. Typed and single-spaced for over 11 pages, it became immediately moribund as the candidate who in just the last 10 weeks had won four out of five state primaries he entered – both in the Midwest (Indiana, Nebraska, and South Dakota) and the West (California) – had his unexpected and premature rendezvous with death.

kennedy campiagn itinerary
Ted Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy at Bobby Kennedy's funeral

On June 7, 1968, Senator Kennedy of New York was not to be lying in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan but on a 6 a.m. flight from L.A. to St. Louis for a luncheon with convention delegates. He then was to fly to New York State for a flurry of campaign appearances starting at Niagara Falls which would literally take him working into the early hours of the next day. On June 8, 1968, RFK was not to be funeralized with a train procession to follow for burial at Arlington, but making campaign appearances all over New York State from dawn to dusk. On June 9 he was not to lay silent on a hill below Custis House, not far from his brother, the slain 35th President of the United States, but…

RFK funeral train Paul Fusco
RFK funeral train photograph Paul Fusco

Perhaps RFK’s legacy for Democrats in 2018 and beyond is not that, as many insist, the New Deal Democratic coalition died along those rails on June 8, 1968 – fifty years ago today – but that it continues inherently with every progress and advancement made in society and, importantly, from and for all sides of American life. RFK’s brand of American politics for the Democratic Party is one that looks to include more of a wide array of political viewpoints than one would easily imagine possible or manageable. On June 8, 1968, Cecil Smith, of Charleston, South Carolina, was quoted in The Washington Evening Star as calling Kennedy “a wonderful man — a man of everybody.” Kennedy would never stop trying to govern from a grassroots political perspective which is creative and critical of extremes or mere pragmatism on behalf of the noble pursuit to be elected to high office so to effectively lead a diverse and great nation into a better future for all.

RFK funeral train photograph Paul Fusco

In today’s moribund politics of division, RFK’s ideals for America were no less difficult to achieve in 1968 than in 2018 – or beyond. After RFK was killed, an already-polarized presidential election of 1968 led to a predominance over the next fifty years of a strong brand of partisan politics. Kennedy’s more inclusive approach turned up historically truncated and, with decades of often mean-spirited political partisanship, even chafed at as exotic or, at least, futile. Yet that Kennedy brand of Democratic politics would never accept such defeatism then or now.

robert kennedy 6/5/68

RFK’s last words to the American people moments before he was shot speaks volumes to his governing approach or methodology for the future and which absolutely requires the many hands and votes of the American people to accomplish, whether it is 1968 or 2018. RFK said: “What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis. What has been going on in the United States for the last three years – the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society – the division, whether it’s between blacks and whites, the poor and the more affluent, or between different age groups or the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together, that we are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running over the next few months… The country wants to move in a different direction. We want to deal with our own problems in our own country and we want peace in Vietnam…The fact is all of us are involved in this great effort – and it’s a great effort not on behalf of the Democratic Party – it’s a great effort on behalf of the United States – on behalf of our own people- on behalf of mankind all around the globe and the next generation of Americans… What we are going to do in the rural areas of our country? What we are going to do for those who still suffer in the United States from hunger? What we are going to do around the rest of the globe? And whether we are going to continue the policies that have been so unsuccessful, in Vietnam of American troops and American marines carrying the major burden of that conflict I do not want to and I think we should move in a different direction. So I thank all of you who made this possible this evening, all of the effort that you have made, and all of the people whose names I haven’t mentioned but did all of the work…So I thank all of you…And now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there…”

kennedys
RFK funeral train photograph Paul Fusco
RFK

What has been going on in the United States for the last three years – the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society – the division, whether it’s between blacks and whites, the poor and the more affluent, or between different age groups or the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together, that we are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968), remarks, June 5, 1968, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, California, following victories in the California and South Dakota Democratic presidential primaries.

Visitors at RFK’s gravesite, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, June 2001. Photograph by author.

Ray Kroc’s very first McDonald’s franchise restaurant started in 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois, is slated to meet the wrecking ball.

First McDonald's franchise restaurant, 1955, May 2018.

McDonald’s very first franchise restaurant on its original site, 1955 (replica, 1985). It is slated to be razed by McDonald’s Corporation immediately. Photograph by author, May 6, 2018.

By John P. Walsh

A closed-down weather-beaten replica of the very first McDonald’s franchise restaurant started by Ray Kroc (1902-1984) on April 15, 1955 standing on its original site in Des Plaines, Illinois, is slated to be demolished by McDonald’s Corporation with its land donated or possibly sold.

It was not long ago that McDonald’s touted that approximately one in every eight American workers had been employed by the company (Source: McDonald’s estimate in 1996) and that even today McDonald’s hires around 1 million workers in the U.S. every year. By 1961 there were 230 McDonald’s franchises in the United States. In 2017 there was 37, 241 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide. Not only historians and historic preservationists decry the imminent demolition of the first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, just west of Chicago, but others impressed by its direct significance to the growth and impact to U.S. labor history as well as the American restaurant industry and American automotive culture in the post-World War II era. Further, McDonald’s restaurants today reach into 121 other countries around the world influencing and being influenced by global cuisine. That all of this cultural and business import was born on a now-threatened patch of land on Lee Street in Des Plaines, Illinois, is impressive.

It appears that if and when McDonald’s follows through on its November 2017 decision to raze the building and give up the site, this originally-designed McDonald’s restaurant on Ray Kroc’s original site in Des Plaines will be forever lost. The story of how that planned demolition of this unique piece of Americana came to be began 35 years ago. It was on March 3, 1984 that after 29 years of continual operation the original franchise restaurant on the original site was permanently closed and demolished. Founder and former McDonald’s Corporation chairman Ray Kroc had died less than six weeks before in January 1984 at 81 years old in San Diego, California.

The McDonald’s restaurant brand opened its first burger bar called McDonald’s Bar-B-Q in California in 1940 – and, by 1953, brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald started a small franchise business in Phoenix, Arizona and Downey, California. Today’s nationwide and global franchise empire that serves 75 burgers every second (Source: McDonald’s Operations and Training Manual) began when Oak Park, Illinois-born Ray Kroc, a paper-cup-turned-milkshake-machine salesman, convinced the McDonald brothers to let him franchise their business nationwide. Kroc offered to manage the franchises in the U.S., excepting the brothers’ first franchises in Arizona and California, and the pair were to receive a tiny percentage of gross sales nationwide in return.

Kroc’s first walk-up franchise McDonald’s restaurant at the “Five Corners” intersection in Des Plaines, Illinois, served an assembly-line format menu of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, french fries and a selection of drinks. In 1955, he founded McDonald’s System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald’s Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name and operating system. By 1961, Ray Kroc’s vision had clearly paid off for the now 59-year-old former paper cup salesman. That same year, Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million and launched his strict training program, later called “Hamburger University, ” in nearby Elk Grove Village, Illinois, at another of his 230 new McDonald’s restaurants. Ray Kroc’s original vision was that there should be 1,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States. When Kroc died in January 1984, his goal had been exceeded six fold — there were 6,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. and internationally in 1980.

The Des Plaines suburban location of Ray Kroc’s very first McDonald’s franchise retains its relatively humble setting even as the McDonald’s Corporation it spawned earns $27 billion in annual sales making it the 90th-largest economy in the world (Source: SEC). Kroc, the milkshake machine salesman who convinced the McDonald brothers to let him franchise their fast-food operation nationwide, saw his original McDonald’s franchise at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines open for business until, shortly after his death, it closed on Saturday, March 3, 1984.

47-ray-kroc-quotes

Ray Kroc (1902-1984) photographed with an artist’s rendering of his highly successful McDonald’s franchise restaurant. The franchise started in Des Plaines, Illinois, in April 1955 and has had a significant impact on U.S. labor history and the American restaurant industry and automotive culture in the post-World war II era. 

In 1984 there were no plans to preserve the site – its golden arches and road sign had been carted away –  but a public outcry prompted McDonald’s in 1985 to return the restaurant’s restored original sign designed by Andrew Bork and Joe Sicuro of Laco Signs of Libertyville, Illinois, and dedicate a restaurant replica that still exists today on the original site though it is now slated for demolition. The historic red neon-lettered sign turned on for the opening of Kroc’s first store on April 15, 1955 – there is one similar to it preserved in The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan dating from 1960 – proclaimed “McDonald’s Hamburgers” and “We Have Sold Over 1 Million” and, intersecting with an iconic golden arch displayed a neon-animated “Speedee” chef, the fast food chain’s original mascot. (The clown figure of Ronald McDonald first appeared in 1963).

Newspaper advertisement

Newspaper advertisement announcing the opening of Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. It featured the franchise’s first mascot, Speedee, who was significant to the assembly-line format menu and prevailing automobile culture.

Ray Kroc_s first McDonald_s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois April 15, 1955.

Historic photograph of Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, on opening day, April 15, 1955.

McDonald's first franchise Des Plaines IL.

The replica of McDonald’s first franchise restaurant is missing its golden arches, “McDonald’s” sign over the entrance and its original 1955 Speedee neon lettered sign. They were dismantled and removed in January 2018 by McDonald’s to an undisclosed location out of public view. Photo by author, May 6, 2018.

The day after the original restaurant closed –  Sunday, March 4, 1984 – a McDonald’s restaurant franchise moved across the street into a state-of-the-art new building on a site that once accommodated a Howard Johnson’s and, after that, a Ground Round. The full-service McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois, today continues to operate out of that 1984 building. It may confuse the visitor which exactly is the original site of the first McDonald’s as the newer 1984 building not on the first site displays inside a high-relief metal sign that reads: “The national chain of McDonald’s was born on this spot with the opening of this restaurant.” Though undated, it is signed by Ray Kroc which points to it being brought over from the original restaurant when it was closed. At the replica restaurant on the original site two metal plaques (dated April 15, 1985) properly proclaim: “Ray A. Kroc, founder of McDonald’s Corporation, opened his first McDonald’s franchise (the ninth McDonald’s drive-in in the U.S.) on this site, April 15, 1955.”

A few months after the first franchise restaurant was closed and demolished in 1984, the parcel of land on which it sat – it had only always been leased since 1955 – was purchased by McDonald’s at the same time they announced plans for the replica landmark restaurant.

The original architectural plans by architect Robert Stauber from the mid1950’s were lost, so 1980’s planners applied architectural drawings of McDonald’s restaurants built in the late 1950’s for the replica. Its kitchen included refurbished equipment brought out of storage, including the restaurant’s original six-foot grill. It also displayed one of Ray Kroc’s original multimixers like the ones he sold to Maurice and Richard McDonald that started a fast-food partnership in the 1950’s which by the mid-1960’s inspired many well-known copy cats of McDonald’s model, including Burger King, Burger Chef, Arbys, KFC, and Hardee’s.

Soda_fountain_Multimixer_5-head_malt machine_mfgd_by Sterling_Multiproducts (1)

Soda fountain multimixer.

The original restaurant had been remodeled several times during its almost 30 years of operation but never had much in the way of indoor seating or a drive-through. It did feature a basement and furnace built for Chicago’s four seasons and was used by the replica museum to exhibit items. The McDonald’s Museum was open for tours until September 2008 when the site experienced record-setting flooding from the nearby Des Plaines River. In April 2013 another record flood in Des Plaines submerged the McDonald’s Museum and produced serious speculation that the site would be moved or permanently closed.

Aerial 2013 Des Plaines

An aerial view during the April 2013 Des Plaines River flood shows the partially submerged replica first McDonald’s franchise restaurant (at right) with its original Speedee neon sign. Thesign was first lit on April 15, 1955, a Friday Night. Photo: Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2013.

In mid-July 2017, only four years since the last significant flood, the area experienced its worst flooding on record. In November 2017 McDonald’s announced it would raze the replica restaurant structure and by May 2018 the site had had its utilities disconnected and its golden arches, Speedee sign, and main entrance McDonald’s sign dismantled and removed. These historically valuable items were taken by McDonald’s out of public view to an undisclosed location. Once again, and this time more seriously it appears, the prospect of pleas by Des Plaines municipal authorities, historic preservationists, social media and others for McDonald’s Corporation to preserve the site intact is murky at best.

first night Des Plaines

Historic photograph from 1955 of the original Des Plaines McDonald’s restaurant which was demolished in 1984. A replica restaurant was built in 1985 based on architectural plans of later McDonald’s restaurants. That replica on the historic site is awaiting immediate demolition announced by McDonald’s in late 2017.  

Notes:

number of franchises in U.S. 1961 – http://sterlingmulti.com/multimixer_history.html# – retrieved May 8, 2018

number of restaurants 2017- https://www.statista.com/statistics/219454/mcdonalds-restaurants-worldwide/ -retrieved May 8, 2018.

121 countries – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_McDonald%27s_restaurants – retrieved May 8, 2018.

McDonald’s System, Inc; McDonald brothers for $2.7 million; Hamburger University; Kroc’s 1,000 restaurant vision – https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-us/our-history.html – retrieved May 8, 2018.

6,000 McDonald’s restaurants by 1980- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_McDonald%27s#1980s – retrieved May 8, 2018

original architectural plans lost – http://www.dailyherald.com/news/20171120/mcdonalds-plans-to-tear-down-des-plaines-replica-retrieved May 6, 2018.

2008 Des Plaines River flood- http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-18/news/chi-des-plaines-roads-flooded-after-storm-20130418_1_des-plaines-river-big-bend-lake-water-levels- retrieved May 8, 2018.

2013 Des Plaines River flood – https://patch.com/illinois/desplaines/bp–des-plaines-river-flood-information-03bfa82b– retrieved May 8, 2018.

2017 Des Plaines River flood

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Prison Meditations of German Pastor and Nazi Resister Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907-1945), executed by the Nazis in Berlin’s notorious Tegel Prison towards the end of World War II.

Alfred Delp, S.J.
All text by John P. Walsh unless otherwise noted. Color photographs by author are noted.
FSB 12.14.13 DSC_0677

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

During World War II in Germany, Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) was a member of the Kreisauer Kreis (The Kreisau Circle) composed of German men and women from a variety of backgrounds who opposed Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Fr. Delp was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 and, after six months in prison in shackles, the German Catholic priest and Jesuit was sentenced to death for high treason and executed by hanging on Candlemas 1945. Following the Allied victory, Delp’s prison writings were assembled into a posthumous book called Facing Death (German: Im Angesicht des Todes). A highlight of the 37-year-old Delp’s writings are his seasonal sermons and meditations for Advent and Christmas which were written as he languished in a cell “three steps wide” surrounded by Nazi guards. His writings, scrawled on numerous slips of paper and smuggled out before his death, have been compared to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison also written in Tegel prison in Berlin, Germany, during World War II. Father Delp was developing his thoughts and writing about the annual Advent drama at least as early as 1933 so his prison writings became a concluding chapter of a lasting adult interest as he faced his death.

Alfred Delp

German-born Alfred Delp S.J. (15 September 1907 – Berlin, 2 February 1945) wrote his meditations and sermons on Advent and Christmas when he was a political prisoner of the Nazis in Germany in World War II.

From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Figures of Advent,” Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006 (adapted):

“I see this year’s Advent (December 1944 in Berlin’s Tegel Prison) with an intensity and discomposure like never before….Along with these thoughts comes the memory of an angel that a good person gave me for Advent in 1942. It held a banner: ‘Rejoice, for the Lord is near.’ A war bomb destroyed the angel as well as that good person although I often sense that she continues to do angel-services for me. It is the knowledge of the quiet angels of annunciation, who speak their message of blessing into the distress of our world situation and scatter their blessing’s seeds which begin to grow in the middle of the night which informs and encourages us of the truth of a situation. These angels of Advent are not loud angels of public jubilation and fulfillment but, silent and unnoticed, they come into private and shabby rooms and appear before our hearts as they did long ago. Silently they bring the questions of God and proclaim to us the miracles of God, with whom nothing is impossible. Advent is a time of refuge because it has received a message – and so to believe in God’s auspicious seeds that the angels offer an open heart are the first things we must do with our lives. The next is to go through the days as announcing messengers ourselves. We wait in faith for the abundance of the coming harvest – not because we trust the earth or the stars or our own good sense and courage – but only because we have perceived God’s messages and know about His herald angels – and even have ourselves encountered one.”

FSB DSC_0701

SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

Thomas Merton in his introduction to Alfred Delp’s Prison Writings – a modern compilation of a young German Jesuit’s writings in prison in Berlin before he was executed for high treason as a Nazi resister in World War II – states that Delp was condemned because he and others “hoped to build a new Germany on Christian principles.” (p. xxv.) Merton links Delp’s political activity in the Kreisau Circle—an underground group of about twenty-five German dissidents of diverse backgrounds opposed to the Nazi regime—to broader Church doctrine and the western tradition of liberalism in evidence since the Ancient Greeks that “always hoped to attain a more equitable world order by peaceful collaboration among nations.” (ibid.) For Delp, according to Merton, the stark choice before human beings remained the crucial one of global order or global destruction. Father Delp observed that even religious people in his time had fallen into the militaristic government’s syllogistic trap of “conquest first and a new and better world later.” Delp’s concern when making this sort of choice is that “if the person who says it tolerates or helps further conditions which are fatal to mankind…or weakens his or her own spiritual, moral, and religious sense” – then even “the most pious prayer can become a blasphemy.” (ibid.) Delp proposed that any human indifference to honesty and justice originating in passionate conviction vitiates human nature which is left to then express itself in a vicious circle of fear and arrogance. From Delp’s perspective, his active participation in Kreisauer Kreis for which he was executed by the Nazis in February 1945 pointed to the eschatological character of the Advent drama by Delp’s hope in his time for the political and social ruin of Germany which had sunk into bitter darkness and that it would find its way ahead by the light of each person’s burning candle “for honesty and justice.”

FSB 12.23.17 DSC_0290

From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:

“So this Sunday we must again fold our hands and kneel humbly before God in order that his salvation may be active in us and that we may be ready to call upon him and be moved by his presence. The arrogance so typical of modern men and women is deflated here. At the same time, the icy loneliness and helplessness into which we are frozen melts under the divine warmth that fills and blesses us …If we are terrified by a dawning realization of our true condition, that terror is completely calmed by the certain knowledge that God is on the way and actually approaching. Our fate, no matter how much it may be entwined with the inescapable logic of circumstance, is still nothing more than the way to God, the way God has chosen for the ultimate consummation of his purpose, for his permanent ends. Light your candles – such candles as you possess – for they are the appropriate symbol for all that must happen in Advent if we are to live.”

FSB 12.23.17 DSC_0669

THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

On Friday, July 28, 1944, two Gestapo men were waiting outside St. George’s church in Munich, a simple Baroque pile in an almost pastoral setting near the Englischer Garten. Eight days before there had been an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life which failed. For active German dissidents to the Nazi regime in custody and, for the time being, still walking free – things were going to get worse. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (1907 – 1945), one of the leaders of the Kreisau Circle, a type of anti-Nazi salon, had been in prison since January 1944. Now, following the failed bombing at the Wolf’s Lair, the other leader of the Kreisau Circle, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg (1904 –1944), was arrested immediately, sent to Berlin and tried and executed on August 8, 1944.

St. Georg München-Bogenhausen

Interior, St. Georg München-Bogenhausen.

Interior, St. Georg München-Bogenhausen. Parish church of German resister and martyr Alfred Delp, S.J. who was serving as its pastor in World War II.

One of the two Gestapo men waiting outside St. George’s to arrest Father Alfred Delp, S.J. happened to be an old schoolmate of his. Like other Catholic bishops and priests who were de facto dissenters working against the Nazi regime, especially its social and racial ideologies and practices, Delp too had long been under close surveillance by the Gestapo. As a member of the Kreisau Circle – a group of professionals of varying religious, social, and political backgrounds but all of them dyed-in-the-wool anti-Nazis – Delp was their social scientist with a Ph.D. who illumined their minds to cutting-edge labor issues including the German worker’s role after the war in a post-Nazi Germany.

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke (March 11, 1907 – January 23, 1945). Count Moltke had close sympathies with the democratic forces of the day and expressed open criticism as he watched the rise of Hitler. In 1933 he refused to accept Nazi appointments. After the outbreak of World War II, as an expert adviser on international law and the laws of war he served as war administration councilor in the Office for Foreign Affairs/Counterintelligence in the Armed Forces High Command in Berlin. He was particularly active in advocating for humane treatment of prisoners of war and observance of international law. In 1940 Moltke with Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg became the leading figures in a group that emerged as the Kreisau Circle with its discussions held in Berlin and Kreisau. Moltke, formulating memoranda on the establishment of a new political order in Germany, systematically extended his contacts to Protestant and Catholic church leaders and to leaders of the social democratic political opposition. Moltke was arrested on January 19, 1944 after he had warned members of the Solf Circle that they were under Gestapo surveillance. His involvement in the plans for a coup against Hitler was not exposed until after the failure of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was sentenced to death by the People’s Court on January 11, 1945 and executed on January 23, 1945 in Berlin-Plötzensee.  http://www.gdw-berlin.de/home/

Once under arrest, Delp disappeared into Nazi prisons in Munich and Berlin for almost three weeks. None of his friends could find him. At Lehrterstrasse, a Gestapo prison in Berlin that specifically dealt with German resisters, the doctor-priest was regularly beaten. Delp was charged by the National Socialists with a half dozen crimes—being in Kriesau Circle; holding resistance meetings; knowing von Moltke and other anti-Nazis; knowing Claus von Stauffenberg who placed the bomb on July 20, 1944 to assassinate Hitler; knowing in advance of the assassination plot; and, displaying a general attitude of anti-Nazism. The charge of knowing about the assassination plot before it happened greatly concerned Delp. He categorically denied it and, consequently, worked vigorously through his lawyer to disprove it.

On August 15, 1944, having moved to Tegel Prison in Berlin on August 8, Delp’s whereabouts were finally discovered by Marianne Hapig (1894-1973), a social worker and indefatigable friend to German resistance. Delp found another significant friend at Tegel—Harald Poelchau (1907-1972) the prison’s Lutheran chaplain since 1933. With the agency of chaplain Poelchau, Catholic Father Delp had wafers and wine to say mass and messages could be smuggled in and out by way of the laundry. It was through such a clandestine route that Father Delp made his final vows as a Jesuit on December 8, 1944. In front of a visiting witness, Fr. Delp pronounced the vow formula and, later apologizing for the emotion, sank into a prison chair and wept.

Marianne Hapig.

Marianne Hapig (March 5, 1894 – March 23, 1973) discovered Father Delp’s presence at Tegel prison in Berlin after his disappearance following his arrest in Munich three weeks earlier. A career social worker and anti-Nazi Marianne Hapig and her lifelong jurist friend Marianne Pünder managed to smuggle Alfred Delp’s prison writings out of Tegel prison where soon after the war they were published.

HARALD POELCHAU.

Harald Poelchau (October 5, 1903 – April 29, 1972). He gained his doctorate in 1931 under Paul Tillich, the leading representative of Religious Socialism. At the end of 1932, Poelchau applied for a prison chaplain’s post in Berlin and became the first cleric to be employed by the National Socialist regime in a penal institution. As an official in the Justice Department he rapidly became an important source of support for the victims of National Socialist violence, and gave spiritual comfort to hundreds of people sentenced to death as they faced execution. From 1941 onwards he was a member of the circle around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke and attended the first major Kreisau Conference. After the failed coup attempt of July 20, 1944 Poelchau was able to pass on last messages and farewell letters to the relatives of many of those sentenced to death. Harald Poelchau managed to avoid being investigated by the Gestapo and survived the war.

Many of Delp’s Advent writings come from these months in prison, smuggled out by Marianne Hapig and her lifelong friend Marianne Pünder. For more than a decade, Delp had written extensively on the Christian season of expectant waiting for the coming of Christmas. During these months in prison, his hands almost always in chains, Delp had identified with a specific artwork as he wrote his Advent thoughts onto endless slips of paper. It was a sixteenth century German wood sculpture of St. Sebastian known as Die gefesselten Hände (English:“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531).

Tilman Riemenschneider

detail Tilman Riemenschneider bound hands

Die gefesselten Hände (“Bound Hands”) by Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531). In his months in prison, Delp’s hands almost always in chains, the Catholic priest and Nazi resister identified with this specific artwork as he wrote down his thoughts.

At his two-day trial in January 1945, rabid Nazi judge Roland Freisler was interested in one charge against Delp – his association with von Moltke. The leader of Kreisauer Kreis would be soon on death row and executed on January 23, 1945. Friesler’s reign of terror already included five thousand death sentences as president of the People’s Court since 1942. It did not help that Delp was a Catholic priest and Jesuit. So with Hitler, Friesler was maniacally anticlerical. Although many Nazis grew up as Catholics, in adulthood such notorious men as Hitler, Josef Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, and others, held Christianity in utter and complete contempt. (Ian Kershaw; Hitler: a Biography; pp. 381–82). Once in power, Hitler believed that Christianity signified “the systematic cultivation of the human failure” and that its religious organization and central beliefs had to be marginalized and eventually purged from a heroic German worldview (Alan Bullock; Hitler: a Study in Tyranny; p. 218). When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, the Superior-General of the Jesuits was just then a Pole, Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J. (1866 –1942). Ledóchowski who was in charge of neutral Vatican Radio made international broadcasts about Nazi wartime atrocities in many languages.

Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J.

Wlodimir Ledóchowski, S.J. (1866 –1942) had been the Polish Superior-General of the Jesuits since 1915 when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, setting off World War II. A renowned institutional builder, Ledóchowski established several notable institutes and colleges in Rome. In January 1940, Vatican Radio controlled by the Jesuits and with Pope Pius XII’s authorization broadcast the details of the Polish wartime situation. When the German ambassador protested the German language broadcasts, the Pope honored the request.  But Vatican Radio broadcasts in other languages of the Poland situation continued and in even more explicit detail. The British press at the time hailed Vatican Radio as “tortured Poland’s powerful advocate.” (Peter Hebblethwaite; Paul VI The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, 1993, p. 140.)

That Father Delp remained a Jesuit—even after he was offered a plea deal by the Nazis to walk free of all charges if he renounced his religious faith—undoubtedly deserved the death penalty in Freisler’s court. After the death sentence was pronounced on January 11, 1945, the typical procedure of immediate execution was delayed. During this time, the bombing by British and Americans intensified. Delp desperately hoped that the Allies would arrive in time to set political prisoners like him free. But, finally, on February 2, 1945, at Berlin-Plötzensee Alfred Delp was taken from his holding pen by the Nazi executioner and executed by hanging. The next day, February 3, 1945, Roland Freisler presiding in his People’s Court, was killed by collateral damage in an Allied bombing attack.

Original Painting of Jesus by Thérèse of Lisieux.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (French, 1873-1897) traced and painted this image of the Holy Face of Jesus and tacked it to wool for hanging as a gift to her sister Céline who was at home at Les Buissonnets taking care of their widower father who was suffering from illness. The National Shrine of St. Thérèse in Darien, Illinois. A similar sort of facial expression may be expected to be found on Father Delp for his condemnation and execution by the Nazis on February 2, 1945 for “hop[ing] to build a new Germany on Christian principles.”

From Alfred Delp, S.J., “Meditation for the Third Sunday of Advent Written in Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944” (adapted), Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006:

“Mankind is challenged again to stand and deliver. Only man does not merely exchange one set of chains for another – God’s calls are always creative. They increase the very reality within us that is called upon – precisely because of their realness and authenticity…Freedom is the breath of life. We sit in musty bomb cellars and cramped prisons and groan under the bursting and destructive blows of fate. We should finally stop giving everything a false glamour and unrealistic value and begin to bear it for what it is – unredeemed life. As soon as we do this, the jangling of chains and the trembling of nerves and the faintness of heart transform themselves into a small prayer – “Drop down, dew…” We should much more definitively unite our concrete destiny with those kind of connections and call upon God’s redeeming freedom. Then the narrowness widens, our lungs breathe in fresh air again, and the horizon has promises again. Existence still weeps and mourns, but already a soft, joyous melody of longing and knowledge is ringing through the mourners’ broken voices. With this knowledge and attitude humanity releases itself from the lonely relationship to things and circumstances. A person finds wholesomeness and healing – not the goal-oriented, cool distance of calculation, mechanization, and organization. It is rather that higher level of freedom, the perspective given to someone looking from the heights to what lies below. The voice of such a person is not so quickly silenced!”

“The conditions for true joy have nothing to do with conditions of our exterior life but consist of humanity’s interior frame of mind and competence, which make it possible now and again for the person to sense, even in adverse circumstances, what life is really about…And the first answer is found in the figure of John the Baptist who personifies Advent. Humanity must be brought to an absolute clarity about himself and honestly before himself and others. He must come down from all the pedestals of arrogance onto which he always climbs…From the high-horses of vanity and self-deception that, for a time, let themselves be trotted out so proudly. Those horses though finally throw off their “master” in the wilderness…Two criteria identify whether we are following an authentic impulse or not…Both are found once again in John the Baptist. The first is service – human honesty requires a person to see himself as a servant and perceive his reality as mission and an assignment…The second criterion keeps us on track- annunciation, which calls us to praise of God. An extended personal effort is required to keep giving oneself the impulse to rise above, move away from self. But at the same time this is how a human being attains the necessary openness in which he or she must continue if sincerely wanting to strive toward the great realities God has prepared for him or her.”

Advent Nativity
Advent Nativity.

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT.

Merton makes clear about Father Delp that his writings on Advent are usually a simple presentation of the traditional Christian faith with no special originality to his images. (p. xxxv, Prison Writings). It is Delp’s application of those facts based in his personal experience – that is, as an active dissident and prisoner of a Germany in ruins during World War II – that infuses a sometimes hackneyed outcome to Advent of its original hope. In Fr. Delp’s world, if humanity is fully alert to the desperation and bitterness of the times, Advent’s basic image of God-made-man becomes opportune, favorable, for humanity’s future although not holding any foregone conclusions or sudden outcomes.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19.

Thomas Merton views Father Delp’s Advent meditations in Pauline terms, although Delp himself found St. Paul had a ‘tendency to over-emphasize.’ (p. 55, ibid.). Humanity hopes in God’s close alliance so to win back or have restored a future that is not any longer in ruins and in which humanity – and even life itself – is absurdly helpless to fix.

From Alfred Delp S.J., Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004:

“God in the Christmas encounter is still the challenging God. The greatest misconceptions all center round the typical Christmas picture of God.  Humanity becomes so wrapped up in appearance that the breathtaking reality of the birth of God as a human child scarcely enters our mind and the soul doesn’t grasp its significance….Of course the externals, the sweet sentimental pictures, carols, cribs and so on, are a comfort….but there is a great deal more to the nativity than that. The truth of it is too tremendous to be appreciated unless one concentrates on it fully. Since the birth of God, humanity has been confirmed in the hope that when we turn to God’s throne for favor that God is on our side. This does not mean that God has dethroned Himself any more than it means that human life has become a primrose path in the wake of that stupendous event. We need to look critically at the tendency to sentimentalize the divine attributes by personifying them in an innocent child or over-beautifying the adult Jesus. The glamorizing of the nativity story – the making the whole tone of Christ’s life equal to a Baroque sermon full of ominous warnings and grave moralizing –  has contributed quite a lot to the West’s being paralyzed in the face of those conditions that hinder us and keep us trapped. God became man but nevertheless is God, master of all creation. Human beings must approach the God-made-man with reverence and adoration – disenthralling themselves in order to find themselves. It is the only way.”

Nativity window.
Nativity stained glass window (detail), Sts. Peter & Paul, Naperville, IL.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bullock, Alan, Hitler: a Study in Tyranny, Completely Revised Edition, Harper & Row, New York, 1964.

Delp, S.J., Alfred, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2006.

Delp, S.J., Alfred, Prison Writings, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2004.

Hebblethwaite, Peter, Paul VI The First Modern Pope, Paulist Press, New York, 1993.

Kershaw, Ian, Hitler: a Biography, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

Kidder, Annemarie S., Ultimate Price Testimonies of Christians who Resisted the Third Reich, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2012.

Royal, Robert, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century A Comprehensive World History, Crossroad, New York, 2000.