no. 3 july - september 2005
We should recall a very special celebration of Carmel took place on July 16, 1942, more that 60 years ago. The world was at war, a conflict of never before seen dimensions and employing horrible means of destruction, including mass persecutions and the genocide of entire populations. In January 1942, the Nazi leaders met at Wannsee – an upper class suburb of Berlin — and decided to exterminate the European Jews. At the beginning of July, Sebastopol, a city in the Ukraine, fell into German hands. Terror seemed to have taken possession of the earth and especially the old continent.
On that 16th day of July in 1942, the mass deportation of the French Jews who were being held in the infamous Vel d’Hiv (the winter velodrome in Paris) began. Devastated, fearful, and humiliated, attempting to survive in an unbearable heat, 13,000 Jews awaited their "final solution" (using the Third Reich’s expression for the "Jewish problem"). It was recorded that some of the workers of the Citroen car factory threw their sandwiches to those captive inside. Even in the most horrendous human depravation there were gestures of fraternal solidarity. From there everyone was put on the "death trains" and deported to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe. In the camps, most would lose their lives.
It was on that same July 16 that the Dutch Carmelite, Fr. Titus Brandsma, found himself prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp. He had arrived at the camp in southern German six months before. His crime was his opposition to the Nazi occupation government in Holland. That puppet government forced all the newspapers, including the Catholic ones, to publish Nazi slogans (most of it racist and anti-Semitic). Fr. Titus was the ecclesial assistant to the Catholic journalists, the representative of the Dutch Church hierarchy to the newspapers. Cardinal De Jong and, in a general way, the Dutch bishops, publicly showed themselves to be against the occupation government and the politics of the Nazis. Consequently the Catholic press did not publish the government information. However, it fell to Fr. Titus, the rather frail Carmelite who loved his books, to deal with the Catholic publishers who were under incredible pressure to publish the Nazi messages.
As a teacher, Fr. Titus had already come strongly out against the proclamations of the occupation government which had tried to cancel religion from the schools. Limits were put on the salaries of religious who taught in the schools or they were forbidden from holding certain positions, etc. Brandsma also fought against the expulsion of children of Jewish origin from the Catholic schools. He consistently refused to follow these regulations and in the two Carmelite school in Oss and Oldenzaal (which he himself had founded) the Jewish children continued to attend until the time of the massive deportation in January 1942.
Known as an intellectual as well as a university professor, Titus Brandsma considered this Nazi ideology as a type of "neopaganism." He understood it to foster a concept of human beings totally opposed to that which Christianity taught, one that irreversibly reduced people to a dehumanized state, leading to an inevitable war. He worked with various professors and Dutch intellectuals to produce a protest entitled "Voices of Holland Against the Treatment of the Jews in Germany," that harshly criticized central points of the Nazi philosophy.
All of this resulted in Brandsma’s incarceration in January 1942. After being held in various prisons and camps, in early July, he ended up at Dachau, which had been established in 1933, the first extermination camp of the Nazis. Here he found some of the Polish Carmelites who had also been arrested. Their crime was that they preached in their own language. This too had been prohibited by Poland’s occupation government following the Nazi invasion. Other Polish Carmelites had died on their way to Dachau.
Among those Brandsma found in Dachau were Fr. Albert Urbanski, who actually survived Dachau and later became provincial of the Polish Carmelites. He would write one of the first books about the experience of Dachau, a personal testimony which curiously would be prohibited by the communist authorities in Poland because it spoke of the Church and of liberty. Also interned in Dachau was the prior of the Carmelite monastery in Krakow, Fr. Hilarius Januszewski. This young Carmelite had studied at the International College of Sant’ Alberto in Rome, as had Fr. Titus. He was the superior of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Sand in the center of Krakow when he was arrested by the Nazis. When they came to take away the Carmelite who had broken the Nazi law by preaching in Polish, Fr. Hilarius, because he was the community superior, presented himself as the one responsible for the infraction.
Everyone was living in that horrendous camp in enormous barracks surrounded by death and violence. On July 16, Fr. Titus, in violation of the strict rules of the camp, before reveille was sounded, approached and effusively greeted the Polish Carmelites. As the life in the camp was exactly the same every day, this was a special day for those prisoners, the day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. How many memories and emotions went through the minds and hearts of those men who had given up their religious habit for some dirty, striped pajamas and a pair of clogs. Those men, humiliated, shattered, and reduced to the bare minimal human existence, recalled the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which evoked so many things so distinct from that which they were now living.
Included in the days of the "novena" of Fr. Titus (obstinate, unbending, always hopefilled) was the spiritual preparation of a diocesan priest from Poland – Tadeo Zielinsky – to make profession into the Third Order. The "profession" (reduced by circumstances to a minimum of liturgical expression) took place that day, a celebration of Carmel, even though Titus insisted that the new "terciary" should consider repeating the ceremony with more solemnity and publicly when he was a free man.
Regardless, Fr. Titus would never be free, as 10 days later he died by a lethal injection administered by a young nurse. Many years later, that nurse testified during Brandsma’s beatification process under a false name. He had entrusted his simple rosary, one made of buttons and small pieces of wood to her. He asked only that she pray for the end of the war even though she declared herself to be a non believer.
Almost three years later, Fr. Januszewski also died. Typhus was rampant in the camp. In one of the barracks (which the prisoners called "the coffin") the sick and dying were piling up. A German soldier yelled at the imprisoned priests, reproaching them for talking about love and telling them to go and care for those sick with typhus in order to put their theory into practice. Fr. Januszewski, remaining silent, stood up to volunteer. A Polish priest tried to stop him. It was all a macabre joke by the soldier who never thought anyone would actually go. However, Fr. Januszewski answered "You know that no one comes out of there alive ..." He died a few weeks later as the American forces were nearby and would liberate the camp on April 29, 1945.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1942, they came together in the so-called "priests’ barracks" in Dachau. As good Carmelites, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was celebrated with all the splendor possible, which under the circumstances was very little. Ten days later, on July 26, 1942, Fr. Titus died, the same day a letter from the Dutch bishops was read in all the Catholic churches in the Netherlands. Prepared in secret, the letter protested—among other things — the inhumane treatment of the Jews. As a reprisal for the letter, the religious of Jewish origin (who up to this point had not been included on the list of those to be deported) were detained. Among these were Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, the Discalced Carmelite nun from a Jewish family and follower of the great philosopher Husserl. She died a short time later in Auschwitz, a more horrendous concentration camp if that is possible, in the southern part of Poland.
Three great figures from 20th century Carmel whose lives intersected on this date. Edith Stein was canonized in October 1998 and is today known as Saint Therese Benedict of the Cross. Fr. Titus Brandsma was beatified in November 1983 and Fr. Hilarius Januszewski was beatified, along with other Polish clergy who were prisoners in Dachau, in June 1999.
May these three look upon the entire Carmelite Family from their heavenly places that we may also fittingly celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel one more year.
Fernando Millán Romeral, O. Carm.
Prisoners in the Dachau Concentration Camp assembled to listen to a speech by Adolf Hitler. The camp contained many priest and religious, including members of the Dutch and Polish Carmelite Provinces.
Titus Brandsma (1938)
Arial view of the Dachau Concentration camp.
Carmelite Student recalls his experience of the people’s faith
Iarrived in Catania at the beginning of the 15 days of preparation for the feast. Day after day I saw the crowd grow. Some took charge of and worked on the organizational part and continually touched base with the priests. Everyone worked with great care, lay men and women and above all Third Order members, in order to make this a beautiful celebration of the feast. Others were spiritually preparing themselves to receive the living water of the spiritual and doctrinal content of our spirituality. They received this from through the preaching of the priests, the sacrament of reconciliation, and through spiritual direction. Everyone wanted to be spiritually prepared for the feast of Our Lady.
It should be stressed to any group wanting to start such a 15 day celebration that not just one preacher was involved but that the whole Church of Catania played a part. Twelve parishes, each dedicated to Mary, actively participated in the preparation. It was in this way that each day a different parish community was involved so that it became a true celebration of the Church. This climaxed with the participation of the Archbishop at the 10 AM Eucharist on July 16.
With all the preparation and broad involvement, when July 15th arrived everything was ready. The statue of Our Lady was prepared, beautifully decorated with her scapular, a gorgeous mantle and so many white flowers. With the start of the music from the band and with the songs of First Vespers of the Solemnity, the statue was enthroned in the center of the main altar and the celebration began.
The Archbishop of Catania, presiding at the Eucharist, acknowledged this as an event for the whole Church. If I may be permitted to recall a few of his words, he said, "I came to thank Our Lady of Mount Carmel on the anniversary of my nomination as bishop. Twelve years ago on July 16, I pledged my pastoral ministry to the Most Holy Virgin."
At 7 pm, the procession through the main streets of the city began, accompanied by a incredible crowd of people who walked along side and behind the statue of the Virgin. The church was full for the Mass but had been so crowded the entire day that one could not walk around the church. The piazza outside, even though it is quite large, was also full of people.
How can I explain in words the significance of this celebration that I lived these days and that so many others shared in? It is very difficult to capture in words. Let me just highlight one thing that happened. Towards the end of the procession it was about midnight but it seemed like it was midday. Children with their parents, lots of young people and adults with their eyes fixed on the face of the Madonna with her Child in her arms. Many eyes were filled with tears.
In my way of thinking, this feast was a very beautiful expression of the Church, in addition to being a great moment of prayer. A child of eight came up to me and said "I have already said 63 ‘Hail Mary’s’ and seven ‘Our Fathers’" …. Truly beautiful! Who taught such a beautiful thing to this little one? Who would have asked her to pray? What was the motivation for this act of love? Mary is our mother. The Madonna is near us. It is wonderful to know this.
This great festive spirit cannot leave these people indifferent because in all of this the people entrust themselves to the Mother of God. They want God to become a part of their daily lives so that he might calm their fears, their worries, and give nourishment to their souls, witness to the illusions of their families, and the dreams of the children as they begin their own lives. These people place all their desires and their sorrows before God and the Virgin so the divine might witness to the reality of their lives and fill them with this new life.
There is a certain simplicity of the people, a simplicity of the human heart which prays to the Mother of God as their mother. They ask that Mary, who was a mother herself, will fill their hearts with gentleness and love, that she be the light and constant support in life’s trials, that she be the morning star that brings them into the safe harbor that is Christ, her Son.
Fr. Wilson Castilla Acosta, O. Carm.
This article was written for the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel 2004. On the feast in 2005, Wilson made his solemn profession as a Carmelite.
The letter which the Prior General sent to the enclosed Carmelite nuns on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been published.
Fr. Joseph Chalmers wrote about the meaning of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI for all the members of the Church. He also wrote about the various projects which the Carmelite nuns have underway in various parts of the world. He wrote, "Your prayer and love move beyond the walls of the monastery and, in some mysterious way, touch many people ..."
Copies of the letter were sent to all the Carmelite monasteries around the world. The full text of the letter can be found on the internet at: carmelites.info/nuns