Sunday, March 2, 2014

March 2 - Engelmar Unzeitig, Martyr of Brotherly Love, Priest, Angel of Dachau


Engelmar Unzeitig committed an unpardonable sin against the German nation in the estimation of the ruling powers. He had used the pulpit of his congregation to resist and defy the Nazis who had already decided and proclaimed Jews to be the enemy, the problem, and the target for vengeance and victimization. Engelmar defended Jews from the pulpit and urged his congregation to stop believing the corrosive lies the powers were telling. He was a fairly recently ordained priest and as such his allegiance rested firmly with God and the Church before and above any other dominion or power. He could not keep his mouth shut because he felt a calling to speak truth in the face of great deception and confusion. Because of this calling and his carefully chosen words, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Dachau to suffer for his refusal to bow before the powers of this world.

At Dachau he definitely suffered but he tried to see it in different terms than that of a concentration camp.He walked under the banner that proclaimed another of the great Nazi lies: "Work will make you free" but he didn't believe it--he knew well that only the Truth could set him free. Engelmar saw Dachau as a mission field and set about his work of spreading faith and hope in the midst of death and oppression. In many ways, Dachau was spiritually formative for Engelmar and he would later describe it as a school of holiness. The suffering he experienced there as he went about the work of the Kingdom raked away his brokenness and corruption and replaced it with life more abundant. He did this alongside thousands of other ministers--Roman Catholic and Protestant. Dachau has been called the largest of monasteries because of the incredible density of ministers within its walls at the time and it is in this context that Engelmar formed and was formed by ministers from his tradition and those who under other circumstances might have been his opponents in argument. It seems that in Dachau those differences didn't matter any more.

In his fourth year in the camp (1945), there was a vicious outbreak of typhoid fever. The hungry and sickly people only got a little closer to death as it swept through the camp with ferocity and sickening speed. Those who showed symptoms were quarantined in one dilapidated barrack and left to die in their own filth. Volunteers were requested to take care of the sick and dying and the general population was hesitant to volunteer as everybody knew it would almost certainly cost them their lives to provide this comfort. Engelmar and nineteen other priests volunteered and began living among sickness and death in the one dilapidated barrack. Their every waking moment was filled with bathing the sick, saying prayers, offering last rites, and feeding the dying. They offered the sacraments to the sick because it was important to them to continue offering the holy mysteries of the Church to those who approached death's door with alarming suddenness. Finally, Engelmar succumbed to the disease (along with seventeen of the other priests) and died. Though he had been in comparably good health beforehand he sacrificed his life and his comfort to care for those in need at the moment. A few weeks later the camp was liberated and its prisoners released.

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