One Who Shunned Oath to Hitler Is on Possible Path to Beatification

Josef Mayr-Nusser's Choice Shared by His Wife

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BOLZANO, Italy, JAN. 13, 2004 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- The Bolzano-Bressanone Diocese has opened the local phase of the process of beatification of Josef Mayr-Nusser, who was sentenced to die for forgoing an oath of fidelity to Hitler.



Father Josef Innerhofer has been appointed postulator of the cause. For many years, Father Innerhofer was director of the diocesan weekly Katholisches Sonntagsblatt. He is now director of Radio Sacra Famiglia and Radio Grüne Welle. He also is responsible for gathering the material that documents the life of Mayr-Nusser.

The candidate for beatification, whose friends nicknamed him "Pepi," enrolled in the SS unit of the Nazis in 1944. The recruitment contravened international conventions, according to which an occupying power cannot enroll citizens of the occupied state in its own army.

This forced incorporation obliged Josef Mayr-Nusser, 34, to leave his family -- his wife, Hildegard, and son, Albert, born a few months before -- to train for a period in Prussia.

At the end of the training, Mayr-Nusser was to take the following oath: "I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, Führer and chancellor of the Reich, fidelity and valor; I solemnly promise fidelity until death to you and to superiors designated by you; may God help me."

In a Italian State Radio and Television documentary, Franz Treibenreif, comrade and friend of Mayr-Nusser, said that when it came to taking the oath, "Josef was pensive and worried. Unexpectedly, he raised his hand: 'Sir Major-General,' he said with a strong voice, 'I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.'" It was Oct. 4, 1944.

His companions tried to dissuade him, but Mayr-Nusser was sure of what he was doing and that his choice was shared by his wife. "You would not be my wife if you expected something different from me," he wrote to her from prison.

Josef Mayr-Nusser's action had matured in previous years, when with friends of Catholic Action in south Tyrol, he wondered what it meant to be a Christian and tried to interpret the circumstances surrounding him in the light of the Gospel.

The needy were also among his concerns. As president of the St. Vincent's Conference, Mayr-Nusser was constantly visiting the poor and giving them material and spiritual help.

After refusing to take the oath, Mayr-Nusser was imprisoned, transferred to Danzig and prosecuted. Sentenced to death for "defeatism," he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp but never arrived. Sick with dysentery, he was found dead in the train going to the camp on the morning of Feb. 24, 1945. He had a rosary and the Gospel in his hands.

As a German-speaking leader of Catholic Action Youth, Mayr-Nusser had publicly stated and written that Nazism could not be reconciled with the values of Christian ethics.

"Mayr-Nusser is the most exemplary person of the last century in Alto Adige," Father Innerhofer says in the magazine Jesus. "He was a simple father of a family, a man of the people who had the courage to read the inhuman history of the time with the eyes of faith."