Alexander Frison - 20th Century Martyr
Limbach, M. "Alexander Frison - 20th Century Martyr." Sendbote Des Hl. Antonius, Offizielle Zeitschrift der Franziskaner-Minoriten,
Basilica del Santo, Padu, 110. Jahrgang,
Heft Nr. 1 Januar 2008.
Translation from German to English by Alex
German Text PDF
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This, the final article in a series, memorializes the fates of
many faithful in the former Soviet Union. The little-known life
and death of Bishop Alexander Frison is hereby cited as an example
of the nameless victims of the Stalinist dictatorship.
On June 20, 1937, following months of imprisonment subsequent to
a nine-day show trial in March of 1936, Alexander Frison suffered
a martyr's death in Moscow. The false accusation leveled against
him, namely, of acting as a German spy, was not ever very original.
During the so-called "œcleansing period" of Josef
Stalin this was a common indictment that seemed to require neither
further precision nor any detailed investigation.
The Nameless. Confessions obtained via torture served to the outside
to legitimize sentencing, should those in power even be interested
in justifying themselves. Whether it was a politically motivated
trial or simply a case Stalin's paranoia, the sentence would be
determined from the outset. Suspected political enemies, former
comrades-in-arms such as Trotzki or Bucharin fell victim just as
military people with outstanding service records. At the same time,
it also struck millions of apolitical people who were murdered simply
for their ethnic or religious affiliation. Human stories which the
world was aware of only perhaps numerically. No grand documents
pay witness their personal martyrdom. Having people disappear, keeping
them "nameless" as much as possible - this was and is
part of the methodology of a dictatorial regime. Among the army
of these nameless, Bishop Dr. Alexander Frison tends to take on
at least a minimal outline form, even if not much is known about
him. But it is exactly in this that he is one with all the other,
nearly forgotten martyrs of the past century.
Ominous Developments. Even the biographical data
we have for Frison are not entirely reliable. The
data cited herein are based on the book "Deutsche
Martyrologie" [German Martyrology] by Prelate
Dr. Helmut Moss. What is certain is that Frison was
from South Russia, an area in which Germans had settled
ever since the time of the Tsarina Katherine II. He
was born in May, 1875, in the village of Baden in
the Kutschurgan region near Odessa, a settlement area
of Germans predominantly from Alsace and Baden [Germany].
At the time this region was part of the Tiraspol Diocese.
Following decades of tolerance, Russian nationalist
trends arose toward the end of the 19th Century, tendencies
that made life for these "strangers" increasingly
difficult. In an attempt not to keep the Russian-Orthodox
Church from further hostility, the Vatican had decided
to name Tiraspol the seat of a bishopric, although
(and perhaps because?) there was not a single Catholic
church there. Odessa, and Saratov later, had been
the actual seat of a bishop.
Secret Studies. The increasingly difficult relationship between
Russia and its state church with the Vatican forced Alexander Frison
to live under a false name at the Germanicum in Rome and enrolling
in 1897 as Alexander Frank for his studies at the Gregoriana - studies
that were Russians were not permitted to take part in. In 1902 he
was ordained to the priesthood in his home diocese by Bishop von
der Ropp. Another stay in Rome led to a doctoral degree and several
pastoral engagements in his home region, and finally to a professorship
at the priest seminary in Saratov. He is described as being modest
and diligent, a Volga-German who enjoyed the good will of Vatican
The Fight Against Catholics. The so-called October Revolution changed
the situation in South Russia drastically, including and particularly
for the churches. The Orthodox former state church lost its influence
and was to suffer deeply under the Bolshevists. But the Catholic
Church did not receive any mercy from the new people in power, either.
Had it been assumed at first that the Catholic Church might from
then on be treated better, it soon became clear that it would not
be spared the fate of its sister church. Initial show trials and
death sentences demonstrated that the Communists viewed the catholic
Church as being steered by "anti-Communist agitators"
in the Vatican. Thus they declared war on it, too.
Politicians in the West now had to try to support the endangered
Catholics while attempting at the same time to cooperate somehow
with the new State - a balancing act that failed. In 1926 it was
none other than the Jesuit Herbigny who, as an envoy from the Vatican,
found his way to Russia - officially responsible for famine aid
by the Vatican. This was not a fortunate move, given the Jesuits
had for centuries been viewed with suspicion in Russia. His activities
were therefore observed with the utmost care, and thus it did not
remain a secret that he had quietly ordained Alexander Frison as
bishop. Soon after, Frison was put under house arrest. Additional
arrests, on various grounds, soon followed.
The Arbitrary State. A decree on religion in 1929 had caused the
situation for Catholics to become even more problematic and provided
outstanding opportunities to oppress Christians with the flimsiest
of accusations. For example, Bishop Alexander Frison was accused,
among other matters, to have permitted minors to participate in
religious services when religious instruction of children and youth
was officially forbidden in Russia. In 1935 he was arrested a final
time, and this time he would not be released. The accusation of
espionage was just as arbitrary as all previous accusations and
merely served as a means to get rid of the bishop. In the struggle
by an atheistic State against religious concepts and institutions
Bishop Dr. Alexander Frison died on account of his faith.
Me Within They Wounds: The Persecution of the Catholic Church in
for Christ: A German 20th Century Martyrology: German-Russian Bishops'
Diocesan Priests and Priests from Religious Orders
Frison, Christians under Stalin had to live their faith in
secrecy. Today a memorial stone is to be erected in memory
of the barely known victims of this regime.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex
Herzog for translation of this article.