Christmas 1941 in Ukraine
Müller, Dr. Florian. "Christmas 1941 in Ukraine." April 1991.
Translation from German to English by Alma Herman
Hardly had the German troops been marched into the Soviet Union when the Vatican sent Catholic priests to the Ukraine to tend to the souls of the Catholics. The Holy Chair knew that many Catholic colonies existed whose priests were arrested by the Communist regime and carried off to Siberia.
By instruction of the Holy Chair, Prelate Dr. Markus Glaser and Father Nicholas Pieger came to Odessa in the fall on behalf of the Catholics in Ukraine. Prelate Dr. Glaser belonged to the Diözese of Teraspol. He was named Apostolic Visitor to South Ukraine and in 1943 was ordained as a Bishop in Odessa. His General Vicar was P. Pieger. Chancellor to the Bishop was Walther Kampe (later ordained as Bishop in the diocese of Limburg).
In the year 1921, 150 Catholic priests belonged to the Tiraspol Diözese. Of these, only two were retained because of illness while all other spiritual leaders were arrested and deported to Siberia or to the Polar Sea where they all perished in prison camps.
In praise of the clergy, I would like to point out that not a single spiritual leader gave up his priesthood; they all died for their belief and loyalty to the church.
On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1941 I arrived in Strasburg on foot at noon from the last train station. I entered the church. In the choir room stood a table with a picture on it of Adolf Hitler beside a Christmas tree. Men and women were busy decorating the table. I asked what they were doing. Their answer was that they were preparing for the German Christmas the SS would celebrate that evening.
I introduced myself as a Catholic priest. The old Uncle Anton fell to his knees and wept, saying, “Sir Pastor, we have longingly awaited you.”
Father Pieger had promised them that he would send a priest for Christmas. Then I advised them: “Good! Celebrate your German Christmas with the SS at 7:00 o’ clock. At 10:00 o’ clock we will celebrate our religious Christmas Eve with the Christmas Mass.” Then Uncle Anton led me to the home of a family near the church where I could stay.
At 9:00 o’ clock as I came to the church the streets were filled with horses and wagons and many sleighs. The church yard was crowded with people. Inside the church, I could hardly press my way to the alter.
Then the Christmas Mass began. A melodious choir sang, ZU BETHLEHEM GEBOREN (Born in Bethlehem). There was singing and weeping for joy when for after so many years we could celebrate a Christmas Mass with our beautiful German Christmas songs. With the old familiar “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) we concluded the service. But the people lingered; they did not want to go home until I promised to come again.
With a pony wagon, I was brought to Baden. There again was the same scene; the church overfilled with Believers who sang their heart-warming Christmas songs. They had sent out messengers on horseback to proclaim the good news that a Christmas Mass would be said. For three weeks I was driven from one parish to another by sleigh: Straszburg to Baden, then to Mannheim, Elsasz, and all the way to Jeremejewka. I held Holy Mass, baptized the children and blessed the married couples – over 3000 children and 1600 marriages. The oldest person baptized was 28. I was received with such enthusiasm everywhere that in my priestly eagerness I felt neither the Russian cold of that terrible winter nor the weariness of my body.
Pastor Pieger writes about the first days of that “Pastoration” in the freed Ukraine: “Like a new Pentecostal wind, he overwhelms our Believers. In all free parishes, the churches were renewed, worship services were scheduled and there were calls for priests from everywhere.”
Our appreciation is extended to Alma Herman for translation of this article.