He bravely and publicly stood up against the Nazis in 1930s Munich. Till they finally arrested him, beat him, and at long last shot him in Dachau concentration camp: The journalist and historian Fritz Gerlich. Now, sources inside the Munich ordinariate have confirmed to me that his beatification is likely under way.
A proud nationalist and conservative for much of his public life, he opposed Communism, National Socialism and Antisemitism. His newspaper “Der Gerade Weg” (the straight path) ran stories that satirised the barmy theories of “racial superiority” by lampooning Hitler’s “Mongolian looks”, amongst other things. And his conversion story to the Catholic faith, which is omitted from many of his public records – including the English Wikipedia entry at the time of writing this post – is worth involved praying in secret for the light of truth every night on the way home before finally becoming a Catholic, is a moving testament to the Faith in a time of particular trouble: 1930s Germany.
Late recognition thanks to Georg Walser
So why is this man not known to every German Catholic journalist? Why is his life and work not studied properly? Why is the Church and the wider public been slow to recognise, study, let alone celebrate his heritage? To be sure, several plaques and a rather controversial film prize commemorate him. But his life and work deserves more attention and requires more study and recognition – like the lives of several others, including my own predecessor as editor-in-chief of the Münchner Kirchenzeitung, Prelate Michael Höck, who was also thrown into Dachau concentration camp but survived the Nazi tyranny. Others, like the Blessed Rupert Mayer SJ, the “Apostle of Munich”, are widely known and accorded much well-deserved attention.
These are sensitive and complex questions, but there are some pretty interesting answers, also. Fact of the matter is, it has taken more than sixty years and – over the last few years – the dogged work of supporters like Georg Walser, a colleague of mine, to get some recognition going. His own relationship with Gerlich is the subject of a forthcoming TV production of the Bavarian public broadcaster, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR).
Mostly thanks to Georg, I have been following Gerlich’s story now for a few months, but what I know so far is already the stuff of legends. And gritty crime thrillers. And complex character studies of a flawed man in absolutely incredible times. And now the story of a possible canonisation to sainthood. If you ever visit Munich, be sure to go on a guided Gerlich tour with Georg.
Conversion and encounter with the stigmatic Therese Neumann
One fascinating aspect is the relationship Gerlich had with the Bavarian mystic and stigmatic, Therese Neumann aka “Resl of Konnersreuth”. He originally visited her in 1927 as a staunch sceptic and wanted to expose her as a fraud. Instead, the encounter became an important part of his own faith journey. Four years later, in 1931, he converted to the Catholicism. He remained a strong supporter of the woman that to this day is the cause of much admiration but also controversy. The question of her own cause for canonisation is a subject of frequent discussion in Catholic Bavarian circles even now. “Resl” wrote him a special note on the occasion of his conversion, which was recently re-discovered in an archive. On the snapshots Georg Walser provided to me, you can see that it is dated 29 September 1931.