Priest Saints: Blessed Otto Neururer

Blessed Otto Neururer was the first priest to be killed in a Nazi concentration camp, Buchenwald. His fame of sanctity was highlighted by the fact that he shared his meager food rations with the weakest prisoners, among many other heroic deeds.

Pedro José María Chiesa-March 25, 2022-Reading time: 3 minutes
otto neururer

The Austrian couple Alois Neururer and Hildegar Streng, modest farmers who managed a mill in Austria, had twelve children. The last of them was Blessed Otto Neururer. The father of the Blessed whom we evoke today died when he was only eight years old.

Otto prepared for the priesthood with the Vincentians and was ordained a priest on the Solemnity of St. Peter in 1907. He then wanted to join the Jesuits to work in the far-flung missions they had in various parts of the world, but his frail health prevented them from accepting him. 

For fifteen years he was parochial vicar of St. James (1917-1932), where he worked as a teacher of religion in the parish schools. 

Appointed parish priest in Goetzens (1932), in addition to the specific care of souls in his parish (Saints Peter and Paul Apostles), he provided spiritual services to the Christian Social Movement (aligned with the recent and impactful encyclical Rerum Novarum), which meant displeasure with the superiors who did not look favorably on the basis of the nascent Social Doctrine of the Church, and a high risk of death when the annexation of Austria by the Nazis (1938) took place, which involved the arrest and murder of many priests.

Already in his parish, with courageous apostolic zeal, he decisively advised a girl not to unite with a divorced man, atheist and of dissolute life. The young woman not only did not follow the parish priest's advice, but made it known to her lover. This man, a personal friend of Franz Hofer, the Nazi head of the district, had Neururer arrested on December 15, 1938, on the charge of "defamation of Germanic marriage". In giving his advice Neururer was aware of the risks. 

Then, shortly after the beginning of the war, in September 1939, he was transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp (practically an extermination camp, due to the cruelties and mass shootings suffered by many prisoners). 

For being a priest (in odium fidei) he was often tortured; his reputation for holiness was highlighted by the fact that he shared his meager food rations with the weakest prisoners; and, above all, because when a prisoner asked him to be baptized, despite many indications that it could be a trap (the action was punishable by death), because of his awareness of his priestly mission, he agreed. Indeed, it was a trap. 

The event took place at the end of April 1940. As punishment, after several tortures, a month later he was hung upside down, naked. There he suffered cruelly, without complaining in the least, praying for his executioners, until his death after thirty-four hours of long agony (May 30, 1940). He was the first priest to be murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. The priest who assisted him in his torments, Alfred Berchtold (died in 1985), declared that, while hanging, he never complained, and always prayed for his executioners muttering prayers. His cruel death sentence was directly ordered by the famous and sadistic Sergeant Major Martin Sommer, the "Executioner of Buchenwald".

He was beatified as a martyr in odium fideiHis remains were burned by St. John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica on November 24, 1996. His remains were vilely cremated in a civil crematorium to erase the evidence of the brutal torture. The Nazis claimed that he died of a heart condition. Fortunately his faithful recovered his ashes, which today are deposited under the altar of the parish over which he presided.

Today the Catholic Church proposes him as an intercessor for preachers, for the sanctity of Christian marriage and for the spirit of priestly service. Blessed Neururer, like the Holy Innocents, preached the Gospel. non loquendo sed moriendo. Moreover, taking into account that St. Francis of Assisi said "Preach the Gospel, if necessary with words", Neururer followed this advice exemplarily, so he is a worthy intercessor for preachers. He is also a worthy defender of the sanctity of marriage, and of indissolubility, like St. Thomas More. And in relation to the spirit of priestly service, his death for administering a risky baptism, challenges all priests not to value physical life as the supreme good, or at least not above the spiritual life of the faithful.

Remarkable were the words of the holy Pope John Paul II in his homily at his beatification: "Today, as Roman Pontiff, I have the honor of beatifying one of the most faithful sons of the Church; and in doing so I will honor his noble decision to prefer death to kneeling before the Beast and his image (Rev. 13:1). With his death, Neururer made shine before the darkness of contemporary relativism that so affects marriage, a sovereign ray of Christ's kingship over history." In 2019 a film was promoted that tells the story of the life and murder of this venerable priest, who, if he were alive today, would surely prefer to die murdered rather than bend his knee to the Beast and his most visible contemporary image, gender ideology, and who would also not hesitate to prefer to die executed so as not to bend his knee to all proposals to annul or weaken the indissolubility and heterosexuality of Christian marriage.

The authorPedro José María Chiesa

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