This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20 -- Feast of Blessed Michal Piaszczynski of Lomza

I have mentioned the Catholic priests who died in the Nazi concentration camps so often that one might be justified in wondering if I think they were the primary target of the Holocaust.  [Just to be clear, I don't.] However, the Wikipedia estimate is that more than 3,000 Catholic clergy in Poland (18% of that nations priests) were sent to the camps; 1,992 died. And that wasn't even the vocation hardest hit.  Fifteen percent of Poland's schoolteachers were killed; 30% of its technicians, 40% of its university professors, 45% of its physicians and dentists; and 57% of its attorneys all lost their lives.  And lest we imagine an age barrier to barbarism, the very first group killed during the occupation of the villages in Western Poland was a troop of boy scouts, ages 10 to 12, who were lined up against a wall and shot in a market square.  A priest who attempted to administer last rites was shot with them. 

It was obviously worst in the West, land claimed by Prussia in the nineteenth century.  From the annexed territory of Poland (the Reichsgau Wartheland), 80% of the priests were sent to the camps.  One of these was Blessed Michal Piaszczynski, a fifty-five year old professor who was deported to the camp at Sachsenhausen.

Even if the Nazi stormtroopers had not been admonished to eliminate every Pole with a high school education or more, every white collar Pole, every affluent Pole, and every religious leader, Michal still would have been targeted. As the spiritual director at the Lomza Seminary, he had invited rabbis to his classes to promote interfaith dialogue. There's little doubt how that would have gone down with Herr Himmler and the Boyz in Black.

While he was in the camp, a Jewish prisoner named Kott declared that just once, he would like to eat until he was full. Michal Piaszczynski gave his daily ration to Kott. Kott replied, "You Catholics believe that Christ is in bread form. And I think this bread is Christ who asked you to share it with me." The quotation was recalled by a prisoner named Kazmierz Hamerszmit who witnessed the event -- I don't imagine that Kott survived the war, and we know that Michal died on December 20, 1940.

In his blogpost, "The Gentile Holocaust," Thomas J. Craughwell acknowledges up front that Jews were the primary target of the Holocaust before providing estimates and anecdotes about the non-Jewish victims. After noting that 2,600 Catholic priests from 24 countries died just at Dachau, he says "It diminishes the Jewish Holocaust not at all, however, to remember that millions of others were also victims of the Nazis." Earlier in his essay, he quoted Elie Wiesel's distinction that "Not all victims [of the Nazis] were Jews, but all Jews were victims.... They were doomed not because of something they had done or proclaimed or acquired but because of who they were." Craughwell notes that the same can be said of Slavs and Gypsies, noting that all three groups were marked for extermination. The distinction between those groups and others is interesting, but perhaps should not be overstated. The victims were just as dead, no matter what deranged belief caused their murder.

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