His name was August Froehlich, and he was born into a prosperous merchant’s family in Prussia in 1891. He was studying philosophy but had to leave his studies since he was drafted to serve in the military when World War I erupted. He became part of an elite unit called the 1st Guard Grenadiers and was sent to the Russian front. On July 3, 1915, he was severely wounded. Unconscious and not moving, he was left for dead on the battlefield.
One day later, August was found by German medics who discovered he was alive. They saved him and after his recovery he was held as a prisoner of war. When the war finally ended he was released and returned to his studies at the seminary in Breslau. He was ordained a priest on June 19, 1921, and celebrated his first Mass at his home parish of St. Barbara. He then was assigned as a parish priest serving both in Berlin and Pomerania.
In 1932 Father Froehlich was assigned as a pastor in Pomerania. He had been willed a large inheritance and, with the economy in free fall and unemployment rampant, he began using his money to help needy families. When Hitler and the National Socialist took power in 1933, he immediately came under attack for not participating in the “winter relief fund,” which was a Nazi collection for the “poor” but was never used for that.
Father Froehlich began publishing pamphlets and flyers critical of the anti-Christian, Nazi propaganda. However, it was his continual refusal to honor the “Hitler salute” that turned the authorities against him. Preaching to his parishioners that they should not say, “Heil Hitler” but rather, “Gelobt sie Gott” (praised be God) resulted in him being brought in for questioning by the local Nazi commander.
After a grueling eight-hour interrogation Father Froehlich was released. He returned home and promptly penned a letter to the Reich Labor Service, a Nazi propaganda organization that’s purpose was to indoctrinate the labor force in Germany with Nazi ideology. He made it clear in his letter why he would always begin and end his communications with the greeting, “Gelobt sie Gott.” These are the words that Father Froehlich wrote in his letter to the Nazi officials; “
Gelobt sie Gott ends my letters for following reasons: for all Christians the greeting "Praise God" is an old German greeting, as is also "Gelobt sei Jesus Christus" ("Praise Jesus Christ") for the Catholics. In your previous letter you forebode me to do church announcements after the Sunday Mass because, according to you, the faithful would feel pressure. I request that also you avoid any pressure in spreading your political world view, as you expect from me regarding my religious world view. Political and religious world views may win by conviction, never, however, by pressure. According to Concordat, i.e. on the word of the leader (führer), free religious activity is promised to every Catholic. I wear, therefore, proudly the uniform of a priest and use Catholic greeting, as you do it also with your uniform and greeting. I have at least just as much courage to show my uniform and my greeting, as I assume you do with yours.
Soon after his letter was received, Father Froehlich’s house was searched, he was questioned, fined heavily, and sent to minister to the imprisoned Polish Labor Force in Rathenow. Father Froehlich was horrified at the conditions he found these people working under and immediately began to protest. He even did so from the pulpit. The result was his arrest and his being sent to Potsdam Prison. The year was 1941.
During the next eleven months the priest was taken from Potsdam to Buchenwald., from Buchenwald to Ravensbruck, and finally to Dachau. Beaten, starved, and sick with fever, Father August Froehlich fell over and died on June 22, 1942. His body was cremated with many others.
Of a total of 2771 clergy imprisoned in Dachau, Father August was among the 2579 Catholic priests. His cause has not yet been initiated, but we all can pray for the repose of his soul and ask him to pray for us.
Copyright© Larry Peterson 2019