By Larry Peterson
Nazis and the guillotine
When it comes to using the guillotine, the Nazis were the most prolific users ever recorded.. This is about the first person guillotined by the Nazis. He was a Catholic priest.
He was born as Jan Fanciszek Macha (John Francis) on January 18, 1914, in Charzow, Poland, to Powel Macha and Anna Cofalka. He had two sisters, Roze (Rose) and Marie, and a brother, Piotr (Peter). At home, Jan was known as Hanik. Hanik was also the oldest of his siblings.
As a youngster, Jan felt the calling to the priesthood, and at the age of 20, he entered the seminary knowing that this calling was the right thing for him to follow. He wanted to be a Shepherd of Souls. On June 25, 1939, he was ordained a priest in the Church of the Holy Apostles of Peter and Paul in Katowice, Poland.
“know that I will die young.”
Father Jan celebrated his first Mass in his home parish of St. Mary Magdalen in Charzow. Something strange occurred at this time. Father Jan's sister, Rosa, comes into the sacristy to see him. He looks at her and says, "Rosa, know that I will die young and not a natural death." Rosa told him not to talk like that on such a joyful day, but Jan continued. "Rosa, just today, I want to tell you this because I am convinced I will die young."
When Mass starts and the censing begins, most of the people in the congregation see the smoke forming like a 'red" scarf around the neck of the new priest. Barely anyone pays attention to it. However, it was a sign of Father Jan’s possible fate.
Nazis invade Poland
The Nazis invaded Poland at 4:45 a.m. on September 1, 1939. At the same time, Father Jan Macha was beginning his priestly ministry as an assistant pastor in St. Joseph's parish in Ruda. From that point on, Father Jan was fully occupied with his priestly duties, focused on the many souls entrusted to his care, and fully aware of the danger that loomed all around the Polish people.
Father Jan Macha was in a part of Poland that the Nazis were determined to “Germanize.” Included among their “Germanizing” requirements was that the natives speak German. This was required among neighbors, in private homes, and even in church. The German government ordered that even homilies and songs be in German. This was part of their method of keeping things under control.
Father Jan loved his Polish language and Polish heritage and was deeply offended by this insanity. In addition, it was costly for him to implement these demands. Paying for translations and new songbooks and readers and instruction guides was just an impossible demand to fulfill. He was also keenly aware of the poverty of the people in his care. He wanted to do something.
He organized Konvalia (Lily of the Valley)
He formed an organization called “Konvalia” (Lily of the Valley). Its purpose was to help raise money to offset the tremendous expense that had been thrust upon him and his people. The Gestapo immediately arrested him.
On September 5, 1941, Father Jan was taken to prison in Katowice. He was interrogated and beaten over and over. Select types of torture were used to break the young priest. His torturers failed. The Germans had become proponents of using the guillotine for its speed and efficiency. Eventually, they would have forty of them operating in certain parts of the Reich. The first one was located in Katowice.
Sentenced to death
On July 17,1942, Father Jan Franciscek Macha was sentenced to death. His family members began to desperately seek help to save their boy. His mother traveled to Germany and met with Hitler’s sister, asking for “grace” to spare her son. She promised to “talk to the Fuhrer” about it. Father Jan’s mom began waiting every day for a reply. None would ever come.
The first guillotines had been placed in the prison in Katowice. They brought Father Jan to the waiting area prison on December 3, 1942. He is informed that he will die that night. At 11 p.m., the execution was carried out. He was 28 years old. In his breviary a note written by Father Jan is found. It says, “I give myself all to Him with my whole person.”
Died “in odium fidei”
Father Jan Franciscek Macha was declared a Servant of God in 2013. Pope Francis confirmed that he died “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith) in 2019. He was beatified on November 20, 2021 in Katowice, Poland by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro.
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2023