By Larry Peterson
What follows is about two men. One is about a 28-year-old man living during the Christmas season of 1942. The other is about a 30-year-old man living during Christmas in 1974. Both men were from generations that followed each other. Their stories will show that they more or less did the same thing at a similar time. What did they do that was the same? Foremost, they loved God, and they loved Christmas. The love they had brought one of them happiness and peace of heart. It brought the other, martyrdom.
What brought me to this young man I write about is knowing of another young man doing the same thing as the first. They had both put up Nativity scenes. One had painted a Nativity scene on a wall. The other man had hung a giant poster of a Nativity scene across his garage door. There was no difference between the messages both men were giving. In fact, both men were only separated by two years of age when they were honoring the baby Jesus.
The difference was that one was in New Jersey, and the year was 1974. He was decorating the outside of his house for Christmas. That man was me. The other man was Alois Andritzki. He was a Catholic priest imprisoned in the Dachau Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany. The year was 1941. Although separated by 32 years, both men were delivering the same message. One was provided by a free man with a happy heart. The other message was being painted on a wall in a Nazi death camp by a man who knew death awaited him at any moment.
As the man in 1974 secured the large poster, he explained to his children all about the wonders of baby Jesus, Santa Claus, and Christmas. Laughter filled the cold winter air as his children ‘helped” Daddy. Back in 1942, at Dachau, the other man quietly finished his artwork and, with his two lookouts, tried to sneak back to their barracks. The guards caught them.
Alois Andritzki was born on July 2, 1914. His parents, Johann and Magdalena, were devout Catholics. Once a month, Johann would take all six of his kids (two girls and four boys) to visit different shrines to show them the beauty and the mysteries of their Catholic faith. Alois, the fourth child, felt the calling to the priesthood early on. His older brothers, Jan and Great, also entered the priesthood. The youngest brother, Alfon, was killed while serving in the military in World War II.
When he had just turned 25, Alois was ordained a priest. The date was July 30, 1939. He offered his very first Mass on August 6, 1939. He had no clue that within 18 months, he would become an enemy of the Nazi state. He accomplished this because during the Christmas season of 1940 he produced a small Nativity play in the town of Dresden. (Apparently he was heard making “hostile statements" against the Nazi Party). On January 21, 1941, the Gestapo arrested Father Alois. The German government did not appreciate citizens defending people's rights and religious freedoms and producing anti-Nazi plays. Father Alois was put in prison in Dresden and, a few months later, transferred to Dachau.
Father Alois was a talented musician and artist. He was also an acrobat and entertained his fellow inmates by walking around on his hands. During the Christmas season of 1942, Father Alois painted a depiction of the Nativity on the barracks wall to create a simple Christmas chapel. The Nazis were furious and would not tolerate such behavior on the part of inmates.
Father Alois, also ill with typhoid, asked if he could receive Holy Communion. The Nazi warden mocked him and said, "He wants Christ. We''ll give him an injection instead." Father Alois Andritzki was only 28 years old when his captors gave him a lethal dose of carbolic acid.
Sometimes, especially during the Christmas season, I think of Father Alois. We were separated by time and space by a period of 32 years. In my world, my family and I loved Christmas and honored Jesus. We laughed, and my wife and I played with our young children, ate Christmas cookies, had some egg nog, and dressed up as Santa on Christmas Eve. Father Alois Andritzki, when he was the same age as me, was beaten and poisoned to death for loving and honoring the very same Jesus. I have no explanation or understanding of this.
Father Alois was declared a Servant of God by Pope St. John Paul II on August 27, 1998. At his beatification ceremony on December 10, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI declared that Blessed Alois Andritzki had died "in odium fidei" (in hatred of the faith) and was, indeed, a martyr. Alois Andritzki, a young man and a Catholic priest, stood tall in the face of death and stared it down for the love of Christ. He will always be a shining example for us all, especially me.
Lastly, to the wise men who guaranteed Americans our freedoms more than 250 years ago:Thank you, Founding Fathers. You have indeed left Americans blessed. I am a Catholic, and I went to Mass this morning without a care in the world. For many Catholics the world over, this has not always been the case. Other Americans practice their faith unencumbered. In a different place and during a different time, going to Mass would have meant a death sentence. Often, somewhere in this world, it still does. It certainly was for Blessed Alois Andritzki.
Blessed Alois Andritzki, please pray for us all
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2023