First he defended marriage, then he defended baptism … and was made to die a bit like St. Peter.
We might often think of the millions who perished under the Nazis, but it is difficult to think of them as individuals unless some story grabs our attention, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Devil’s Arithmetic, or some biography of St. Maximilian Kolbe or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).
One of the individuals who died in the camps was a simple, humble priest who simply loved his God, his Faith, and his fellow man. His name was Father Otto Neururer.
Otto Neururer was born in Tyrol, Austria, on March 25, 1881. He was the 12th and youngest child of a peasant farmer, Alois Neururer, and his wife, Hildegard. When Otto was 8, his dad died. His mom, a devout Catholic, began suffering bouts of depression. Otto was a bit frail and also timid and, like his mom, also began experiencing bouts of depression. Nevertheless he had a brilliant mind and recognized his vocation to the priesthood. He followed his calling and was able to enter the seminary when he was 21 years old.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1907 and celebrated his first Mass in his hometown. He wanted to join the Jesuits and do missionary work, but his frail health prevented that. He served as a parish priest and teacher, and was finally assigned as pastor to St. Peter and Paul Parish in Innsbruck.
In 1938, while he was still pastor, a young woman came to him for advice. She wanted his opinion on whether or not she should marry a divorced man. Father Neururer knew of this man, that he was a philanderer and a con artist. He advised the woman against marrying him. She told her “fiancé” that she could not marry him and why. This man, though, was good friends with the Nazi party leader in the area and reported Father Otto to him. On December 15, 1938, Father Otto was arrested and charged with “slander to the detriment of German marriage.”
On March 3, 1939, Father Otto was sent to Dachau, the first concentration camp established by the Nazis, to a section known as the “priests’ barracks.” Here he was routinely tortured, but this would not be his last stop. On September 26, 1939, he was sent to Buchenwald, which was under the command of Martin Sommer, aka “the Hangman of Buchenwald.” This would be Father’s last stop.
A prisoner came to Father Otto and asked for baptism. The priest could not decline and performed the sacrament as requested. Father Otto suspected that it might be a set-up, but he couldn’t refuse administering baptism, in case it wasn’t. Indeed, though, it was a set-up, and Sommer decided to make an example of the priest. He ordered him taken to the “punishment block” and hanged upside down.
The chaplain who witnessed Father Otto’s torturous death reported that he never complained. The priest lived for 34 hours, and even toward the end, he could be heard mumbling his prayers. He died on May 30, 1940. He was 58 years old. He was the first of more than 2,600 Catholic priests killed under the Nazis.
Father Otto Neururer died “in odium fidei” and was beatified at St. Peter’s Basilica on November 24, 1996, by Pope St. John Paul II.
Blessed Otto Neururer, please pray for us all.