From love to God and a man
Br. Marek M. Urbaniak FSC
Ten Wise Virgins, who were faithfully waiting for the Bridegroom; ten tragic deaths testifying love; ten Elizabethan martyrs - candidates for sainthood - Sr. Maria Paschalis Jahn and her companions
On 25 November 2011 in the cathedral in Wroclaw there was the beginning of the beatification process of ten nuns from the Convent of St. Elizabeth’s Sisters who gave their life and were killed by soldiers of the Red Army in 1945. It is the first of this kind group process in the Silesia area.
From Silesia land
The convent, to which the nuns belonged, has its roots in Silesia – in Nysa. There, in 1842 four local girls decided, as a community, to take care of ill people in their own houses, regardless to their social, economic or religious status. Klara Wolff, Matylda and Blessed Maria Merkert and Franciszka Werner with her charisma did not belong to mental schemas at that time. Therefore, the way for the suitable convent to appear was very long and full of devotions. Finally, the convent of St. Elizabeth’s Sisters was widespread throughout Prussia and Scandinavia and today they are present in a few dozens countries of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
No wonder that the sisters-martyrs were brought up on the same land – only two of the ten candidates for sainthood were of different origin – Pomerania and Bavaria. In the convent they had different duties and tasks, beginning from housework, teaching at school and finishing with nursing service. They all were killed in Silesia. However, they had heroic faithfulness to their vocation and heroic love in common, which was revealed in the last moments of their life.
The youngest one is leading
The leading sister of the group of the candidates for sainthood is s. Paschalis Jahn. She was born in 1916. She attended a Primary school first, and then a private factory of fruit processing. For some time she worked in Germany, where her family had gone to earn their living. She was a member of a Marian Community. In 1937 she joined the Convent of St. Elizabeth’s Sisters. Two years later, she took the first vows and was sent to Kluczbork and then to Głubczyce. From 1942 she lived in the House of St. Elizabeth in Nysa where she worked in a kitchen and looked after elderly sisters. When in March 1945 the Soviets were approaching Nysa, s. Paschalis got an order to run away from the town. She reached to Sobotin in Czech Republic where she joined a group of refugees – nuns and laymen. On 11 May she wanted to go outside but was noticed on stairs by a Soviet soldier. He was chasing her and threatening her with death and he demanded that she go with him. The sister kneeled down, took a cross of Rosary into her hands and refused resolutely: ‘I wear the holy frock and I will never go with you. I belong to Christ, He is my beloved person and you can shoot me’. She managed to apologize to the people present with her and started to pray, and after a while, there was a fatal shot. She was buried near a sacristy of the local church. She was generally considered to be an example of chastity for young people and was called a white Rose from Czech Republic.
Death in the defence of her own chastity
Unscrupulous soldiers of the Red Army persecuted people on the conquered areas in many possible ways. As new lords ‘bringing freedom’, they demanded riches, vodka and women, mercilessly punishing those who opposed them. They expressed their extreme hatred towards everything which was connected with God and the Church. The resistance of the attacked sisters, women and girls did not bring any effect towards the superiority of the attackers, so their death has more significance.
On 20 February 1945 in Zary, s. Edelburgis Kubitzki was killed. This 40-year-old nun was an ambulance nurse. She experienced violence and rape together with other women and sisters s from the so-called ‘saviours’. When despite beating and the threat of death she refused to go with soldiers, she was shot by one of them.
Three days later, in Nowogródź near Kwisa, another sister was killed – s. Rosaria Schilling. After her conversion from Protestantism into Catholicism she joined the convent. She worked in administration and pastoral ministry in different places. On 22 February, in the late evening, three attackers took the sister out of a shelter. That night 30 soldiers brutally raped her. She returned home in the state of agony. On the following day, sisters intended to go to the headquarters of commandant but a police officer definitely ordered the sister to stay as he had chosen her for himself. Despite her feeling weak and the prohibition, the sister went out but on her way she was killed with bullets shot by the police officer.
In Lubanie s. Sabina Thienel was killed. She was running away with people under her care in a nursing elderly house in Wroclaw, and she was running away from the approaching army. In her prayer she often asked Our Lady to protect her chastity so that she could die as a virgin. And although the soldiers of the Red Army ignored the resistance of the sisters, s. Sabina managed to avoid a rape. On 1 March when the sister were praying in a hall, a bullet got through closed door and fatally injured kneeling s. Sabina. The bullet injured her heart with which she loved God so much. In this way she died as a martyr and virgin.
They gave their life for other people
The three sisters were killed for defending others. They wanted to protect not only their consecrated chastity but also dignity of girls and women, who were hiding with them. s. Sapientia as a pensioner was staying in Nysa. Her deserved rest after the sacrificial ministry as nurse was disturbed by the siege of the town by the Soviet soldiers. It is difficult to describe how much evil and violence the nuns experienced from the soldiers. On 24 March the attackers ordered all the sisters from St. Elizabeth’s House to gather in a refectory. When one of them wanted to take a young nun, s. Sapientia begged him to reject this intention. The answer was a gunshot which quickly killed the sister – she became congealed in blood on the chair on which she was sitting. On the same day in the St. George’s House in Nysa s. Melusja Rybka was killed because she stood in the defence of a girl employed in the convent. A furious soldier raped her in revenge, although she was bravely defending herself and then he shot her. The fire set to the convent stopped at the room where her body was lying. On 2 May, just before the end of the war, near Krzydlina Wielka, soldiers raped and killed s. Acutina Goldberg. Although she lost her life, she defended girls against a rape, who had been under her care. According to local inhabitants, nothing wanted to grow for two years on the field on which she had been killed.
If the sister had run away, if they had not exposed themselves, they could have survived. However, they preferred to take a risk than lose the spirit of mercy. S. Adela Schramm, the Mother Superior in Godzieszów before the arrival of the Red Army, ordered the sisters to run away. However, he stayed herself in order to take care of elderly women who could not evacuate themselves. On 25 February she was murdered together with the women under her care and hosts at whose homes she was hiding. She also had to defend her chastity before death.
St. Elizabeth’s sisters in the houses in Nysa experienced nearly a real nightmare – the seizure of their houses, robberies, destructions, rapes, murders. When on 25 March the Mother Superior of the St. Elizabeth’s House stood in the defence of the tortured sisters, was hit so badly by a soldier that she lost her consciousness. A soldier wanted to lead out s. Felicitas Ellmerer but she refused. When he threatened her with death, she stood at a wall, stretched out her arms in the shape of the cross and shouted: ‘Let Christ and King live....!’ Her shout was disrupted by a gunshot. The furious attacker was smashing her head and breast with feet until she died.
S. Adelheidis Topfer, as a child, dreamed about becoming a missionary, even for the price of life. She had been a teacher in the convent and a head-teacher at school for many years. In March 1945 she stayed in Nysa to serve people in need. On 25 March she was shot. Soldiers prevailing in St. Notburgia’s House attacked the sisters, destroyed what was connected with religion. At one moment, a soldier of the Red Army entered a hall where the sister and people under her care were. He showed his blooded hand and asked who had shot from this room. Although nobody had done it, he shot the sister.
Although many years passed, the testimony of St. Elizabeth’s martyrs did not go into the past, but in the contrary. It seems that today’s times need their message. Today when virginity and chastity are mocked at, rejected as values, paradoxically treated as something embarrassing, s. Paschalis and her accompanying sisters are an opposition sign. Their heroic death calls for respect for woman’s dignity and defence of Christian values. The visible sign and the answer is just the opened process and let’s hope for their beatification soon.