The priest who said no to Adolf

The priest who said no to Adolf Pope Francis being presented with an image of the martyr
I Will Not Serve: The priest who said NO to Hitler

by David Rice (Red Stag / Mentor Books, €14.99)

This is a true story of Fr Franz Reinisch who was beheaded for refusing to serve in the Wehrmacht. His refusal arose from his unwillingness to swear an unconditional oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler, its then commander-in-chief.

In this true story, written as a non-fiction novel, David Rice provides an enthralling account of Fr Franz Reinisch’s courageous adherence to his conscience in the face of fiendish challenges.

Fr Reinisch was born in Vorarlberg in Western Austria on February 1, 1903. He was educated at the Leopoldinum, the Franciscan school at Hall in the Tyrol. Subsequently he began law studies at the University of Innsbruck. On deciding to study for the priesthood he transferred to the university’s faculty of theology. He was ordained in the summer of 1928.

Some months after his ordination he joined the Congregation of the Pallotines. Founded by St Vincent Palloti in 1835, by the beginning of the 20th Century it was well established in Germany with one of their houses at Schoenstatt, near Koblenz.


Here and later in Dachau concentration camp Fr Jose Kentenich developed the Schoenstatt Movement. He stressed the importance of being mindful of Divine Providence. Members were known for their deep devotion to Mary, whom they described as the Mother, Trice Admirable, and their evangelical zeal. Fr Reinisch became a committed member of the Movement.

In the years before and after Fr Reinisch’s ordination political events were taking a sinister turn in Germany. In November 1923 Hitler was involved and almost killed in an attempted coup and later imprisoned. However, not long afterwards the ideas fomenting race hatred in his Mein Kamp were spreading rapidly throughout Germany, as was the Nazi Party.

In August 1934, following the death of President Hindenburg, Hitler became supreme ruler of Germany and assumed the title Führer (Leader). He also ensured that thereafter members of the Wehrmacht swore loyalty to him and not as before to the People and the Fatherland.

A few weeks later Germany went to the polls to ratify this seizure of power and gave Hitler 90% of the vote! In September 1935 the Nuremburg Race Laws were promulgated. They stripped German Jews of almost all their civil and political rights. Then in November 1938 incessant anti-semitic propaganda prompted the infamous Kristallnacht.

Subsequently these developments were to lead to almost inconceivable horrors being visited on the Jewish community. Catholic priests were also victims. Seventeen thousand of them were interned in Dachau with not many of them surviving the experience and 17,000 others were conscripted into the Wehrmacht. Catholic and Protestant churches and youth organisations were closed down. Smaller religious minorities were banned and disappeared. Convents and religious houses were closed and confiscated.

All this did not escape notice. As early as November 1936, in a courageous intervention, Cardinal Faulhaber, Archbishop of Munich, savagely criticised the Nazi Party for its attempts to de-Christianise the life of the nation. In the following year Pius XI was equally forthright in his condemnation of the Nazi regime. However, the Gestapo and other agencies of the state ensured that not many Germans became aware of those and other criticisms of their Führer and his regime.

In the meantime Fr Reinisch was continuing his ministry. After a meeting with a boyhood companion he became aware of the appalling slaughter of Jewish and Russian civilians by the Einsatzgruppenin the Soviet Union behind the German front lines. Despite his superior giving him many different placements, the Gestapo remained ever present in his life.

In September 1940 he received from them a maulkorb (a muzzle), a gagging order not to preach nor lecture.

Fr Reinisch’s military call-up arrived in April 1942. He indicated his determination to resist enlistment. After a number of military court appearances, he was sentenced to be executed by the falbeil (German version of the guillotine).