Sunday 29th March 2015

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

Erwin Jöris… A German With Many Years In Hitler’s And Stalin’s Prisons

March 15, 2014 Featured Today No Comments

By MAIKE HICKSON

Part 3

(Editor’s Note: In this three-part article, Dr. Hickson details the life of the late Erwin Jöris, a prisoner of totalitarian regimes, and explains how his life offers lessons for us today. In this concluding article, she comments on how his experiences show the need to resist gradual violations of our privacy and freedom of thought and speech, before they are further eroded or effectively destroyed.
(Maike Hickson holds a doctorate in French literature from the University of Hannover.
(Throughout this series, Dr. Hickson has cited quotations from the following work: Andreas Petersen, Deine Schnauze wird Dir in Sibirien einfrieren. Ein Jahrhundertdiktat. Erwin Jöris, Wiesbaden: Matrixverlag, 2012.)

+    +    +

From August 1951 until the end of 1954, Erwin Jöris was cramped and chilled in Vorkuta, the famous Gulag camp in the Soviet Union situated just north of the Arctic Circle, in the freezing cold of the tundra, where in the wintertime the sun never rises, with temperatures more than 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. After a stay for another year in another, less severe, camp, he was finally released from prison, after the death of Stalin in March of 1953, on December 13, 1955.
It was Alexander Solzhenitsyn who called Vorkuta the “center of hell.” Stalin had opened it in 1943 with the main purpose of killing opponents and other suspects. Within these more than two decades, this camp had seen one million prisoners, of which number every fourth had died while exposed in Vorkuta, as Petersen himself carefully shows (457).
In the 1950s when Jöris was there, the death rate had decreased because the Soviet Union was trying to make more and better use of the workforce of the prisoners by having them work mainly for the coal production. Jöris lived there in the barracks with several dozens of other prisoners and had to work all day long with very little food and sanitation.
Because he was a strong man, moreover, he was sent into the mines and had to work deep under the ground, and under very dangerous conditions, where many accidents occurred, often fatal. But it also brought him some better nutrition and living conditions.
Jöris strikingly never felt hatred against his oppressors or enemies. When he once was forced by the Communists to work closely with a former SS soldier, he had to help himself by imagining how he would have acted if he had been earlier propagandized by the Hitler Party. He imagined: “He was duped by them [the National Socialists], just as I was [by the Communists]. Who knows if I had been raised that way. . . .” (469). That helped him to live with the situation.
Also, in relationship to the Russian people, he never held them responsible for his suffering under the Communist regime in their country. On the contrary, he had lived among them long enough to hold them in high esteem. During his time in the Gulag he also, in his courage, reached out to some young German students who had been imprisoned for their criticism of the Communist state, most of them being very vulnerable due to their youth and fragile condition.
For example, Jöris worked extra hours secretly in the kitchen at night, washing dishes and thereby earning extra food for himself which he then shared with these poor young men who had just come out of high school.
One of these students, Werner Gumpel, who was later to become a professor of economics of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, never forgot in his great gratitude the generosity and also the encouraging example and spirited manner with which Erwin Jöris dealt with them. Jöris tried to counsel them not to overdo it in their work, and to be careful to spare their strength. “I tried to give them courage,” he later modestly and simply explained (475).
Jöris also tried to foster a sense of camaraderie with the prisoners from other nations. As Professor Gumpel later writes: He “kept his ‘Berlin mouth’ (or ‘snout’) [meaning a certain directness in his speech] with which he gave many comrades, in the midst of all this hopelessness, courage, hope, and a will to endure. He was a good comrade in the purest sense” (Werner Gumpel, On the Death of Erwin Jöris, Zeit-Fragen: 2013).
When Jöris finally was sent away from Vorkuta in late 1954 and into another camp for another year, he said goodbye to many men with whom he had grown close and come to call friends, and they were of many different nationalities.
After he was finally reunited with his wife in 1955 in Berlin, they fled within the next two days to Western Germany. He had had enough of the Communists and did not want to take any more chances, only to be imprisoned again, or worse. He now belatedly considered his earlier lack of decisiveness — to move away before his last imprisonment — to have been a great mistake.
Jöris, now at the age of 43, after more than 20 years of cruelty and fear in the prisons, had to start anew. He and his wife moved to Cologne, where he worked for two more decades as a laborer in an icehouse at the haven on the River Rhine, before he finally was permitted to retire in 1976. After a year in a home for displaced persons (1955-1956), he had moved with his wife Gerda into a two-room apartment where both of them were also to die, Gerda in 2005, and Erwin in 2013. They had no children of their own.
His obituary of December 7, 2013 was piercingly short: “The family and friends take leave.” Thankfully, several former camp companions and political friends had an additional published obituary, in which they honored him.
One of Jöris’ main messages, after his many interviews with Andreas Petersen, was that the two revolutionary-totalitarian systems, Communist and National Socialist, were very similar in their disdain for human life and for free reflection and free speech. The methods might have differed at times, but the outcome was the same: torture and death for those who disagreed, or who were somehow considered to be an obstacle on the way to the totalitarians’ Utopia.

Be Vigilant

For those of us who are professed Catholics, this very tragic and painful and seemingly purposeless story of the long life of Erwin Jöris — who expressed no deeper sacred beliefs whatsoever, except for those political beliefs which had imparted to him in his youth the militant precepts and slogans of the Communist Party — can be an occasion to learn many lessons.
First of all, it is in my view so important to study the systems of surveillance, mistrust, spying, and imprisonment that existed in the 20th century, so as to make us aware, ahead of time, of similar dangers today. Then, there were the fascist and Communist subverters and enemies. Do we not now have a plausible Muslim threat that speciously justifies, already, even a better system of spying on the population than the totalitarian states of Hitler and Stalin had?
It should also make us more vigilant, that we may resist these gradual violations of our privacy and open freedom of thought and speech, before they are further eroded or constricted and further deteriorated and effectively destroyed.
The history shows how many false arguments, relying on the incited and manipulated fear of the people, can be sophistically used to justify many atrocities and injustices. (While reading about the camps in Germany and Russia, I also felt reminded of some of the credible stories about torture and humiliation that came into public view awhile ago, concerning the Guantanamo camp, even though on a much smaller scale.)
Jöris is also a model for us, insofar as he refused to collaborate and to be invertebrate and silent, so as to save by his cravenness his own career or even his own life. Apparently without the graces and support of the Catholic faith with its truths and sacraments, he was nonetheless able to come out from under inhuman conditions with his head held high.
As he once put it: “I had to be brave. And I was.” He witnessed how so many people entirely lost their honor and dignity and humanity by betraying their fellowmen, even as civilians or even by more actively participating in this cruel penal system itself. Some people told him later that he could have made a career as did these people, if he had only kept silent.
His answer: “But then I would have had to gulp everything down: the whole treason, the imprisonments, the terror, the camps. Where would I then be now? One of these criminals” (496).
Sometimes, even though with some bitterness, but still with pain, he wondered how much pain he would have been spared of if the SA had killed him before his first imprisonment.
From 1933 until 1955 he had essentially found himself either constantly in danger of prison or in actual imprisonment — for 22 years. During all these years, he also thought of others, and it gave himself courage, because he wanted to give others courage. “Often I did not believe any more [in the survival], but I fought, with guards, interrogators, the traitors. I tried to prove courage, also for the others who could not do so. Not any more” (501).
With this quotation ends the documentation of Andreas Petersen, who went through this life with Erwin Jöris during his many hours of interviews and travels and research in archives.
May we live our lives now in such a way that we shall have formed our characters so well, and in such a way that we would also later be able to hold our heads high and also to preserve our charity, even under those conditions which Erwin Jöris had to endure, and for so long.

Prayer Request

Yet, in our context now of believing Catholics, the question that the biographer Petersen does not raise in his whole book about Jöris is: What is (what was) the purpose of this all? What is the meaning of all this suffering, and for what end? Was it just a tragedy of wasted pain? We of the Catholic faith know and trust that no good deed is ever lost, that no suffering, if united with the intentions — often unknown to us — of our Creator and Redeemer, is finally in vain. True sacrifice is the consecration of such suffering.
While reading this story of continuous suffering, hunger, humiliation, and fear, my thoughts again and again returned to those lines of the Dies Irae, our prayers for the dead in the Traditional Requiem Mass: “May so much labor not be in vain” (“Tantus labor non sit cassus”). Or, in a slight variation: “May so much suffering not be in vain.”
As I was able to find out, Erwin Jöris died in Cologne in his bed, in his sleep. The obituary merely noted that an interment would take place in a cemetery in Cologne. As Andreas Petersen later and recently told me, Jöris insisted that no pastor be present at his funeral. He had apparently kept his lifelong disdain of the sacred even from his Communist youth — though he had been once baptized in the Protestant church — and he always looked down upon Christians as “idiots,” to sum it up in Petersen’s own emphatic words to me.
I hope that, in this hardened attitude, Jöris did not in the end forget that one faithful Catholic woman who put her own life at risk for him, in the 1950s in Communist Berlin, when she reached out to his wife to help her find him.
May I, therefore, toward the end of my essay, ask our dear readers to offer a prayer for the repose of the soul of a man who endured so much suffering and who, in natural terms, showed so much of a good heart?

Vita Aeterna

After the close reading of this book, my husband and I also remembered a vivid historical novel, The Red Horse, written by the recently deceased Italian author, Eugenio Corti (d. February 4, 2014), who describes, in part, his own similar experiences during World War II, especially on the Eastern Front (he had been an Italian officer in World War II).
Both of us marked how different the life of suffering is, even under the worst conditions, when the loving touch of Christ and His Mother is present. (We may here remember also Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, and his 1964 book With God in Russia, as well as his 1973 sequel He Leadeth Me.)
Corti describes in the most piercing scenes how priests — their military chaplains — always present among the soldiers, would reach out to the dying (even to the Russian wounded or dying enemy), even while they as Italians were dying. I still remember the one scene where a dozen Italian soldiers were dying of starvation in a Soviet prison camp, and how one priest, near death himself, crept over to their room to be able to give them all a general, sacramental absolution.
The human warmth that comes through in Corti’s fictional and nonfiction descriptions, in very similar conditions, shows how a deeply rooted Christian people tried to help and reach out to others, even while acutely suffering themselves.
May they, too, encourage us in our own lives to foster selflessness and charity in the midst of our own trials and may we be ever grateful for the intellectual freedom and living conditions we still are able to enjoy, as we try to reach Vita Aeterna and the promised Beatitude.

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

Cardinal Burke says confusion spreading among Catholics ‘in an alarming way’

LifeSiteNews: Since the extraordinary synod on the family, we have entered a period of uncertainty and confusion over several “hot-button” issues: communion for divorced and “remarried” couples, a change of attitude towards homosexual unions and an apparent relaxing of attitudes…Continue Reading

Bishop backs Catholic school’s removal of teacher over pro-marriage Facebook comments: cites Pope Francis

SOMERVILLE, NJ, March 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A Catholic school has decided not to rehire a theology teacher who rejected the argument in favor of gay “marriage” on her private Facebook page, her family has announced. The controversy began last…Continue Reading

Creepy Catholicism.

Martin O’Malley is the latest Catholic politician to come out as a duplicitous “Catholic.” Deacon Kandra posts an excerpt here from an interview in which O’Malley displays some amazingly twisted thinking to support homosexual marriage–even though he’s a Catholic. As far…Continue Reading

Polish Bishops’ Conference rejects Holy Communion for divorced and “remarried”

The Polish Bishops’ Conference has issued a communiqué firmly rejecting the proposals that divorced and “remarried” Catholics should be admitted to Holy Communion without amendment of life. The communiqué, published on 12th March, includes the following statement: “In view of the…Continue Reading

Celtic Catholic priest and friends pile on archbishop

On Monday March 16, KALW radio’s City Visions will host a program “Can Bay Area Catholics and Archbishop Cordileone find Common Ground?” Scheduled guests are the Reverend Vincent Pizzuto; Most Holy Redeemer parishioner and teachers’ union representative Ted DeSaulnier; and…Continue Reading

The Traditional Case for Capital Punishment

A group of Catholic publishers recently issued a joint statement urging an end to capital punishment. I have great respect for all of them – I have written for all of them at one point or another. I disagree with…Continue Reading

Cardinal Müller: Pope Is Not Above the Word of God and the Catholic Faith

Edit: Rorate tends to understate things.  They want a sober response.  We’d like to offer this translation of Giuseppe Nardi’s appreciation of their take on Cardinal Müller’s recent letter appearing in the Osservatore Romano and additional commentary from other important Italian…Continue Reading

Is the Synod Secretariat Stacking the Deck Again?

The Vatican today announced that the vice president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family will be a consulter to the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. Professor José Granados‘ appointment,…Continue Reading

Gay activist: Of course our goal is to ‘indoctrinate children into LGBTQ agenda’

TORONTO, March 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — A homosexual activist has candidly admitted that gay-themed materials and policies pushed in grade schools across North America are for the sake of “indoctrinating” children into an unquestioning acceptance of homosexuality. “I am here…Continue Reading

Pope . . . giving holy Communion to remarried divorcees “won’t solve anything”

On the second anniversary of his pontificate, the Holy Father gave a lengthy interview to a Mexican television journalist. – CNA/Bohumil Petrik VATICAN CITY — In a new, wide-ranging interview published Friday on the second anniversary of his election, Pope…Continue Reading

Cardinal rebukes head of German bishops: We can’t ignore Christ’s teaching on marriage

German Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, who headed the Papal Council Cor Unum until 2010 and was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, has publicly opposed the words and direction of the German Bishops’ Conference. In a Letter to the…Continue Reading

Catholic dissenters’ convention keynoter: A pornographic sex columnist?

Seattle, Wash., Mar 12, 2015 / 02:31 am (CNA).- Dan Savage coordinates an annual pornography festival. He has made obscene tirades about Pope Benedict XVI, denigrated the practice of monogamy, insulted high school students and publicly harassed politicians he opposes.…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to subscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.

 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Pope Francis: Palm Sunday Homily

pope742

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis delivered the homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday – Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week, 2015. Please find, below, the official English translation of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks. ***************************** At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8).  Jesus’ humiliation. These words show us God’s way…Continue Reading

Pope: Life Of St Teresa Of Avila Can Help Renew Consecrated Life

st thera avila

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said the life of St Teresa of Avila, characterized by “total self-giving to God,” is a “great treasure” that can help to renew consecrated life today. The pope spoke of the witness of St Teresa in a letter, issued Saturday, to the Superior General of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, Fr Xavier Cannistrà, to mark the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the saint’s birth. Listen to the report by Laura…Continue Reading

Mass at Santa Marta- Ode to joy

2015-03-26 L’Osservatore Romano Joy and hope are Christian traits. It is sad to find a believer who knows no joy, fearful in his attachment to cold doctrine. This was the very reason for Francis’ ode to joy during Mass at Santa Marta on Thursday, 26 March. At the beginning of Mass, the Pope acknowledged the Carmelite “Hour of Prayer for Peace”. “Dear brothers and sisters”, he said, “the day after tomorrow, 28 March, will be…Continue Reading

The exhibition of the Holy Shroud of Turin

pope741

(Vatican Radio/VIS) A press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office on Wednesday to present the upcoming exhibition of the Holy Shroud of Turin (Turin, 19 April – 24 June 2015), on the occasion of the second centenary of the birth of St. John Bosco, which will be specially dedicated to the young and to those who suffer. The Pope will also make a pilgrimage to Turin from 21 to 22 June. The…Continue Reading

Transforming The St. Patrick’s Day Parades

By LAWRENCE P. GRAYSON St. Patrick’s Day, which is a holy day of obligation for Catholics in Ireland, has been corrupted in America by homosexual activists who flaunt their opposition to Catholic doctrine. Celebratory parades have been co-opted for dissident political purposes. Since the seventh century, St. Patrick has been revered as the patron saint…Continue Reading

How Far Can One Sink?

By DONALD DeMARCO “With [Premier] Wynne’s sex education curriculum, we have at last splashed down in a miasmal sewer in which it’s hard to sink any further.” So writes Harley Price, who has taught philosophy at a number of prestigious universities. Many, including outraged parents and indignant members of the medical establishment, agree with him.…Continue Reading

A Book Review . . . A Spiritually Sound Approach To Depression

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY The Catholic Guide to Depression, by Aaron Kheriaty, MD, with Fr. John Cihak (Sophia Institute Press, 228 pages). Visit www.sophiainstitute.com or call 1-800-888-9344 for more information or for ordering. + + + This book has a lengthy introduction, and is then divided into two parts. The first is entitled “Understanding Depression,”…Continue Reading

What If Hillary Doesn’t Care?

By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO What if Hillary Clinton’s emails were hacked by foreign agents when she was the secretary of state? What if persons claiming to have done so are boasting about their alleged feats on Internet websites and in chat rooms traditionally associated with illegal or undercover activities? What if this is the sore…Continue Reading

In Defense Of Economic Freedom

By JOHN YOUNG I believe in complete economic freedom. An extreme position, it will be said, and one not only against Catholic social teaching, but also against common sense. It implies, surely, that I have a heartless disregard for the vulnerable, or at least a naive trust in capitalism — the unrestrained capitalism that Pope…Continue Reading

The Wanderer Interviews His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke . . .

burk10

By DON FIER Part 1 (Editor’s Note: Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, who previously served as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome from June 2008 until November 2014, recently visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. Prior to that he served as Archbishop…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Message From Cardinal Burke

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Is Mary The Mother Of God… Or Only The Mother Of Jesus?

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 3 Responding to a common misconception among separated brethren and ill-informed Catholics: What did the Early Christians believe about the Catholic doctrine on the divine Motherhood? Those men, women, and children who sacrificed everything for the true faith in Jesus — even their very own lives? They were imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Some were burned…Continue Reading

Divine Revelation: Gradual And Progressive

By DON FIER We left off last week reflecting on God’s motive for revealing Himself to us in a supernatural manner. In a word, His sole motive was that of boundless love for mankind. God gratuitously and unconditionally chose to “communicate His own divine life to the men He freely created, in order to adopt them as His sons in…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: As readers of this column know, we like to quote Fr. George Rutler from time to time because his weekly bulletin columns at the Church of St. Michael in New York City are sources of both information and inspiration. After starting his March 22 column by noting that history is “replete with the failures of famous figures,” such…Continue Reading

We Have Been Raised With Christ

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Easter Sunday (YR B) Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Col. 3:1-4 John 20:1-9 In the Gospel reading today, we hear about Peter and John entering the Lord’s grave after they had been informed by St. Mary Magdalen that Jesus had been taken away. We are told that when the Beloved Disciple saw the burial cloths there and…Continue Reading

Nothing To Toast Between China And The Vatican

By FR. BERNARDO CERVELLERA (Editor’s Note: Fr. Bernardo Cervellera is a member of PIME [Pontificio Istituto Missioni Estere], a society of apostolic life. He is the editor-in-chief of AsiaNews, a news service of PIME. (In the essay below, Fr. Cervellera noted China’s willingness, at least in words, “to enter into dialogue with the Vatican,” but decried its refusal “to compromise…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Faustina And Divine Mercy

By CAROLE BRESLIN The Divine Mercy Chaplet had never been one of my favorite devotions until my aunt died. As she lay in the hospital during her final hours, I sat in the room, visiting with the endless stream of visitors who stopped in to see their fellow volunteer. By six o’clock, the room was quiet. I decided to read…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. John Of God

By CAROLE BRESLIN In our time, it is common to hear parents bemoan the fact that their child is impulsive, or strong-willed, or irresponsible. Even the Holy Family suffered when our Lord, at the age of twelve, stayed behind in the Temple. How Mary and Joseph must have agonized over the missing Child Jesus. How do you tell God you…Continue Reading