Wednesday 28th January 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:

Notre Dame theologian known for books, liberal stands, dies

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Rev. Richard McBrien, a University of Notre Dame theologian known for his unabashed liberal stands on various church teachings and his popular books on Catholicism, died Sunday in his native Connecticut, according to the…Continue Reading

Bankruptcy case brings financial fears for Catholic schools

As president of an inner-city Catholic grade school that depends critically on donations, Helen Dahlman admits to an unconventional fundraising strategy. “We believe in miracles, so we pray a lot,” said Dahlman, who leads Risen Christ School in south Minneapolis,…Continue Reading

Cardinal: No pro-life victory without reaching the marginalized

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2015 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the pro-life movement to truly succeed, it must fight not only abortion, but also the broader “throwaway culture” wherever life is being discarded, said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston…Continue Reading

70 Churches Destroyed in ‘Anti-Charlie Hebdo’ Protests

The Christian community in Niger says it is in shock in the wake of weekend violence that has claimed the lives of 10 people and led to the destruction of dozens of places of worship and Christian homes. The protest,…Continue Reading

ITALY: Muslims smash, urinate on statue of Mary

A man was kneeling in prayer before the statue of the revered Madonna, with the photograph of a loved one in hand, in the small chapel of St. Barnabas in Perugia (Italy), when he was attacked by five “immigrants.” The…Continue Reading

At new in-flight press conference Francis says good Catholics are not required ‘to be like rabbits’

Catholics fail to practise “responsible parenthood” when they have too many children, Pope Francis has said during an in-flight press conference on the way home from Manila. He also denounced the teaching of “gender theory” in schools, likening it to…Continue Reading

CRUX’s “spirituality columnist” is “devastated” the Pope upholds Catholic teaching

Margery Eagan appears to be angling for a job as editor of National “Catholic” Reporter. Or perhaps spokesman for the LCWR: The news that Pope Francis has strongly defended the Church’s ban on artificial birth control left me, in a word, devastated. Goodness. Even…Continue Reading

St. Paul-Mpls. archdiocese declares bankruptcy in response to abuse lawsuits

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday, saying it cannot meet its financial obligations from an unprecedented wave of clergy sex abuse lawsuits. The move freezes lawsuits against the church, protecting the archdiocese…Continue Reading

Pope Francis strongly defends church teaching against contraception

Pope Francis issued his strongest defense yet of church teaching opposing artificial contraception on Friday, using a rally in Asia’s largest Catholic nation to urge families to be “sanctuaries of respect for life.” Francis also denounced the corruption that has plagued…Continue Reading

Bella Dodd, who rejected Communism in favour of faith, is a lesson for young jihadis

Her story shows how easily the best human impulses can be twisted to evil Having blogged last week about John Beaumont’s book, The Mississippi Flows Into The Tiber, with all the extraordinary, uplifting and grace-filled stories of conversion that it…Continue Reading

Fox News’ Bret Baier, actor Gary Sinise cancel on Catholic group after gay gripes

FOX News Channel’s chief political anchor, Bret Baier, has shown himself to have a thinner skin than might be guessed from his on-air persona.  Baier has caved in to pressure from the homosexual activist group ‘Good as You’ to back…Continue Reading

Federal judge strikes down South Dakota’s gay marriage ban

SIOUX FALLS – A federal judge has declared South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, but has stayed the decision pending appeal. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier on Monday issued a summary judgment in favor of the six couples who filed…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’s Morning Homily: Obeying God’s Will is the Path to Holiness

Rome, January 27, 2015 (Zenit.org) Junno Arocho Esteves Obedience to the will of God is the path of holiness. This was the main theme of Pope Francis’ homily during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta. Today’s first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews explained that the sacrifices of old were not enough “for it is impossible that…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: Women First And Foremost In Transmitting Faith

pope714

(Vatican Radio) The primary and indispensable role of women in transmitting the faith to new generations: this was the focus of Pope Francis’ remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day at Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. On the day when the Church celebrates the memory of Saints…Continue Reading

Pope Angelus: Jesus Wanted United Christians

(Vatican Radio) On Sunday and before the Angelus, the Pope recalled the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and its theme, “Give me a drink”, the sentence uttered by Jesus to the Samaritan woman. He told the faithful gathered that the “desire for unity” of the disciples of Jesus is part of our “thirst not only material for water, but…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: Religious who pray for Christian unity an “invisible monastery”

(Vatican Radio) The vital role that men and women religious of different Christian Churches play in the ecumenical journey was at the heart of Pope Francis’s meeting on Saturday with participants in a conference on consecrated life and the search for Christian Unity. The three day meeting, which concludes on Sunday, comes in the context of both this Week of…Continue Reading

Obama’s Tax On Stay-At-Home Moms

By TERENCE P. JEFFREY President Obama’s disrespect for motherhood has manifested itself in policies ranging from support for same-sex marriage to defense of a form of abortion that involves forcing a baby into a drug-induced premature delivery and then leaving that little one to die. When it comes to the most vulnerable and innocent human…Continue Reading

A Book Review… Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s Heroic Witness In Perilous Times

By STEPHANIE BLOCK My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Translated and edited by John Henry Crosby with John F. Crosby, Image Books (2014); $28.00; 335 pages. My Battle Against Hitler, a posthumously published memoir and collection of essays by “20th century Doctor…Continue Reading

“I Can’t Breathe”… The Plight Of The Preborn

By REY FLORES (Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from www.all.org, the website of American Life League. All rights reserved.) + + + This past year has seen race relations decline as a result of a well-orchestrated attempt by a corrupt government that wants to divide us at all costs. And the propaganda peddlers known…Continue Reading

“Flee Immorality,” Church Unity, & Right To Life March

By JOHN F. KIPPLEY (Editor’s Note: John F. Kippley is the author of Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality and other books and articles. With his wife Sheila, he is a coauthor of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach and cofounder of NFP International. This commentary appeared on his January 18 blog…Continue Reading

A Book Review . . . Christianity’s Gift To The World

By JUDE DOUGHERTY Siedentop, Larry. Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. viii + 434. Does it still make sense to still talk about the West in what some call a “post-Christian world”? Larry Siedentop, emeritus fellow of Keble College, Oxford, asks, “Can the West still be…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

A Leaven In The World.. Papal Bloopers And Catholic Teaching

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Pope Francis continues to grab headlines, not only by setting a new record for drawing the largest crowd in history, but also by his question and answer sessions on the planes to and from his pastoral visits. On the plane to the Philippines, the Pope responded to questions about free speech and violent responses to…Continue Reading

Mary’s Perpetual Virginity . . . The Faith Of The Early Christians

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 6 What did the Early Christians believe about the Catholic doctrine on the perpetual virginity of the Mother of Jesus? Those men, women, and children who sacrificed everything for the true faith — even their very own lives? They were imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Some were burned alive, racked, beheaded. Others were crucified, flayed alive,…Continue Reading

I Believe — We Believe

By DON FIER Over the past three weeks of this series on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we have been reflectively examining the characteristics of the indescribably wonderful gift of faith that Almighty God has so generously availed mankind. As so adeptly summarized in the Compendium of the CCC, we know that faith is “the supernatural virtue which…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. I remember a nun telling us back in Catholic school that after God ejected Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He promised that He would eventually send them a Messiah. Where is that in the Bible? — M.R., Indiana. A. In chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis. Actually, the promise was made before God expelled our…Continue Reading

Joy And Fulfillment

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Deut. 18:15-20 1 Cor. 7:32-35 Mark 1:21-28 In the first reading today God makes a promise and a command. He promises that He will raise up for the people a Prophet like Moses. At the same time, He requires that the people will listen to that Prophet because…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Mutien Marie Wiaux

By CAROLE BRESLIN A few decades ago, when Catholic schools taught religion from the Baltimore Catechism, one of the first questions children learned was, “Why did God make you?” The answer was, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The Catechism…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Anthony Of Egypt, Abbot

By CAROLE BRESLIN While we can understand that God is infinite, it is difficult to comprehend the stretch of such infinity. Certainly our finite minds cannot begin to comprehend it. Hence, since our minds our finite, the more we have cluttering our minds with worldly affairs such as possessions, relationships, and activities, the less time and room we have in…Continue Reading