One Humble Priest Against the SS
The Humble Courier
Father Hartmann Bottger, a Benedictine monk and priest, has confronted bullies his entire life, including pompous clerics, local thugs, and callous and corrupt French Army occupation authorities in the German Rhineland. But Father Harti faces his greatest challenges with the rise to power of the Nazi Party and the brutality of the dreaded Gestapo, which threaten the rights of the Church as well as the lives and spiritual beliefs of Father Harti and the members of his small village parish.
The Humble Courier takes place in Germany during the turbulent years from the end of the Great War to the beginning of World War II. It is the story of a German soldier who believes he has been called to the Roman Catholic priesthood and tasked with fighting evil and protecting the weak from the strong. Although Father Harti initially employs passive resistance to fulfill what he perceives to be his mission, he comes to the conclusion that more aggressive—even violent—means are necessary to confront the terror of the SS and the Gestapo. Employing unlikely allies and extraordinary methods, Father Hartmann sets out to take the fight to his enemies, justifying his actions with St. Augustine’s proverb “Punishment is justice for the unjust.”
Four days later, Otto Kessler returned to St. Ludger’s. This time the Gestapo officer was not alone.
“Hartmann Bottger! You are under arrest,” announced Kessler, striding into the church. This time, the Gestapo officer was in civilian dress, wearing a brown fedora and khaki trench coat. He was accompanied by two black-uniformed SS personnel with pistols holstered on their hips.
“I’ve been expecting you, Kessler. It’s a wonder it took you this long. Incidentally, what is the charge?” asked Harti serenely, rising from his knees in a pew where he had been praying the mid-morning office of Terce.
“Abuse of the pulpit for political purposes,” answered Kessler crisply.
“How conveniently ambiguous. Could you perhaps elaborate?”
“Last Sunday, you read to your congregation a foreign-produced tract critical of the Reich’s government and you defamed the state authorities.”
“It’s only defamation if it isn’t true, Kessler. By the way, I understand the Gestapo arrested seven little girls for distributing copies of the pope’s encyclical inside a parish church in Essen following the Palm Sunday Mass,” stated Harti. “Tell me, are these highly dangerous criminals still in your custody?”
“Your sarcastic comments will be noted for the record,” answered the Gestapo officer.
“Pah! As if that mattered,” responded Harti. “Oh, very well, Kessler,” he responded a few moments later with both a shrug and a sigh that could have indicated either resignation or merely boredom. “Let’s go.”
“What? No argument this time, Father Hartmann?” asked Kessler with mock surprise. “No justifications for your actions? No protests that you are merely abiding by the terms of the Concordat?”
“I doubt any argument would help,” answered Harti. “I know the truth of the matter. And what’s more, I know you do as well.” Kessler glowered in response to Harti’s calm resolve and fearless audacity.
“It might help you if you told me how you received the foreign document in question.”
“I have no information for you,” answered Harti flatly.
Kessler shrugged and signaled to one of the SS guards, who approached Harti, brandishing a pair of handcuffs. Harti complied without comment, holding out his hands in front of him with the insides of his wrists facing together while the SS Trooper shackled him. The priest, still wearing his Benedictine robe, was led out of the church and down the path toward Kessler’s waiting sedan. A group of curious and worried villagers, including Arnold and Hilda Hoppner, stood across the street at a respectful distance. Little Ernst was standing next to his mother, gripping her hand tightly and looking scared. Harti noticed the other villagers were just as frightened as the boy.
“Be calm, my friends,” called Harti in a loud yet calm voice. “There is no reason to worry.” One of the SS men moved as if to try to silence the priest, but Kessler curtly ordered him to stand down. “Arnold,” Harti continued, addressing the baker, “I am compelled to accompany these gentlemen. Please send a telegram to Father Franz Müller at the diocese offices in Münster. The bishop will need to appoint a replacement to say Mass and administer the sacraments in my absence.” Arnold merely nodded with a stricken look on his face.
With that, Harti was placed in the rear of the car with Kessler seated to his left and one of the SS Troopers to his right. The other Trooper sat in the front passenger seat next to Karl, the driver. The sedan pulled out from under the old oak tree and headed out of the village.
“I don’t suppose there will be anything as inconvenient as a trial?’ asked Harti.
Kessler ignored him.
“I see we are headed west rather than east toward Oldenburg. Can you at least tell me where we are going?” Harti inquired.
“Esterwegen,” the Gestapo officer answered.
A self-described Germanophile, J.T. Maicke has spent his entire adult life studying German history, geography, language, culture, and cuisine, and he has traveled extensively throughout Central Europe. He also is a practicing Roman Catholic who was educated by Benedictine monks and nuns in the Midwest. He is a great fan of historical fiction and his favorite writers are Ken Follett, Robert Harris, Bernard Cornwell, George MacDonald Fraser, and Morris West. "The Humble Courier" is Maicke’s first novel.