In his new book on the Catholic priest Franz Reinsich, Irish author David Rice recalls how the cleric bravely refused to serve Hitler

THE executioner wears full formal morning dress – silk top hat, striped pants, morning coat, white waistcoat, white gloves, as he pulls back the curtain to reveal the guillotine, or Fallbeil, as the Germans call it, which is reserved for common criminals. Facing him is a tall man, neck bared for the blade.

“State your name,” a prosecutor says.
“Franz Reinisch, Catholic priest.”

The prosecutor then reads the sentence of death. There is a pause.
Then the prosecutor says, “Franz Reinisch, I am required to ask you, one final time, if you are ready to sign the Fahneneid – the Oath of Allegiance. If you do so, this execution will not take place. The paper is there on the table. Just put your name to it. That’s all you have to do.”

“I thank you for your kindness,” the priest replies. “But I cannot serve in an unjust war nor swear allegiance to an evil regime. I die for Christ the King and for the Fatherland. May God bless you all.”

The prosecutor nods acceptance. Then, “Sharfrichter, walten Sie ihres Amtes!” (Executioner, do your duty!).

It is 21st August, 1942, and this is the final moment in the long saga of one priest’s refusal to serve in the German military during World War Two. More than 17,000 German and Austrian priests did serve: this one said no.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own