Anti-Nazi German priest in line for sainthood

NEW YORK — Pope John Paul II said last week that he would announce the beatification of an anti-Nazi German priest during a summer visit to Germany, according to the World Jewish Congress.

The Rev. Bernhard Lichtenberg, who died in 1943 en route to Dachau, would denounce the Nazis from his Berlin pulpit and would close his service with a prayer for the persecuted Jews.

In Catholicism, beatification is a step toward sainthood.

Lichtenberg is a "true hero of the Holocaust," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC.

Lichtenberg was an "exception to the silence" of the Vatican during the World War II era, Steinberg said.

As early as 1935, Lichtenberg protested against the atrocities in the concentration camps.

In 1942, he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. After serving his time, Lichtenberg, who was 68 years old, was to be moved to Dachau, but he died on the way.

"The precedents are in stark contrast to this appropriate measure," Steinberg said.

Leon Klenicki, the director of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, also pointed to the Vatican's controversial past choices for sainthood.

The Vatican has canonized Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die at Auschwitz so another man could live. Kolbe had edited an anti-Semitic magazine.

Another controversial choice was Edith Stein, a Jewish convert who became a nun and died during the war.

Lichtenberg "helped the Jews" and "died like a hero," Klenicki said.