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by Tom Imhoof

On November 19, 2000 a ceremony held in Poznań, Poland, honored the grandfather of Redeemer member Andre Manitius, Pastor Gustaw Manitius (1880-1940), a Lutheran pastor and bishop who was martyred by the Nazis. A city park was dedicated in honor of Pastor Manitius, and a cross which had belonged to him was returned to his church. (See photograph in the online photo Gallery).

Pastor Manitius was honored for the courage and dedication of his service to the Lutheran community in Poznań, and for the faith that empowered him to resist the Nazis regardless of the cost to himself of doing so. His memory survived among Lutherans in Poland after 1940, indeed after World War II. Plaques honoring him were placed in churches in Warsaw, Bielsko, Łodz, and Poznań, and the Poznań church’s current pastor, Tadeusz Raszyk, led a long-running campaign to name a street or a park for him in Poznań. It became possible to honor this hero only after the collapse of communism. The commemoration of Pastor Manitius last November also served as a partial compensation for the difficulties which Lutherans in Poland (along with other Christians) experienced under the communist regime after World War II.

His was a witness among many during the twentieth century of the absolute need for faith in God to enable people to do what is right even in the face of the comprehensive evils of totalitarianism. He left us a shining example of the power of God to overcome such evils, which we have also seen in our own time.

Pastor Manitius was born February 7, 1880, in Konstantynów near Łodz in Poland. His ancestors had emigrated to that area from Hungary in the 16th century. His grandfather had been presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church in Poland. In 1924 Pastor Manitius moved to Poznań, where he eventually became bishop of the Poznań-Pomeranian District of the Augsburgian (Lutheran)-Evangelical Church. Already marked as an enemy by the Nazis, he was arrested by the Gestapo on October 9, 1939, barely a month after World War II had begun. He was subsequently murdered by them during the night of either January 28 or 29, 1940.

The existence of a Lutheran community in this region of Poland is a matter of great historical interest in view of the fact that one author who shared Pastor Manitius’ experience of imprisonment by the Gestapo in Poznań attributed a high degree of anti-Nazi heroism to the Lutherans living there. Father Edward Frankiewicz, a Roman Catholic priest who was actually one of Pastor Manitius’s cellmates, noted in his memoir of this period that Lutheran pastors living in the region were the bravest of the Nazis’ opponents there. (Edward Frankiewicz, Człowiek poza nawiasem [The man beyond the Pale] (Warsaw : Pax, 1955)).

The city of Poznań and its surrounding province formed a portion of what the Germans called the Warthegau or Wartheland. The name derived from the name of the region's principal river, the Warta (Warthe in German). Originally part of Poland, Poznań became the Prussian province of Posen under the Second Partition of Poland in 1793 . There were ethnic Germans living in the province even before the Second Partition, but after 1793 German settlement increased significantly. Most of the new settlers were Lutherans, and many Protestant parishes were established. Most of the region was restored to Polish control after World War I, and by 1920 most of the Germans living there had re-emigrated back to Germany. On the eve of World War II, about 35 percent of the population (approximately 325,000 persons) was of German origin.

In keeping with one of Hitler's principal war aims, the acquisition of Lebensraum or a "living space" for Germans to the east, the Nazis made the Warthegau a test case of how their settlement policies might unfold in future conquered eastern territories. Under Gauleiter Arthur Greiser they sought not only to subjugate the Polish population and resettle Germans to the region, but also to effect a complete separation of the state from the Catholic Church, and the “coordination” all churches within the province to the service of their purposes.

This effort included a thoroughgoing assault on the Lutheran Church in Poznań, and it was as a result of that assault that Pastor Manitius was eventually martyred for his faithfulness. According to some accounts, the Nazis presented Pastor Manitius with a choice this man of faith could not accept: either become a Volksdeutscher (an ethnic German naturalized as a subject of the German Reich), collaborate in making the Lutheran Church in the region an instrument of Nazi rule, and preach his sermons only in the German language; or suffer the consequences of refusing to collaborate in the Germanization of the area. If Pastor Manitius had accepted and collaborated, he would probably have survived the war. But neither his faith, nor his sense of honor, nor his intense Polish patriotism permitted him to make that choice. Instead, he refused to assist the Nazis in any way. For this act of faith and courage he was interned in a concentration camp and brutally murdered shortly thereafter.

The general circumstances of his death, though often repeated with variations in other cases in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, are not as familiar to us as they ought to be, because Americans are not as familiar with history of Eastern Europe as they might be. These circumstances of brutality and lawlessness are instructive in their own right. Remembering them honors the victims in an important way, and reminds us powerfully of the inhumanity to which absence of faith all too often leads.

The city of Poznań is surrounded by a ring of defensive fortifications. One of them, Fort VII, became the German concentration camp for the area. Pastor Manitius was imprisoned at Fort VII, and murdered there. In his book Father Frankiewicz wrote about the night of January 28 (or 29), 1940, the following:

"The [SS guards were] celebrating the achievement of power by Hitler’s party [Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany, January 30, 1933]…. Enraged crowds were opening the cells like cages with wild animals. They called the prisoners out and amused themselves by mistreating them sadistically…. In our cell we stood at attention in two rows. The guard called my neighbor, Pastor Manitius. He left instantly without a cap, without a jacket, in socks only…. [He] never returned to the cell. After two days his food parcel, his clothing, and his personal items were distributed [to the other prisoners]."
(pages 22-23)

Father Frankiewicz’s account implies that Pastor Manitius was severely beaten, then forced to run through a corridor of the fort (as though attempting to escape), and shot to death by the SS. The usual practice at Fort VII was that SS guards would report such deaths in the words “Auf der Flucht verschossen” – shot while trying to escape. He had committed no crime. He had been afforded no trial. He was killed simply because of his opposition to Nazi policies, and because of his devotion to the independence of Poland. His body was never found, but according to Father Frankiewicz later that night bodies were loaded onto a truck and driven away, in all probability to the site of a mass grave in a nearby forest. His wife learned what had happened to him only in the Spring of 1940, from a prisoner who had just been released from Fort VII. She and her son were expelled from Poznań by the Germans shortly afterwards.

The service honoring Pastor Manitius on November 19 was conducted by Bishop Szarek, the presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church in Poland, and attended by local parishioners, Catholic and Jewish representatives, Lutheran pastors from as far away as Hamburg and Amsterdam, Polish Lutheran pastors, and representatives of the city and provincial governments of Poznań. It was held on the 80th anniversary of the reopening of the Poznań Lutheran parish after the end of World War I. Bishop Szarek in his sermon compared the Poznań parish with the early Christian assembly in Smyrna (in modern Turkey) for the similarities in the challenges and persecutions each of these Christian communities endured. Before moving to the outdoor dedication of the park named in Pastor Manitius’s honor, Bishop Szarek returned to the Poznań church’s Pastor Raszyk a gold chain and cross which had belonged to Pastor Manitius and had been given to the Bishop by the Manitius family in 1991. The Gustaw Manitius Park which Bishop Szarek consecrated will include a memorial marker giving information about Pastor Manitius and his martyrdom.