Jesus to Sister Faustina, “Encourage souls to place great trust in My fathomless mercy. Let the weak, sinful soul have no fear to approach Me, for even if it had more sins than there are grains of sand in the world, all would be drowned in the unmeasurable depths of My mercy” (Diary, 55-56).
“Let us pray for the Nazis, because no conversion is impossible!” Fr. Maximilian Kolbe to his friend Fr. John Lipsky, in Auschwitz.
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. I came across this extraordinary story of divine mercy on Fr. Z’s blog.
Rudolf Hoess was the commandant of the concentration camp at Auschwitz The man certainly had the blackest sins imaginable on his soul. When he was arrested in 1946, unlike other Nazis, who denied the existence of the “final solution,” Hoess confessed everything freely and even dispassionately. He was imprisoned in Poland, tried and, on April 16, 1947, hanged just outside the gates of the camp he had once commanded.
But that isn’t the whole story.
Rudolf Hoess was baptized and brought up Catholic, in fact, by very fervent, even fanatically religious parents. In boyhood, he dreamed of being a priest. But in his teens, after a betrayal by a priest, he drifted away from the Church. He enlisted in the army at fifteen, and fought in the last two years of World War I. After some terrible war experiences, he rejected God completely. He eventually joined the Nazi Party and embarked on a career as a camp commandant. In his memoirs, he spoke of the pain he had often suffered witnessing brutality in the camps — but rejected all remorse because of his belief in Nazi ideology, and because he wanted his superiors to see him as tough and unfeeling. It was the Nazi ideal, after all.
After he was condemned to death, Hoess was sent to a prison in the little town of Wadowice, just fifteen miles from Auschwitz, to await execution. Suddenly he asked for a priest. There was considerable difficulty finding a Polish priest who could speak German, but eventually Fr. Wladislaw Lohn, the provincial of the Jesuits of southern Poland, agreed to come from Cracow. Fr. Lohn was well acquainted with Auschwitz. Twenty-seven of his fellow Jesuits had been imprisoned there, and twelve of them had died. When he learned who the prisoner he was going to see was he felt he needed some spiritual reinforcement: He went to the Cracow convent where Sister Faustina had received the revelations about Divine Mercy and asked the sisters to pray for his mission and they did so. Here one account says:
Fr. Lohn then spoke several hours with Hoess. At the end of the conversation, the former commander of Auschwitz made a profession of Catholic Faith and officially came back to the Church. Then Hoess received sacramental confession.
Years later, Fr. Lohn testified that he prepared this man, who had been condemned to death, for confession by speaking about Jesus’ heart. On the following day, Fr. Lohn brought Holy Eucharist to the converted Hoess. On receiving Holy Communion, he knelt down in the middle of his cell and cried. He dismissed the priest with the words, “God has forgiven me, but the people will never forgive me!”
Anticipating his imminent death and reconciled with God, he wrote a touching and loving farewell letter from prison the next day, April 11, 1947, to his wife and his five children. In it he openly stated the motives for his behavior and admitted his faults, but he also describes his sincere and caring love for his family and describes his return to God: “It was a difficult struggle. Yet I found my faith again in the Lord my God.”
On April 12, four days before execution, Hoess wrote a statement publicly asking the Polish nation for forgiveness…
On the day of the execution, April 16, 1947, it was written in the district attorney’s record, “Rudolph Hoess was completely calm until the last moment and he expressed no wishes.”
There are a number of extraordinary coincidences in this story. Not the least of them is the fact that Wadowice, Poland, where Hoess spent his last days and made his extraordinary confession, is the birthplace of the Pope who canonized Sister Faustina and gave the Church the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, Blessed John Paul II.
You can also read more about John Paul II, his predecessor, John Paul I, and the Divine Mercy here.