On Sunday, 7 October, the Holy Father will beatify Nikolaus Gross, layman, father of seven children, union activist, newspaper editor, and martyr.
Nikolaus Gross was born on 30 September 1898 of a colliery blacksmith in Niederwenigern, near the city of Essen, and attended the local Catholic school from 1905-12. He then worked initially in a plate rolling mill, then as a grinder and later as a face-worker in a coal mine. He worked underground for five years.
In the meantime, he married Elizabeth Koch from Niederwenigern. They had seven children in the course of their happy marriage. He loved his family above everything and was an exemplary father in his responsibility for their education and upbringing in the faith. Gross did not withdraw into the shell of family life. He remained attuned to the great social problems, precisely in his responsibility for his family. Work and social obligations were the place in which he realized his Christian mission. In his doctrine of faith written in 1943 he wrote: "The majority of great achievements come into being through the daily performance of one's duties in the little things of everyday routine. Our special love here is always for the poor and the sick".
At the beginning of 1927, he became assistant editor of the Westdeutsche Arbeiterzeitung (West German Workers' Newspaper), the organ of the St Anthony's Miners' Association (KAB) and soon became its editor-in-chief. Here he was able to give Catholic workers guidance on social and labour questions. In the course of time, it became clear to him that the political challenges contained a moral claim and that the social problems cannot be solved without spiritual efforts.
Already a few months after Hitler's seizure of power, the leader of the German Labour Front, Robert Ley, called the KAB's Westdeutsche Arbeiterzeitung "hostile to the state". In the following period, Gross attempted to save the newspaper from destruction without making concessions on its content. From then on he knew how to write between the lines. In November 1938 came the final ban on the workers' newspaper which, in the meantime, had been renamed Kettelerwacht (Ketteler's Watch).
Gross, who had to work very hard for his education was no great orator. But he spoke convincingly, warm-heartedly and with power of persuasion. The fact that Nikolaus Gross joined the resistance in Germany resulted from his Catholic religious conviction. For him the key was "that one must obey God more than men". "If something is demanded of us that goes against God or the Faith, then not only may we, but we must, refuse obedience (towards men)" Thus wrote Nikolaus Gross in 1943 in his doctrine of faith. It was becoming ever clearer to him that Germany had reached this state under the Hitler regime.
Gross set down his joint thoughts in two writings which later fell into the hands of the Gestapo: The Great Tasks and Is Germany Lost? They were to contribute towards his execution.
After the abortive assassination attempt on 20 July 1944, events came thick and fast. Gross, who was not himself involved in the preparation and execution of the plot, was arrested towards noon at his home on 12 August 1944 and taken first to the prison in Ravensbrück and then to the penitentiary in Berlin-Tegel. His wife, Elisabeth, came to Berlin twice to visit him. She reported clear signs of torture on his hand and arms. His letters from the prison and the witness of the chaplain, Fr Peter Buchholz, give impressive evidence that constant prayer was the source of strength in his difficult and, in the end, hopeless position. In every letter he never failed to request constant prayer from his wife and his children, just as he himself also prayed for his family each day.
But the testimony to truth and faith is not to be obliterated! It lives on in those who have gone before us as a shining example. The prison chaplain, Fr Peter Buchholz, who blessed the condemned man on his final walk, reported afterwards: "Gross bowed his head silently during the blessing. His face already seemed illuminated by the glory into which he was getting ready to enter".
The rulers of that time refused to give him a Christian burial. His corpse was cremated and his ashes scattered across a sewage farm.