by Elena Perekrestov

At the height of World War II, a small band of stu­dents in Munich, Ger­many, call­ing them­selves the White Rose, exposed the Nazi régime’s mur­der­ous atroc­i­ties and called for its over­throw. Among them was Alexan­der Schmorell, a tal­ent­ed young man of Rus­sian descent who, deeply inspired by his Ortho­dox Chris­tian faith, was will­ing to sac­ri­fice his life as a tes­ti­mony to his faith in God that had taught him to love beau­ty and free­dom, both of which the Nazis sought to destroy. 

Arrest­ed and con­vict­ed of trea­son, Alexan­der and sev­er­al com­pa­tri­ots were con­fined in Stadel­heim Pris­on to await their exe­cu­tion. The pris­on, then, became Alexander’s “Gol­go­tha”. For three months, he pre­pared him­self and his fam­i­ly for the inevitable end. A Catholic priest who vis­it­ed the pris­on­ers remarked that Alexan­der had “set a course for heav­en.”

The short chap­ter below is excerpt­ed from Alexan­der Schmorell: Saint of the Ger­man Resis­tance, Paper­back — 232 pages — $19.95– ISBN 978–0–88465–421–6. Avail­able direct­ly from the pub­lish­er or from any good book­store or online book­seller.

As Alexan­der lan­guished in pris­on, his inner peace unfold­ed fur­ther, con­trast­ing sharply with the mood expressed in let­ters he had writ­ten dur­ing the win­ter pri­or to his arrest, com­plain­ing that “bleak­ness and sad­ness have become my con­stant com­pan­ions,” and that “dread­ful dis­qui­et is the pre­vail­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of my life,” with no respite of calm. Now, after hav­ing spent over four months in pris­on, and almost three months on death row, he was moved to write the fol­low­ing let­ter to his sis­ter.

Icon of St Alexander Schmorell

Icon of St Alexan­der, paint­ed by Priest Alex­ij Lem­mer for his glo­ri­fi­ca­tion in 2012.

July 2, 1943

My dear, dear Natasha:

You have sure­ly read the let­ters I have writ­ten to our par­ents, so that you are fair­ly well post­ed. You will per­haps be sur­prised when I tell you that I am day by day becom­ing calmer inward­ly, even joy­ous and glad, and that my mood is near­ly always bet­ter than it used to be when I was free! How does this hap­pen? I’ll tell you at once. This whole ter­ri­ble “mis­for­tune” has been nec­es­sary to show me the right way—and there­fore it has actu­al­ly not been a mis­for­tune at all. Above all, I am glad, and grate­ful to God for it, that it has been grant­ed to me to under­stand this sign from Him, and there­by to find the right way. For what did I know before this of faith, of true, deep faith, of truth, of the ulti­mate and only truth of God? Very lit­tle!

But now I have pro­gressed so far that I am hap­py and calm and con­fi­dent even in my present situation—come what may. I hope that you have expe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar devel­op­ment and that you too, after the deep sor­row of sep­a­ra­tion, have reached the point of thank­ing God for every­thing. This mis­for­tune was nec­es­sary; it opened my eyes—not only my eyes but also the eyes of all those whom it has befal­l­en, our fam­i­ly includ­ed.

I hope that all of you have like­wise under­stood cor­rect­ly this sign from God. My sin­cer­est greet­ings to all, but greet­ings espe­cial­ly to you from

Your Shurik

Cover of the newly published book on St Alexander Schmorell

Cov­er of the new­ly pub­lished biog­ra­phy of St Alexan­der of Munich.

Dur­ing her impris­on­ment by the Gestapo, Natasha had near­ly lost sight in one eye as a result of a reti­nal detach­ment. Hav­ing received news of this, Alexan­der asked for per­mis­sion to write a let­ter home with­out wait­ing for the req­ui­site num­ber of weeks to elapse. In a short note dat­ed July 11, ever solic­i­tous of the wel­fare of oth­ers, he urged his par­ents to make sure that his sis­ter received the best of care. He cau­tioned again­st going to the med­ical clin­ic at the university—“I know how they work there”—and expressed hope that Natasha is being treat­ed by Pro­fes­sor Wes­se­ly: “He is the best eye spe­cial­ist.” Alexan­der advised Natasha to fol­low her doctor’s pre­scribed treat­ment exact­ly to make sure that it is suc­cess­ful.

A few days ear­lier, on July 8, unbe­known­st to Alexan­der, the senior pros­e­cu­tor in Munich had advised the chief pros­e­cu­tor of the People’s Court in Berlin that the day of the exe­cu­tions of Alexan­der Schmorell and Pro­fes­sor Kurt Huber was set for Tues­day, July 13. Willi Graf, how­ev­er, was still required for fur­ther ques­tion­ing, and his exe­cu­tion was post­poned.

Ear­ly on the morn­ing of July 13, Alexan­der received the offi­cial order of exe­cu­tion. It was to take place at 5 p.m. that after­noon, with Alexan­der going first, fol­lowed by Pro­fes­sor Huber. Alexan­der picked up his pen one last time to write his loved ones a let­ter of farewell.

Dear Moth­er and Father,

It was indeed not to be oth­er­wise, and by the will of God I am to con­clude my earth­ly life today, in order to enter upon a new life that will nev­er end, and in which we shall all meet again. May this reunion be your com­fort and your hope. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this blow is hard­er to bear for you than for me, for I leave this life with the knowl­edge that I have served my deep­est con­vic­tion and the truth. All this per­mits me to face the approach­ing hour of death with a calm con­science.

Think of the mil­lions of young men who are giv­ing up their lives on the battlefield—their fate is also mine. Greet all those who are dear to my heart most affec­tion­ate­ly! But espe­cial­ly Natasha, Erich, Nyanya, Aunt Toni, Maria, Alionushka and Andrey.

In a few hours I shall be in the bet­ter world, with my moth­er; I shall not for­get you, and shall inter­cede with God for your solace and peace. And I shall wait for you. One thing above all I urge upon you:1 do not for­get God!!!

Your Shurik

With me goes Pro­fes­sor Huber, who also sends his heart­felt greet­ings!

At mid­day, Fr Alexan­der (Lovchii), who had been sum­moned by Siegfried Deisinger, came to hear Alexander’s last con­fes­sion and to admin­is­ter Holy Com­mu­nion.2 Not long after, when Deisinger entered the cell, Alexan­der met him almost joy­ful­ly. “In the death cell,” wrote Deisinger,

I encoun­tered one who had just received the last com­fort­ing gifts of his reli­gion3 and who had already cast from him­self all earth­ly things. Unfor­get­table are the words he spoke serene­ly to me: “You will be sur­prised that I am so calm at such a moment. But I can tell you that even if you told me right now that some­one else had offered to die in my place—for instance, my pris­on guard—I would nonethe­less choose to die. I am con­vinced that my life must end now, ear­ly as it seems, because I have ful­filled my mis­sion in life, and I can­not imag­ine what else I would do in this world if I were set free right now.”4

Then it was time for Deisinger to leave the cell, as the hour of death was draw­ing near and the final prepa­ra­tions for the exe­cu­tion had begun. “Firm­ly and coura­geous­ly Alexan­der bid farewell to me. His final greet­ing was for his fam­i­ly. There emanat­ed from him such a true and pro­found son’s and brother’s love, which com­plete­ly filled him.”5

There was one final delay. As 5 p.m. drew near, three SS offi­cers arrived unex­pect­ed­ly at Stadel­heim bear­ing papers that gave them per­mis­sion to be present at the exe­cu­tion (a high­ly irreg­u­lar occur­rence). They had hoped to wit­ness a hang­ing to deter­mine how long it took for a man to stran­gle to death, and whether the process could be short­ened or pro­longed at will. Dis­ap­point­ed by the fact that there was to be a behead­ing instead, they request­ed that they be shown the work­ings of the guil­lotine. Their vis­it, and the detailed expla­na­tion they received, delayed the exe­cu­tion.

To Deisinger, this macabre episode under­lined the stark con­trast between Alexan­der and the sur­round­ing abom­i­na­tion. “On the one side was ide­al­ism and the moral stature of a young man pre­pared to die for it. On the oth­er side were those sub­hu­man types with their obscene desire to watch death being inflict­ed upon a defense­less vic­tim.”6

The delay, how­ev­er, did not cause Alexan­der to fal­ter. With dig­ni­ty he walked across the pris­on court­yard to a small bar­rack con­tain­ing the guil­lotine that had claimed his friends’ lives and was about to claim his.7Firm­ly and loud­ly resound­ed his “Yes” in the gloomy death cham­ber when the pros­e­cu­tor on duty asked him whether he was Alexan­der Schmorell. Sec­onds lat­er, he passed over into that “new life, the glo­ri­ous and ever­last­ing life” which he so fer­vent­ly spoke of in his let­ters and of which, through­out his last weeks on earth, he “had been per­suad­ed, and which he had embraced,” hav­ing come to feel him­self “a stranger and pil­grim on the earth.”8

He was fol­lowed sev­er­al min­utes lat­er by Pro­fes­sor Huber.

The day was July 13, the feast day of the Holy Apos­tles, most of whom had suf­fered mar­tyric deaths.9 The funer­al was con­duct­ed by Fr Alexan­der on the evening of the next day. Only a close cir­cle of fam­i­ly mem­bers was per­mit­ted to be present. Alexan­der was laid to rest in the ceme­tery at Per­lacher Forst, not far from Hans, Sophie, and Christoph.

Niko­lai Hamaza­spi­an watched from a dis­tance. On his way to the ceme­tery he had passed a poster announc­ing the exe­cu­tion of the “trai­tors Pro­fes­sor Huber and Alexan­der Schmorell.” Across the poster, in bold let­ters, some­one had writ­ten: “Their spir­it lives!”10 

About the Author

A life-long edu­ca­tor, Matushka Ele­na Perekrestov teach­es at Saints Cyrill and Method­ius High School (San Fran­cis­co, CA) and the Sum­mer School of Litur­gi­cal Music at Holy Trin­i­ty Sem­i­nary (Jor­danville, NY). Her hus­band, Arch­priest Peter, is dean of the Holy Vir­gin Cathe­dral in San Fran­cis­co.

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