(Editors note; survival not only meant for the Sudeten Germans surviving the harsh expulsions from their homeland by Czechs and Soviets but also surviving the inhumanity of the Nazi regime in the Sudetenland. Despite the accepted wisdom, a great many of the Sudeten Germans were profoundly anti-Nazi.)
AN ALMOST FORGOTTEN CLERGYMAN by Walter Exler
More than 4,000 Germans lived in Müglitz,/District of Hohenstadt in Schonhengsgau (Moravia) during the German occupation. One of theme was Chaplain Hans Kostron.
Today, at age 92, Melanie Penka/Ulrich precisely recalls the happenings in the Müglitz church, on Corpus Christi 1942. The former acolyte Franz Tollran agrees wholeheartedly with Melanie Penka that on this splendid Sunday the festively decorated church was filled to the last seat. Amazing, since it was during the short period of wartime victory celebrations when Nazi leadership was striving to develop the Sudetenland into a model pagan administrative district. Not a few Catholics had left the Church or at least had turned their backs on it. It became fashionable to praise National Socialist neo-paganism and to wave swastika flags. Church processions and relocations thereof had long been forbidden and Church flags had
to remain locked up in the sacristies or parish houses.
Thus the 1942 Corpus Christi procession in Müglitz had to take place only within the narrow confines of the church grounds. Priests could no longer dispense a blessing from the former four altars in the city of Müglitz. As Melanie Penka recalls, Chaplain Hans Kostron was to celebrate the Corpus Christi mass …
According to Melanie Penka, “We in the church waited over fifteen minutes beyond the starting time. Many concerns arose until the sacristan, who also lived in the chaplainry, appeared and informed the community that Johannes Kostron had been picked up by the Gestapo. An atrocious provocation of Nazi leadership against the resolute flock of Catholics in Müglitz! “
But the bells of Müglitz did not sound an alarm if indeed they had not already been sacrificed to the Moloch of war. It was indeed a sad Corpus Christi. And when reflecting on 1942, Ernst Kukula, born the son of a farmer in 1934 in Müglitz, concludes that after the arrest of Chaplain Kostron every thoughtful Catholic realized that National Socialism and Christianity were incompatible. Fear abounded. One felt increasingly as in an “underground community.”
What had Chaplain Kostron done? As an active singer with the choral society in Müglitz, as an arresting preacher, as one engaged in sports, and as a teacher of religion he was beloved in the community and fully integrated with it. To the Nazis he was a thorn in their eye. “The small petty Nazi functionaries” who saw an antagonist in the thoroughly German-oriented Chaplain Kostron, envied his full church and his appeal to young and old in Müglitz. A reason for the Gestapo staff in Moravian Schonberg to take Johannes Kostron into “protective custody”!
With his sermons and his work with the youth Kostron must have been in the sights of the secret state police for quite a while. Accordingly, on February 14, 1942 he was warned “about anti-National Socialistic youth training and youth work.” In addition the former acolyte Franz Tollran tells of a eulogy by Chaplain Kostron in the community of Schützendorf In it he praised a dead
man who had loyally maintained his Catholic faith as had the popular fighter pilot Werner Mölders, killed in …1941. Mõlders made the sign of the cross before every hostile flight, … The Catholic Mölders criticized the neo-paganism of National Socialism in his own way. Allegedly, he had threatened to return his military decorations if Clemens August, Baron of Galen, Bishop of Münster and later cardinal, assertions turned out to be true. ” that the National Socialists justified killing the sick and the handicapped because they were “unworthy lives”.
After his arrest Kostron was questioned for four weeks in the prison of Troppau (Moravia) and on July 10 was transferred to the concentration camp of Dachau near Munich. “We had no fear of the concentration camps and the name, Dachau, meant absolutely nothing. At first we thought that the chaplain was imprisoned in Tachau in Egerland (Bohemia),” exclaimed former community member Melanie Penka.
A petition by first lieutenant Emil Kostron, a brother of the chaplain and teacher in Alt Moletein, who in 1942 was recuperating from a war injury in the hospital in Olmütz, did not lead to the priest’s unrestricted freedom. The chief of the security police in Berlin replied: “I regret to have to inform you that a release of your brother in light of the severity of the charges against him is impossible. He failed to heed a police warning and misused his office as clergyman through continued hostile and provocative utterances about the state in order to undermine the stability of the home front.”
The community had lost its most beloved priest. He was one of their own. He came from Schildberg in the vicinity of Müglitz .. He understood the mentality of the flock entrusted to him and felt intertwined with them. Johannes, born on January 27, 1912, was the youngest of the once nine children of the farmer Franz Kostron and his wife, Josefa. Josefa Sula came from Zerhof, the Czech linguistic enclave between Friesetal and Schonhengstgau. (Moravia). She was reputedly a woman of strong faith. Her granddaughter Wilma Emenet nee Tonn of Schildberg,… recounts that she spoke only Czech with her children in predominantly German Schildberg.
After six years of elementary school education in Schildberg Johannes attended the Boys’ Seminar (Gymnasium) in Freudental from which he graduated in 1932. Theological studies followed with Czech seminarians in Olmütz. On the feast day of Cyril and Methodius on July 5, 1937 he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Leopold Pecan in the cathedral of Olmütz …. He then immediately began his service as chaplain in Müglitz, which the Gestapo commandant abruptly ended on June 2, 1942.
According to Reverend Emil Valasek (Der Kampf gegen die Priester im Sudeten/and 1938 bis 1945 [The War against the Priests in the Sudetenland 1938-1945], Konigstein, 2003), 108 Sudeten German priests, who were his colleagues, shared the fate of Johannes Kostron. These places of confinement were termed concentration camp, reformatory, prison, or labor camp, where those who wielded power at the time also incarcerated many officials of the Catholic Church This was all the easier for the Nazi government since the concordat between Germany and the Vatican did not apply to the Sudetenland. The Nazis termed concentration camp
detention as “protective custody.” Thirty-seven of the 108 priests did not survive it.
They were murdered, as was the Vice Superior of the Archbishop Priests’ Seminary in Olmütz and the Director of the Boys’ Seminar in Freudental, Karl Schrammel (Sudetendeutsche Zeitung 39/2007). Not a few died from the results of their inhumane torture in the concentration camp.
Johann Kostron survived. At one of the first Müglitz homeland meetings he told his trusted
compatriots in Fulda (Germany) that for a time he would not be able to lead any parish community. He tried it shortly after his release and served as chaplain until 1947 in Hohenpeissenberg in Upper Bavaria. But the traumatic experiences in the concentration camp at Dachau could not yet be harmonized with administering a parish. Thus he then served at the invitation of Reverend Josef Kentenich as pilgrimage priest in the Schönstatt Convent near Vallendar in the bishopric of Trier (Germany)…
Another befriended Schönstatt priest of Chaplain Kostron was the parish administrator Reverend Josef Fischer of Gross Stiebnitz (District of Grulich, Bohemia). For some time he had used the familiar saying adapted in the Reich from a children’s prayer: “Lieber Gott, mach mich stumm, dass ich nicht nach Dachau kumm.” (Dear Lord, make me mute, that I do not to Dachau come) and applied it to his work with the regional Hitler Youth. In 1941 Reverend Fischer was taken to the SS-controlled Dachau concentration camp.
It was he whom Chaplain Kostron met first when in June 1942 he shared the same fate. Reverend Fischer – introduced Hans – as he was called in the camp — to Josef Kentenich, the founder of the Schönstatt religious Movement. Kentenich had arrived in Dachau in March after already spending several months in a Koblenz jail. In contrast to many other Catholic clerics, Kentenich was from the beginning a resolute opponent of National Socialism, which in advancing neo-paganism presented a danger not just for the Church. Adolf Hitler could not be baptized Baron von Galen, Bishop of Münster reputedly said as the Nazis had come to power. Schönstatt groups formed around Fischer and Kentenich in the Dachau concentration camp, which also included Hans Kostron and Deacon Karl Leisner, whom Pope John Paul II in 1966 declared a martyr and a saint.
Fischer and Kostron also rendered services to the Schönstatt community from inside the camp. Since Hans Kostron could work in the camp’s financial office, he risked sending “black mail” out of the camp for Kentenich. This gave Kentenich the opportunity to keep in touch with his Schönstatt colleagues in Vallendar. For Kostron and his contact at the bank in Müglitz, discovery would have meant certain death. Chaplain Kostron along with Reverend Kentenich was released from the camp on April 6, 1945 as the American troops were drawing closer.
After a term of service as chaplain in Hohenpeissenberg, Hans Kostron served in Vallendar (District of Mayen-KoblenzlRhineland-Palatinate) and with Reverend Kentenich was involved in pilgrimage activities including that as director of men. Nonetheless, he still hoped for a return to his diocese of Olmütz as did many of those driven from their homeland still thinking of the expulsion as a passing historical misunderstanding. These hopes were not fulfilled, as we all know…
After the transfer he once again traveled with the brother of Gertrud Maus, his long time pastoral
co-worker, to his homeland. Without much ado he visited his old theater of activity in Müglitz and his birthplace of Schildberg with its Church of the Ascension in which he had celebrated his first mass. Perhaps also Zerhof, his mother’s place of birth. As a Schönstatt priest he had dedicated himself to the heavenly Virgin Mary. His symbol in his workers’ circle, “Hände Mariens” (Mary’s Hands), became in Dachau “opferstarke Hände‘ (strong offering hands). This he achieved in the almost three years of SS Dachau hell. He maintained his priestly dignity and his humanity. His sympathetic understanding linked with a practical view of things and an impenetrable sense of humor permitted him to help, to comfort, and to stand by with his “opferstarke Hände. ” There were many suffering comrades in the camp, whose deaths
he reported to their relatives in Schildberg and Moletein, to those in the Schönstatt Movement, as well as to his community of St. Karl Borromäus, Letters, which Chaplain Kostron wrote from Dachau to his relatives in Alt Moletein and Schildberg, reflect his deep faith and also the horrors of the concentration camp.
On October 16, 1992 Reverend Johannes Kostron died after a stroke. Not only should we Sudeten Germans not forget this bold man: a priest who was convincing not only with words but also with deeds. Intended for the school inspector in Müglitz, who had spoken against the Church, he shouted from the pulpit in 1942: “In Russia our people are dying and in our homeland we are creating a new paganism. One calls one’s self a believer in God but notices nothing of God.”