Alfred Delp

September 13, 2017 in Inspirational Jesuits

Seeing first hand his country being turned into something he could not stand, Alfred Delp opposed bitterly the rising tide of Nazism, and continued to do so until he was condemned to death for his beliefs.

Alfred Delp was born in Mannheim, in what is today the southwest of Germany. Despite being baptized a Catholic, Delp attended a Lutheran school and was confirmed into the Lutheran Church in 1921. However, he had his differences with his Church and soon after asked to be received First Communion and Confirmation as a Catholic.

Immediately after finishing school Delp entered the Jesuit novitiate. He studied philosophy at Pullach, near Munich, before in 1931 he took up a role as prefect and teacher in a Jesuit school at Feldkirk, Austria. Delp, and many others, were forced to leave Austria however when in 1933 the newly empowered Nazi regime imposed a tax of one thousand marks on German citizens travelling there. Along with many students from the school, Delp relocated to St Blasien College, in the German Black Forest. He did not remain there long, travelling instead to Holland, and then Frankfurt, where he completed his theological studies, before being ordained in Munich in 1937.

Around this time Delp first began writing for the Jesuit publication Stimmen der Zeit (Voice of the Times), and in 1939 he started working as one of the editorial staff for the magazine. In this role Delp found himself able to openly and publicly condemn the evils of the Nazi regime. However, this was not allowed to continue for long, as in 1941 the Nazis banned the publication and confiscated their buildings. Delp was then made pastor at St Georg church in Munich. Each Sunday at mass, Gestapo informers would attend and take notes on Delp’s homilies; this however did not cause him to temper his rhetoric in denouncing the acts of the government.

In 1942 Delp was introduced to the Kreisau Circle by Augustin Rösch, the Jesuit provincial in Germany at the time. The Kreisau Circle was a secret group of dissidents who detested Hitler’s reign and sought the removal of Nazism in favour of a more tolerant and humane Germany. Delp helped set about trying to construct a new social order based on Catholic principles which would be implemented following the downfall of the Reich.

In July 1944 an attempted assassination of Hitler himself narrowly failed, and there quickly ensued a major witch hunt of resistance members by the Gestapo. Eight days after the failed assassination Delp was arrested. Delp was tortured and interrogated, before being imprisoned in solitary confinement for several months. During this time he wrote letters and reflections, works which were successfully smuggled out. While in prison he was visited by Franz von Tattenbach, a Jesuit priest to whom he secretly made his final vows.

At a trial in early 1945 the court was unable to charge Delp with any involvement with the assassination attempt, but based on his affiliation with the Kreisau Circle he was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was hanged at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin less than a month later. More than a decade after his death some of Delp’s writings from his time in prison were released as a book, In the Face of Death, and others were released subsequently.