Seventy years ago, on 26 July 1942, Fr Titus Brandsma was killed in Dachau. This is the Dutch Carmelite who was elevated in 1985 to the honour of the altars and proclaimed, along with St Francis de Sales, co-patron of journalists. Already in the 1930s he denounced the anti-Christian component of Nazism, and continued to do so – with the support of the bishop – even after the Germans invaded the Netherlands.
In August 1941 the Polish Franciscan, Maximilian Kolbe, had already been killed in Auschwitz. Kolbe was only unintentionally a journalist, for his real mission was the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of believers. At Auschwitz, as a retaliation for another detainee's escape from the camp, 10 prisoners were chosen from that block to be executed and he obtained permission to substitute a father of a family.
The series opens in 1934 with the execution of Fritz Michael Gerlich. In Munich, he had immediately discerned in Hitler a prophet of “deviance that will lead to savagery”, defining nazism as “a plague of the spirit”, “one of the greatest betrayals in the history of Germany”. Faced with the cowardice of so many Christians, at the start of 1932 he established the weekly Der gerade Weg (The Straight Path), with the subtitle “The German newspaper for truth and right”. Another German witness is Nikolaus Gross, trade unionist and Catholic journalist, an objector to nazism, beatified in 2001. After the failed attempt on Hitler's life on 20 July 1944, he was hanged at the age of 47. His son asked the arrested man, “Papa, where are you going?”, from the holding cell he answered “I am going there, where the will of God leads me”.
Two Italians also belong to this world of information: the layman Odoardo Focherini (whose heroic virtue was recently proclaimed, and since 1969 called Righteous among the nations) and the Franciscan Placido Cortese (whose cause for beatification is under way). They share both the age at their death, 37 years old in 1944), and the reason why they were killed: for helping the Jews. Fr Cortese, the director of Messaggero di Sant'Antonio (from 1937 until his death) and from 1942 an active advocate of Jews, Croats and Slovenians, prisoners of war and all imprisoned, was captured in October 1944. Nothing more was known of him until 1955 when it was discovered that after being tortured he was killed in November 1944. He was one of the many martyrs who brought honour to a profession which claims other witnesses, believers or non-believers, for freedom and the rights of man.