*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 20th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was on the 20th of October in 1889 that Johann Gruber was born in Grieskirchen, Austria. The orphan turned teacher and priest would be martyred by the Nazis in a concentration camp- beaten and strangled he was murdered on Good Friday in 1944. The story of Johann Gruber, now called the “St. of Gusen”, went untold for decades until the 1980s when some of those who he ministered to at the Concentration camp began telling their story. One of the thorny issues in Gruber’s story was the cause of his initial arrest- the NAZI’s created a salacious scandal and charged the priest with abusing disabled children in his care. In 2016 the Vienna Criminal court fully exonerated Gruber posthumously and his story has been told in a few German-language biographies and a popular play commissioned by the Papa Gruber Circle. Let’s tell the story.
Johann Gruber was born OTD in 1889 in Austria, near the German border. He and his younger siblings were orphaned and Gruber would become a de facto parent to them. He attended the Collegium Petrinum in Linz, Austria, and from there was accepted at the Seminary of Linz. He was ordained and took a post teaching at the local orphanage. He was sent to Vienna to study pedagogy (that is, studying different ways of teaching). From there he became a teacher at the Bishop’s Teacher Training facility and was then called to be the director of the Linz Institute for the Blind. After the annexation of Austria Gruber became a vocal critic of the NAZI’s and soon found himself under arrest on what we now know were false charges.
In 1940 he was sent to Dachau and eventually sent to the concentration camp at Gusen. Known as the “bone mill” it was one of the tougher work camps, designed predominantly for political dissenters. A deal brokered by the Pope gave priests at Gusen the opportunity to leave for a less work-intensive camp. Gruber refused to go and ministered to those he was imprisoned with. As a former school dean, he was used a secretary in the sickbay by the SS and then was put in charge of a digging project that would put him in contact with people outside the prison. He began reaching out to locals and arranged for food and medicine to be smuggled into the camp. He set up a school for the young children in the camp and became famous for his “Gruber Soup”. His underground network was uncovered, however, and he was sent to a bunker where he was tortured for days and then hung on Good Friday, 1944. The camp would be liberated within a year.
A story was told of him before he was arrested, being chided by a nun for his constant candle lighting- he is reported to have replied “It is better to light a small candle each day than to lament over the darkness!”. Today we remember a small candle in the darkness of a concentration camp, a “small round man” known as Papa Gruber, and the St. of Gusen on the day of his birth in 1889.
The last word for today comes from John chapter 12:
35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite fictional Gruber includes Die Hard’s “Hans Gruber”, Mr. Gruber from Paddington Bear, and MacGruber Macgyver, son of Macgyver He is and Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man whose favorite Gruber is Dave (Gruber) Allen, aka guidance counselor Jeff in Freaks and Geeks. I am Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.