“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.” – Fatima Prayer.
We’ve all said this prayer during the Rosary, but have you ever stopped to think about what it means? Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy: Drug dealers. Child molesters. War criminals.
Mission at Nuremberg is the story of Henry Gerecke (rhymes with Cherokee), a Lutheran minister who enlisted as Army chaplain during World War II. The first third or so of the book focuses on Gerecke’s life leading up to the war, his decision to enter military service at an advanced age (he was nearly fifty) and his role in post-D-Day Europe. When V-E day finally arrived, Gerecke thought he’d get to return to St. Louis and his family; instead, he was sent to Nuremberg to minister to Hermann Goering, Wilhelm Keitel, and nineteen other infamous Nazi war criminals.
Gerecke, along with Catholic priest Sixtus O’Connor, held chapel services with the men on trial, prayed with them, read the Bible with them, and remained by their sides from the day he arrived at Nuremberg until the day of the executions. (O’Connor’s activities are discussed, although in less detail; unlike Gerecke, he never spoke or wrote about his Nuremberg experience.)
This book is a difficult read, to put it mildly. Both men were soldiers as well as clergymen, so neither could say that they didn’t know their flock’s crimes. Father O’Connor had been with the first American unit to come across Mauthausen concentration camp, where he buried the dead and ministered to the survivors. (Pages 195-209 contain graphic descriptions of the horrors of Mauthausen which sensitive readers may want to avoid.)
Pastor Gerecke and Father O’Connor were two very different men, but they had one pivotal thing in common: they both understood the power of Divine Mercy and humanity’s desperate need for it. The book ends on a relatively hopeful note and reminds us that “Jesus died for everybody” and “God can forgive everybody” aren’t just cliches for a 1970s felt banner.
Overall grade: Amazing.