Alfred Delp

Alfred Delp

Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. (15 September 1907 in Mannheim2 February 1945 in Berlin) was a German Jesuit priest who was executed for his resistance to the Nazi régime in Germany.

Early life and education

Alfred Delp was born in Mannheim, Germany, to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. Although he was baptised as a Catholic, he attended a Protestant elementary school and was confirmed in the Lutheran church in 1921. Following a bitter argument with the Lutheran pastor, he requested and received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation in the Catholic Church. His Catholic pastor recognized the boy's intelligence and love for learning and arranged for him to study at the "Goetheschule" in Dieburg. Possibly because of the dual upbringing, he became later an ardent proponent of radically better relations between the Churches. [Alfred Delp, Im Angesicht des Todes,Frankfurt, 1961, pp 138-139]

Thereafter, Delp's youth was moulded mainly by the "Bund Neudeutschland" Catholic youth movement. Right after passing his Abitur – in which he came out on top of his class – he joined the Society of Jesus in 1926. Following philosophy studies at Pullach, he worked for 3 years as a prefect and sports teacher at Stella Matutina Kolleg in Feldkirch, Austria, where in 1933, he first experienced the Nazi regime, which forced an exodus of virtually all German students from Austria and thus the Stella Matutina [ Josef Knünz SJ, 100 Jahre Stella Matutina 1856-1956, J.N.Teutsch, Bregenz 1956; p.132 ] with a controversial 1000 Mark law, to be paid by everybody before entering into Austria. With his Director, Rev. Otto Faller and Professor Alois Grimm, he was among the first to arrive in the Black Forest, where the Jesuits opened Kolleg St. Blasien for 300 some students forced out of Austria. [ Josef Knünz SJ, 100 Jahre Stella Matutina 1856-1956, J.N.Teutsch, Bregenz 1956; p.134 ] After St. Blasien, he completed his theology studies in Valkenburg, Holland (1934-1936), and in Frankfurt (1936-1937).


In 1935, Delp published his "Tragic Existence", propagating a God-based humanism [Alfred Delp, Tragische Existenz. Zur Philosophie Martin Heideggers (1935), in: SdZ, 37-147 sand, Sein als Existenz. Die Metaphysik von Heute (1933), in: SdZ, 557-590] and reviewing the existentialism of Martin Heidegger. In 1937, Delp was ordained a Catholic priest in Munich. Delp had wanted to study for a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Munich, but he was refused admission to the university for political reasons. From 1939 on, he worked on the editorial staff of the Jesuit publication "Stimmen der Zeit" ("Voices of the Times"), until the Nazis suppressed it in April 1941. He was then assigned as rector of St. Georg Church, part of Heilig-Blut Parish in the Munich neighbourhood Bogenhausen. [Karl H. Neufel, Alfred Delp SJ, in: Gestalten der Kirchengeschichte, Band 10,2: Die neueste Zeit, Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln 1993] He preached both at Heilig-Blut and at St. Georg, and also secretly helped Jews who were escaping to Switzerland through the underground.


Outspoken opposition to the Nazis by individual Jesuits resulted in harsh response from government officials, including imprisonment of priests in concentration camps. The government takeover of church property, "Klostersturm", resulted in the loss of valuable properties such as that of 'Stimmen der Zeit', and limited the work of the Jesuits in Germany. The Jesuit provincial, Augustin Rösch, Father Delp's superior in Munich, became active in the underground resistance to Hitler.

It was Augustin Rösch who introduced Delp to the Kreisau Circle. As of 1942, Delp met regularly with the clandestine group around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke to develop a model for a new social order after the Third Reich came to an end. Delp's role was to explain Catholic social teaching to the group, and to arrange contacts between Moltke and Catholic leaders, including Archbishop (later Cardinal)Preysing of Berlin. [Gill, "An Honourable Defeat", p. 164]

Arrest and trial

After the July 20 plot to assasinate Hitler failed, a special Gestapo commission arrested and interrogated all known members of the Resistance. Delp was arrested in Munich on 28 July 1944 (eight days after Claus von Stauffenberg's attempt on Hitler's life), although he was not directly involved in the plot. [See July 20 Plot, especially Note 4] He was transferred to Tegel Prison in Berlin. While in prison, he secretly began to say Mass and wrote letters, reflections on Advent, on Christmas, and other spiritual subjects, [Alfred Delp, Im Angesicht des Todes,Frankfurt, 1961] which were smuggled out of the prison before his trial. On December 8, 1944, Delp received a visitor, Franz von Tattenbach SJ, sent by Rösch, to make his final vows to the Jesuit Order. This was supposedly forbidden, but the attending policemen did not understand what was going on. [ Afred Delp, Kämpfer, Beter, Zeuge, Herder Freiburg, 1962, p.63] Delp wrote on the same day, "It was too much, what a fulfillment, I prayed for it so much, I gave my life away. My chains are now without any meaning, because God found me worthy, to be chained Vincula amoris to his love." [ Afred Delp, Kämpfer, Beter, Zeuge, Herder Freiburg, 1962, p.63]

He was tried, together with Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, Franz Sperr, and Eugen Gerstenmaier, before the People's Court ("Volksgerichtshof") on 9–11 January 1945, with Roland Freisler presiding. Alfred Delp, Helmuth von Moltke, and Franz Sperr were sentenced to death by hanging for high treason and treason. [Urteil des Volksgerichtshofs Berlin, 1.Senat vom 9.bis 11. Januar 1945 (1L439/44 - 1L397/44 - OJ 21/4 G Rs - OJ 38/44 gRs] The court had dropped the charge against Delp of cognizance of the July 20 plot, but his dedication to the Kreisau Circle, his work as a Jesuit priest, and his Christian-social worldview were enough to seal his fate as a victim of the Nazi "system of justice". [Benedicta Maria Kempner, Priester vor Hitlers Tribunalen,Alfred Delp,Bertelsmann,1996, p.71]


While he was in prison, the Gestapo offered Delp his freedom in return for his leaving the Jesuits, but he rejected it. Of all prisoners, only Delp had to wear chains and leg irons up to his execution. [Benedicta Maria Kempner, Priester vor Hitlers Tribunalen,Alfred Delp,Bertelsmann,1996, p.72] The sentence was carried out on 2 February 1945 at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. [See July 20 Plot, Note 5, regarding executions of people not guilty of July 20 conspiracy] The very next day, Roland Freisler was killed in an air-raid. A special order by Heinrich Himmler, "normal agricultural soil is too decent for him", was now carried out. The body of Alfred Delp was cremated and his ashes distributed over open sewage fields somewhere near Berlin; nobody knows where. [ Afred Delp, Kämpfer, Beter, Zeuge, Herder Freiburg, 1962, p. 120]

Posthumous honours

In September 1949, Rev. Superior Otto Faller at Kolleg St. Blasien unveiled memorial plaques for two former educators and teachers slain by the Nazis, Alfred Delp and Alois Grimm, whose ashes were buried there. Some thirty years later, Kolleg St. Blasien named its new theatre hall after Alfred Delp. The Alfred Delp Memorial Chapel was built in Lampertheim in 1965. Many schools in Germany are named after Alfred Delp, among them one in Bremerhaven. In Mannheim, a Catholic student residence is named for him. The guesthouse on the campus of the Canisius College in Berlin also bears his name. In Dieburg, the uppermost level at the Gymnasium, the Alfred Delp School, the Catholic community centre, the Father Delp House, and a street are named after him. The Bundeswehr named its barracks in Donauwörth the "Alfred-Delp-Kaserne".

Alfred Delp in his own words

** "God does not need great pathos or great works. He needs greatness of hearts. He cannot calculate with zeroes" [ Alfred Delp, SJ, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press 2006, p.77]

** "It is the time of sowing, not of harvesting. God is sowing; one day He will harvest again. I will try to do one thing. I will try to at least be a healthy and fruitful seed, falling into the soil. And into the Lord God's hand." [ Alfred Delp, SJ, Advent of the Heart, Ignatius Press 2006, page 19]

**"Whoever does not have the courage to make history, becomes its poor object. Let's do it!" [ Alfred Delp, SJ, The Prison Writings, Orbis 2004, p.xvi]

** "When we get out of here, we will show, that (ecumenicism) is more than personal friendship. We will continue to carry the historical burden of our separated churches, as baggage and inheritance. But never again shall it became shameful to Christ. Like you, I do not believe in the utopia of complete unity stews. But the one Christ is undivided, and when undivided love leads to him, we will do better than our fighting predecessors and contemporaries." [Letter to Eugen Gerstenmaier, in Kollegbrief St. Blasien, Sommer 1965, p. 7-8]

** "In half an hour, I'll know more than you do". "These were the last words of Alfred Delp. He whispered them jokingly, to the Prison Chaplain Rev. Peter Buchholz, who accompanied him to his execution." [Alfred Delp, SJ, The Prison Writings, Orbis 2004, p.xvii]

** "If there was a little more light and truth in the world through one human being, his life has had meaning."



"English sources"
* Alfred Delp, "Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings 1941-1944", Ignatius Press,San Francisco 2006, ISBN 1-58617-081-3. Biographical information pp.13-19 and pp.173-189.
*Anton Gill, "An Honourable Defeat", Henry Holt, New York, 1994.
* [ Kreuser Interview, personal memories of Father Delp as pastor in Munich]
* [ Biography at GDW-Berlin, the center for remembrance of the German Resistance]
* [ Delp honored by Raoul Wallenberg Foundation] (regarding Alfred Delp's assistance to Jews)

"German sources"
* Roman Bleistein, "Alfred Delp - Geschichte eines Zeugen" ("Alfred Delp – A Witness's Story"), Knecht Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-7820-0598-8
* Günther Saltin, Durchkreutztes Leben, Schlüssler, Mannheim 2004 (2), ISBN 3-00-012687-2
* Elke Endraß, Gemeinsam gegen Hitler. Pater Alfred Delp und Helmuth James Graf von Moltke,Kreuz Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN ISBN 13: 978-3-7831-2881-9
** Rita Haub/ Heinrich Schreiber, "Alfred Delp - Held gegen Hitler" ("Alfred Delp – Hero Against Hitler"), Echter Verlag Würzburg 2005, ISBN 3-429-02665-2
* Christian Feldmann, "Alfred Delp.Leben gegen den Strom" ("Alfred Delp: Life Against the Current"), Herder Freiburg 2005, ISBN 3-451-28569-X
* "Glaube als Widerstandskraft. Edith Stein - Alfred Delp - Dietrich Bonhoeffer" ("Belief as Resistance Force: Edith Stein - Alfred Delp - Dietrich Bonhoeffer"), 1987, ISBN 3-7820-0523-6

External links

* [ Translation of a Delp sermon about his ordination as priest]
* [ Delp honored by Raoul Wallenberg Foundation] (in English)
* [ Biography at GDW-Berlin, the center for remembrance of the German Resistance] (in English)
* [ Biography at the German Historical Museum]
* [ An Anglican meditation on Delp's Advent sermons] from Anglicans Online(in English)
* [ Biography at "Jesuiten-Online"] (in German)
* [ Article on the 60th anniversary of Alfred Delp's death, with a biography] (in German)

NAME= Delp, Alfred
SHORT DESCRIPTION=German priest who took part in the resistance to the Nazi régime in Germany
DATE OF BIRTH=15 September 1907
DATE OF DEATH=2 February 1945

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