Blessed Fr. Ludwik Mzyk SVD (1905-1940)

Fr. Ludwik Mzyk came from a miner's family. His father, also Ludwik, was a foreman in the "President" coal-mine in Chorzow. His mother, Franciszka Hadasz, was a native of Bytkow near Katowice. Ludwik, the fifth of nine children, was born on April 22nd, 1905. His family was deeply religious. Ludwik was an altar-boy from his childhood and showed interest in religion and the Church. He discovered his missionary vocation during parish retreats run by a missionary from Nysa. He revealed his desire to his parents but they did not approve of it. His relatives supported him. Together with his eventually convinced parents they secured a place for Ludwik in the minor seminary of the Divine Word Missionaries at the Holy Cross House in Nysa. Fr. Namyslo, the parish priest, was most active in that matter.

Ludwik arrived in Nysa on September 13th, 1918. His father died when Ludwik was still in secondary school. In order to help his mother financially Ludwik, together with his brother, worked in a mine during his summer holidays. He joined the "Kwikborn" society, whose members neither smoked nor drank alcohol, and refrained from these all his life. He passed his final examinations and finished secondary school in 1926. After brief holidays he left Nysa and went to St.Augustin near Bonn, to join the noviciate and to prepare to take religious vows. He took them in 1928. Before the end of his studies in 1926, taking example from Grignon de Montfort, he dedicated himself fully to the Holy Mother of God. The document bearing witness to this he signed with his own blood.

When he finished his philosophy studies, his superiors, knowing his talents, sent him for theological studies to Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood there, on the solemnity of Christ the King, on October 30th, 1932. He said his first mass on the feast of All Saints in the chapel of the SVD Generalate in Rome. Fr. Mzyk completed his studies successfully defending his doctoral thesis in theology at the Gregorian University on February 5th, 1935. Awaiting the official documents confirming his degree in theology he went to St.Gabriel House in Mödling near Vienna where he helped the novice master. That was his training for the job he was to do in Poland.

He arrived in Chludowo near Poznan in summer 1935. The Divine Word Missionaries had bought a house there from Roman Dmowski, a famous Polish politician. The first noviciate of the Polish SVD province was opened there that year. Fr. Mzyk became the novice master. In order to do the job better he learned literary Polish. All his novices agreed: "We had the novice master who was a saint. He tried to make up for his lack of experience with his humility, kindness and diligence. The shining figure our Master was an embodiment of the true religious ascetism... he was a bit severe to the others, but he was much more severe towards himself. He marched towards holiness in the priesthood and missionary service unwaveringly and with full dedication. He was that kind of a man who exercised some sort of silent influence on his environment and left signs of his presence;... in the seminary he was not only our superior but also our example." His talks and sermons sank deep into students' minds. The original texts survived the war. They are written, however, in a short-hand form very difficult to decipher.

The novices entered his room without anxiety or fear but with great respect for him. His gentle voice was always welcoming: "Ave!" In his mouth it was not just a common invitation but a greeting for Mary, the Immaculate as well as for those who entered his room. His success as the master of the noviciate was recognised very soon and he was appointed as the rector of the novitiate.

When the war began almost all the inhabitants of the house were evacuated to eastern Poland. He himself stayed in the house. He welcomed with joy all those who returned after a couple of weeks. His calm positively influenced the young. The situation at the beginning of the occupation remained almost unchanged. The Nazis rarely visited the house. However, learning about forced displacement of the population and arrests the superiors thought about sending the novices back home. Unfortunately, there were problems with changing addresses already. Fr. Ludwik tried different ways in order to safeguard the future of the novices. He got in touch with the SVD in Austria, Germany and in Rome trying to find a place for them. He even proposed to move the novitiate to Bruczków where the novices could work on the farm to earn their living. However, traveling was banned. Gradually it became clear that although educated in Austria and Germany he did not know how to deal with the Germans as occupants. He made one serious mistake in his contacts with the Gestapo. Talking with one of the officers, and being unaware that he was a Gestapo-man, Fr. Mzyk said that he preferred to negotiate with the army than with the Gestapo, because he trusted the former more. That event had a decisive influence on his future. Using that conversation as a pretext the Gestapo arrested him on January 25th, 1940.

 

Martyrdom

The Gestapo carried mass arrests of priests in the surroundings of Poznań and Oborniki Wlkp. on January 25th, 1940. The inhabitants of the Chludowo house were gathered in the refectory together with the priests just brought there. Suddenly Fr. Mzyk, pale-faced but calm, came in and said: "I have to leave with them. They say I will come back. Meantime Fr. Chodzidło will be your temporary superior..." He wanted to add something else but someone pushed him brutally and he was taken away. One of the priests who returned later to Chludowo reported how cruelly Fr. Ludwik was treated during the loading of the truck in Poznan. He said: "Your Master is a true angel."

The day before Fr. Mzyk had been in Poznan to negotiate for the permission to send the novices home but he failed. After his arrest no one could obtain any precise information as far as his future was concerned. The Nazis always answered that he would go back after some things were clarified. They deluded Fr. Mzyk's family in a similar way. Since his relatives lived in Silesia, which was incorporated into the Reich, they really hoped to obtain his release. His brother Wilhelm wrote: "The interventions of the Church, my sisters and my own did not bring any results. Twice someone brought us his undergarment. It was blood-stained and there was a piece of paper hidden there with only one sentence: 'I am still alive. Help me if you can.'"

Blood accompanied Fr. Mzyk from the day of his arrest. In 'Soldier's House' - the Gestapo residence in Poznań - the Nazis tore his cassock down and beat him heavily. It was wintertime and they left him only in his torn shirt and trousers. A fellow-prisoner remembered that when Fr. Mzyk entered the cell in Fort VII in Poznań, one of the prisoners gave him an overcoat left behind by someone taken for execution.

The inhabitants of the Chludowo house learned about Fr. Mzyk's death only a few weeks after it happened. Even Fr. Wigge, sent by Fr. General to save the house in Chludowo and its its inhabitants, knew nothing. He suspected, however, that Fr. Mzyk was dead.

All the information about the martyrdom of Fr. Mzyk was taken from the reports of eye-witnesses, prisoners of Fort VII in Poznań. Frs. Sylwester Marciniak and Franciszek Olejniczak were imprisoned there together with Fr. Mzyk. The first one wrote: "I met Fr. Mzyk in the cell No.60 in Fort VII in Poznań on February 1st, 1940. There were 28 others in that cell with him, mostly students. They all starved... The guards entered the cell day and night and beat them without any reason. Fr. Mzyk fulfilled all orders scrupulously and warned everybody not to do things that were forbidden... It was evident that he prayed all the time... On Ash Wednesday, February 7th, all priests were gathered together in the cell No. 69, near the eastern gate... The daily order was the same as in other cells... but the guards took up any opportunity to persecute us.

Fr. Olejniczak liked discussions and the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit were his favourite subjects. He always found a good debater in Fr. Mzyk. The latter also liked to talk about suitable reading for the youth...

The prison authorities kept a watchful eye on Fr. Mzyk. One day the commander, accompanied by another officer, inspected the cell. He asked each prisoner in turn for his name and a 'crime'. When it was Fr. Mzyk's turn the commander stopped and said: "Here you are, our enemy." When the officers were gone Fr. Ludwik explained that at the time of his arrest and during the interrogations he had given resolute responses... One day the guard Hoffmann called Fr. Ludwik out from the cell and beat him mercilessly in the corridor...

On February 20th, in the afternoon junior officer Dibus - I think he was the deputy commander - together with a driver, both drunk and behaving very nosily entered our cell. They beat Fr. Mzyk. The driver was especially brutal on the order from Dibus. That turned out to be Fr. Mzyk's last day. About 10.00 pm we heard the Ukrainians singing. That was a bad sign... Usually they started from their cell but they ordered them only to sing and then, they visited each cell beating and kicking prisoners, they shot through the keyholes... We heard crying and moaning nearer to us. Then, we heard the plates and spoons being thrown on the floor in our neighbours' cell and the singing "Closest to You, o Lord" (certainly they sang following orders) and we heard shooting. After a short moment of silence we heard the words: "Jetzt zu den Pfaffen". They opened the door to our cell but did not enter. They ordered all of us, except Fr. Olejniczak, to come out. There were a couple of them with Dibus in charge. Hoffmann was there too. We stood there in our socks and dressed (we slept fully clothed) in the main corridor facing the entrance to our cell. Dibus ordered Frs. Galka, Mzyk and myself  to stay outside and the rest were sent back to the cell. They ordered us to run along a side corridor. When we were side by side Fr. Mzyk asked me to give him an absolution. When we reached the end of the corridor Fr. Galka and myself stopped at the bottom of the stairs that began there but Fr. Mzyk continued upstairs. We heard the roaring laughter of the guards from behind. They ordered us to stay downstairs. They caught Fr. Mzyk on the stairs and began to beat him since he 'tried to escape'. There was an awful confusion and I could hardly describe it. I remember very well that Frs. Galka and Mzyk moaned heavily. Even though I was not very near them at that moment I had an impression that they were brutally beaten. One look at Fr. Galka confirmed that - he was bleeding, covered with bruises, his shirt and trousers were torn to pieces. The beating continued for a long time but it is difficult to say whether it was fifteen minutes or half an hour. Meantime I was in the main corridor at the opposite side of our cell, that is to say near the eastern gate. It was to that gate that Dibus led Fr. Mzyk. I was ordered to turn and face the wall so I could not see what he looked liked. Dibus ordered Fr. Mzyk to stop at the gate and returned to a junior officer who stood near me to borrow bullets. Then, he approached Fr. Mzyk and shot him in the back of his head. When Fr. Ludwik fell he shot him the second time. They allowed Fr. Galka and myself to return to the cell. Half an hour later we heard the noises of Fr. Mzyk's body being dragged away.

 After the killing of Fr. Mzyk we had a few days of peace. One of the prisoners, who worked as a sweeper in the commander's office, said that he had seen an official document from the Minister of Justice on the commander's desk forbidding the beating of clergy".

Fr. Olejniczak was blind but he heard everything. He gave another testimony: "Having chosen a victim Dibus used to beat him on the face and kick him mercilessly. One day during an inspection Fr. Ludwik was that victim. When the guards left I wanted to console him, so I approached him and began whispering something. He answered me: 'A disciple cannot be over his Master'. I stopped and asked for his blessing which he kindly gave me."

The confreres who survived the concentration camps wrote: "Our untimely departed Fr. Novice Master remained in the minds of those whom he trained. Everywhere - on Westerplatte or in the stone-queries of Gusen - he was the subject of our conversations. We chose him as a witness to our religious vows that we took in the camp. We invoked him at the beginning of the litany of our murdered confreres asking for help from heaven in our miserable camp life through his intercession".

Pope John Paul II beatified him on 13 June 1999 with a group of the 108 Martyrs of World War Two known also as 108 Blessed Polish Martyrs.