BL. OTTO NEURURER


Memorial : 30 May

BL. OTTO NEURURER was born on 25 March 1882 in Piller, Austria, the 12th and last child of a family of peasants. In that region life has always been hard. Otto's father died when he was still a young boy and so responsibility for raising the children as well as for their small farm and mill was left entirely to the mother. She was a devout and good woman, but suffered occasional periods of depression. To some extent Neururer inherited this tendency. He had brilliant intellectual talents but was rather timid. By temperament he did not seem destined to the life of a hero.

His formation was similar to that of many others born in the mountain villages who had the opportunity to pursue higher studies. At Brixen (Bressanone) he first attended the minor seminary and then entered the diocesan major seminary. After completing his studies he celebrated his first Mass in his native village.

Otto Neururer was a curate and teacher of religion in many places. At the beginning of the century ideological and social tensions arose in Tirol both in political and ecclesiastical circles. Fr Neururer, who had fully understood the message or Rerum novarum, joined the Christian Social Movement. This decision caused problems with his higher superiors who in general adhered to more conservative views. The difficulties which resulted caused Fr Neururer acute suffering but they never affected his great priestly zeal.

In 1938 the Nazis occupied Tirol. Their take-over triggered the first bloody persecution of the Church in the history of Austria. This persecution was particularly brutal because the Nazis sensed a strong ideological resistance on the part of the Tirolean faithful. Thousands of people were harassed, had their civil rights curtailed, were subjected to interrogation by the Gestapo and were thrown into prisons and concentration camps. Many priests were condemned to death or killed.

At that time Otto Neururer was parish priest in Gotzens, a village near Innsbruck. Moved by a strong sense of priestly responsibility, he advised a girl not to marry a divorced man who was leading a notoriously dissolute life. This intervention of the parish priest brought the revenge of the Nazi authorities. The man who had been rejected by the girl happened to be a personal friend of the Gauleiter, i.e., the highest Nazi authority in Tirol.

Neururer was arrested on the charge of "slander to the detriment of German marriage" and interned first in the concentration camp of Dachau and later in Buchenwald. The sadistic tortures to which he was subjected caused incredible suffering, but even so he shared his scarce food rations with prisoners who were even weaker than himself. In the Buchenwald camp he was approached by a prisoner who asked to be baptized. Perhaps he was an agent provocateur. Neururer suspected that the request could be a trap, but his sense of duty did not allow him to refuse. Two days later he was transferred to the much feared "bunker", which in concentration camps was the place of extreme punishment. There he was hanged upside down until he died on 30 May 1940.

Neururer was the first priest killed in a concentration camp and this explains why his mortal remains were brought to a private crematorium. The ashes, placed in an urn and sent to Gotzens by this crematorium, are authentic, as further painstaking investigations also show. The urn, in a gold mounting, will now be placed under the altar of the parish church of Gotzens.


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