|Blessed Fr. Alojzy Liguda SVD
Fr. Alojzy Liguda, SVD was born on January 23rd, 1898 in Winów, a village in the region of Opole. He was the seventh child of Wojciech and Rozalia Przybyła. The atmosphere in the house was deeply religious and this influenced Alojzy. He learned prudence and a sense for thorough and quiet fulfillment of duties from his mother, and diligence together with an interest in the active parish life from his father who was an organizer and guide of the pilgrimages to Wambierzyce and to the sanctuary on Mount St.Anne.
Alojzy started primary school education when he was six. It was earlier than the other children usually started. He obtained very good grades at school. Educated in an atmosphere where everyone was a dedicated Christian he was seized with a desire to work in the service of the Church. He first learned about mission countries from religious magazines and became interested in China and Africa.
He was admitted to the minor seminary of the Divine Word Missionaries in Nysa at the age of fifteen. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. He was called up in 1917 and sent to the French front as a gunner. During the war he did not loose his religious spirit, firmly installed in him by his upbringing and seminary education. After the war he rejoined the seminary and finished his secondary education passing the final examinations in 1920. Then he entered the novitiate of the Divine Word Missionaries at St.Gabriel’s House in Mödling near Vienna. The first Silesian Insurrection broke out about that time. Alojzy took the event very seriously and suffered on its account, especially since he had first-hand reports in the letters from his father who was persecuted for supporting the Polish cause.
After the novitiate Alojzy was sent to Pieniezno for teacher’s training. He was appointed as a Latin and mathematics teacher in the minor seminary there. Then, he returned to St. Gabriel to complete his further education. Dogmatics and Church history were his favourite subjects, but he attained very good marks at the other subjects, too.
He was ordained to the priesthood on May 26th, 1927 at St.Gabriel’s and said his first mass at the Holy Cross Church in Opole. Traditionally masses in that particular church were also celebrated partly in Polish. He dreamt about missions in China or New Guinea but was appointed to the Polish Province instead. Alojzy accepted it joyfully and arrived in Poland in autumn 1928. He stayed at the Provincial House in Górna Grupa for a short period of time and was sent for further studies. The province needed highly qualified teachers. After validating his secondary education certificate he was accepted to the Polish Philology Faculty, University of Poznań. He finished his studies defending his thesis ”Gallus Anonymus, an intellectual and writer”. While in Poznań he also worked as a chaplain and religious education teacher at the Ursuline Sisters school for girls in Sporna Street. He tried to popularize Pope Pius XI’s encyclical About the Christian Education in his classes and sermons. When he was about to leave Poznań the sisters and students persuaded him to publish all that material. He did that in a small book called Audi filia „not only to remind them of their time at school but also to refresh the old ideals and reinvigorate them with religious thoughts”. The book was well received by the youth and pastors. Answering an insistent demand of his young readers and priests Fr. Liguda wrote another book of conferences and sermons called Go forward and higher. It was received with great approval. He wrote: "I am thankful to the Providence so much because God led me to see the world I could not even imagine I would ever be able to see - the world of child’s soul”. These two books contain Fr. Liguda’s deep reflections on the role of women and challenges facing them. They had been sparked by the words from the Scripture: Si scires donum Dei.
Fr. Liguda published also Bread and Salt, a book of homilies for each Sunday of the liturgical year. Fr. Alojzy’s personality was reflected in that book very vividly. Referring to Jesus’ words „I left my Father and I came down to earth” Fr. Liguda wrote: „I need only one thing - to remember His words and to strengthen myself by them. They will save me from sadness and defend me from all despair. I will keep my head high in spite of humiliations and failures. Yes, it is possible to ill-treat me, but it is impossible to humiliate me! Revolutions can erase all my diplomas and titles, but nobody can take God’s sonship away from me. I can rot in jail, or freeze to death in Solovki, but I will always repeat the most beautiful words Exivi a Patre, and God will always be my Father”. Later on, when he was in the concentration camp, that attitude became his source of optimism, joy, strength and hope. Even in the worst circumstances he felt he was God’s son.
After his arrival at Górna Grupa Fr. Liguda took up a job as Polish and history teacher in the lower forms of the minor seminary. He ministered as chaplain to the garrison in Grupa on Sundays. During school breaks and vacations he was busy organizing and conducting parish retreats or group retreats in the house in Górna Grupa.
Fr. Liguda was appointed the rector of the Górna Grupa house in June 1939. After the outbreak of the Second World War the Nazi invaders turned the house into an internment camp for about eighty priests and seminarians brought there on October 28th, 1939 from the dioceses of Chełmno, Włocławek and Gniezno. In his book Klechy w obozach Fr. Malak wrote: „Fr. Rector Liguda welcomed us. His robust figure, clothed in a cassock, moved courageously and resolutely among the Blackshirts. That gave us courage. In the following days he always cheered us up with his great friendliness and a good sense of humor. Everybody liked to see him because he was like a prophet. He warmed us like the sun. He passed through the room like an angel of peace with a good word at his lips”.
People expected that the priests would be released. Meantime, on November 11th, 1939 fifteen priests and two seminarians from the diocese of Włocławek were taken away. Fr. Liguda’s mediation to keep them in Górna Grupa was fruitless. They were taken to a forest on the nearby military exercise ground and shot. Fr. Liguda tried to console the distressed priests who stayed in the house and give them a new hope. But he himself was fully aware how dangerous the situation was. A picture which he sent to his family for Christmas that year was very significant - Christ taking up his cross followed by priests doing the same.
The internees were taken away to Nowy Port in Gdansk, a branch of the Stutthof concentration camp on February 5th, 1940. In a situation darkened by starvation, hard work and beating Fr. Liguda soon became ‘a good angel’. Fr. Liguda contributed a lot to organizing a secret celebration of Holy Mass on Maundy Thursday. The Holy Communion received during that Mass became a viaticum for many prisoners.
Fr. Liguda together with a group of prisoners was moved to a camp in Grenzdorf, and then to Sachsenhausen via Stutthof in the first days of April 1940. The prisoners were unanimous in their opinion that they exchanged purgatory for hell. Fr. Liguda was more fortunate than the others. Because of his excellent knowledge of German he was appointed for the room service and to teach German. One of his students described a lesson in the following words: „It began by Fr. Liguda setting a look-out at the windows so that we could be warned about approaching SS-men. Then, he would tell us funny stories - he knew millions of them - or report something he learnt himself, or one of the priests would share his knowledge with us. However, Fr. Liguda was not immune to being tortured by the camp authorities. I remember well how he trembled after having received ten blows of an iron-bar for stopping for a while during work.”
There was a moment when it seemed that Fr. Liguda would be released. He was called to the doctor. Quite often that was a sign of coming freedom. He was taken to the Dachau concentration camp instead on December 14th, 1940. They gave him the camp-number 22 604. It was discovered after the war that Fr. Liguda could really have been released from the camp. The SVD Superior General tried to secure his release through the nunciature in Berlin. His family also tried hard to get him out of the camp. Answering these requests the Gestapo made the following statement: „Fr. Liguda declared that he was Polish and in future he would like to work in Poland.” They added that as a Polish intellectual he had to be insulated from the society for the time of the war. In spite of that there were some strong points favouring his release: his family had German citizenship, he himself was a soldier in the German army, his brothers, soldiers in the same army, were killed during the First World War. In addition, the protestant pastor from Górna Grupa stood up in Fr. Liguda’s defense reminding that Fr. Alojzy had saved him, his family and a protestant deaconess from the anger of the local people after the German invasion of Poland. Earlier, that same pastor saved Fr. Liguda’s life when he might have been executed as a hostage. Fr. Liguda did not want to change his deep convictions even for the price of freedom
Various methods of oppressing the prisoners were practiced in Dachau. Limitless marching and singing songs was one of them. Fr. Liguda had sometimes to lead these marches. Witnesses said that in such situations he knew how to find a spot where they could not be seen by trusties for some time. He pretended to explain the text of a song, or to practice it but used that occasion to tell jokes to cheer up the prisoners.
An epidemic of itching broke out in January 1941. All those affected were gathered in one barrack. That meant that about one thousand prisoners were cramped together in a place designed for four hundred. They wore only thin undergarment, lied on straw mattresses and covered themselves with blankets. It was freezing outside but the windows had to be open all day long. Starvation was killing the sick, too. Fr. Liguda tried to dispel that awful hopelessness by his stories - „he did not give in to despair”. Everyday hundreds of dead were taken away but he strived to encourage hope in the rest. He returned to his own block and was assigned to a transportation group. Rogler, one of the cruelest foremen, was his direct superior. Rogler always gave the hardest jobs to his group and did not tolerate any break. Fr. Liguda’s strength, weakened by the ‘anti-itch therapy’, began to deteriorate visibly.
One day a Russian prisoner smoked a cigarette at work. That was considered a big crime. A witness described what followed: ”Rogler appeared out of the blue. The cigarette was stubbed out already but one could still smell smoke. ‘Who smoked?’, Rogler asked Fr. Liguda. The intensity of the moment was incredible. To say ”It was not me” meant betraying others. Fr. Alojzy took the blame on himself. ”I did”, he answered. Furious foreman took him to his room. Swollen face and a bruise under his left eye were the proof of the punishment. The tired torturer checked Fr. Liguda’s clothes. ”Where are your cigarettes?”, he asked. ”I do not have any”, Fr. Liguda answered. ”You are a priest, you scum, and you lie? You have confessed your guilt already”. ”I smoked but not today.”, Fr. Liguda answered. The tortures stopped when the guilty one eventually confessed but Rogler remembered Fr. Liguda very well because of that incident.
As a result of ill-treatment and earlier weakening of the body Fr. Liguda showed the symptoms of tuberculosis. He was taken to hospital. The conditions were much better there. He could receive parcels from his family. In effect he recovered quite quickly. Unfortunately, he was labeled as a disabled person, which in the camp equaled a death sentence. He was aware of that. His letter written a month before his death can bear witness to that: ”My Mother will be eighty four soon. I wish her long life. I would not like her to know that she outlived her youngest son. It would be a tragedy for her. Personally I think that I will return home. It is possible, however, that Providence will lead me through many dangers in order to enrich me spiritually...”
He told a camp’s scribe: ”If you hear about my death you should know that they killed a healthy man”. In an account given by one of the hospital attendants the whole group of ten people was brutally drowned. A convincing message was passed from ear to ear in the camp that due to a cruel intervention of the block-man from No. 29 strips of skin were cut out of Fr. Liguda’s body before he was drowned. It might have been a revenge of that foreman because Fr. Liguda reprimanded him on several occasions for unjust distribution of food and for harming patients. Angered, the foreman put Fr. Liguda on the disabled list. Fr. Liguda could have died a horrible death because the foreman of the sick-room, who took part in the execution, told his friends later that he would not ever like to do such things again.
Fr. Alojzy Liguda, an earnest devotee of the Immaculate Conception died on the night of December 8th, 1942, the very feast of Our Lady. His mother received the following notification of his death: „Your son, Alojzy Liguda, born 23rd January, 1898, died of tuberculosis in our hospital on December 8th, 1942.” They lied to his old mother since the cause of her son’s death was not a disease but human cruelty.
His fellow-prisoners remembered him as a man of God. ”He helped the other priests very much during his work in the room-service especially those in need, weak and old... he cared for us.... he was a saint...” He was a true apostle of humor and optimism. One day he wrote: ”We do our duty as the citizens of the present day.” He tried to fulfil his pastoral duty even towards those who persecuted him. He did not avoid provocative discussions with atheists, communists and foremen, and even with the commander himself picking up their ‘biblical disputes’ which mocked religion and priesthood. ”He closed the mouth of many atheists simply by his higher spiritual and intellectual level and by his morals which were beyond reproach. Of course, getting rid of him became a matter of honour. He had something that made him our leader; the priests were seeking his friendship. Fr. Liguda really led us in Dachau... He was a saint! For me he was simply the sign of security. He was like a fortress, always calm, self-assured, and always joyful, with a shadow of a smile on his face... The Nazis beat him the same as us - because he was scum, just like we were, but on the other hand they respected him. When he spoke with them it was always to the point and he never used us to achieve his own interests. When he became the one responsible for our room-service and distributed bread our big eyes of the starved could see that he was honest in distribution; a real God's priest. Through all these years in the concentration camp we were not always together, but befriended him and he became a moral support for me. He was always like a father. He was a saint. One day during the evening roll-call I heard his number among those to be taken away in the morning transport. That evening I paid him a visit. I cried telling him good-bye and he stood before me silent, joyful, looking as if coming from another reality and repeating ‘God knows everything’.”
 Solovki - a Russian concentration camp on the isle of Solovki above the Polar Circle; set up about 1920 in a former Orthodox monastery became a place of incarceration for many political prisoners. [Translator’s footnote].