Blessed Anicet Koplinski and Companions, Martyrs of the Nazis

Brother Anicet Koplinski (

Thursday 16 June 2022, is the liturgical memorial of our Capuchin brothers Blessed Anicet Koplinski and his companions who were martyred in World War II in Poland.

Adalbert was born in 1975 from a Polish-German family in Preußisch-Friedland (today Debrzno) in the province of western Prussia (Westpreußen) in Germany, a city which borders Poland and has always been blessed by a strong Polish presence. It is also to be noted that the relationship between the few German Catholics in the region with the Poles can be considered strong, particularly due to the faith they had in common. In fact, they frequently took part in the same liturgies as well as shared in the same jobs.

Our boy Adalbert, or simply known as Albert, was the youngest out of twelve children. The family hardly survived on the wage of their father, a common labourer. In those days, the Capuchins were famous for their social work, which Adalbert experienced first-hand in his youth. It was on 23 November 1893, at the age of 22, when Adalbert entered the Capuchin friary at Sigolsheim in Alsace, part of the Rhine-Westphalia Province. This friary was far from home due to the fact that all the Capuchin friaries in Prussia had been suppressed. They gave him the name Anicet, which means “invincible”.

Fr Anicet received the priestly ordination on the Feast of the Assumption in 1900. He started to exercise his priestly ministry initially at Dieburg followed by the Ruhr region (Werne, Sterkarde, Krefeld) for some years, where he helped the Polish people. Anicet studied a little Polish at home, but then managed to improve his mastery of the language during his years of study, even grabbing the opportunity of spending a holiday near his sister in Poland. As his life story shows, his familiarity with the Polish language proved vital in his apostolate in the Ruhr together with his working class family milieu.  Thus, his upbringing made it all easy for him to enter into the worker’s shoes and they, in return, could understand him. Even if he was deeply attached to his Polish roots, nevertheless his love for Germany was such that he was considered as a patriot. This was when the First World War started. In those difficult times, Anicet wrote some poignant poetry hailing the war. Taken out of their context and judged by our common standards, these poems may look disturbing. As time moved on Fr Anicet dedicated his poetic capabilities to serve the poor who, by now, have become the central focus of his pastoral mission.

Fr Anicet’s life was transformed by a great event in 1918, at Krefeld, where he was requested to serve the organization of the life of the Church and the Capuchin Order in Warsaw. He saw this as a splendid opportunity to serve more. Thus, he gladly agreed to carry out this mission. Poland was eventually freed from Tsarist Russia, but the country’s economic condition was in shambles, with large numbers of poor people and families who were living in outward misery. Few were the number of people who were well off. Confronted by this situation, Fr Anicet played his role as a mediator between the poor and rich people.

He went around Warsaw begging alms for the poor, dressed in his poor habit and sandals. Any providence who was coming his way, bread, sausage, fruit, vegetables, and sweets for the children, Anicet put in the deep pockets of his mantle. Frequently he would also carry on his shoulders heavy parcels and dragging big suitcases full of life’s basic necessities for the poor.  On 25 January 1928 Br Anicet wrote to his provincial Br Ignazio Ruppert these words: The many poor and unemployed people constitute a particular task that often involves very burdensome work. Nearly every day I go out questing. Thanks to his sterling work, Br Anicet was simply considered as the “Saint Francis of Warsaw.”

Anicet was also a sports man. We know that since his young days he did exercise by lifting weights. Furthermore, either before or after midnight prayer, Br Anicet used to exercise as soon as he returned to his room. His physical training gave him muscular strength, be it for helping his brothers, as well as for the advantage of the poor or just other pastoral activity. He managed to lift tables and benches in the local fairs and then he would collect money to give to the poor. A story goes that a policeman was so violent with his wife and children that, one day, Br Anicet led him to the sacristy, took him by the belt, lifted him up above his head and shouted to him: Do you see what I can do to you? And what will God do to you if you continue to be so violent? The policeman learned his lesson and changed his violent behaviour into a more loving and charitable one immediately.

When he was not serving the poor, Br Anicet would hear confessions in our Capuchin Church in Warsaw, which he would start early in the day an hour before the commencement of the Mass; continuing to administer the sacrament of God’s mercy after Mass. Then, when evening came after doing his questing, Br Anicet would hear confessions for another hour. In his life we find him more as a confessor than as a preacher. The Capuchin superiors must have noticed that he was more inclined to hear confessions than to preach. In fact, his superiors would ask him to hear confessions and in very special circumstances to preach. Perhaps they were aware that he was rather limited in his linguistic capabilities of using the Polish language. Among the many priests who came for confession to Anicet it was commonly known that he would give them brief Latin admonitions which proved to be very helpful in their lives. His charisma for the confessional led to his appointment as the confessor of the bishops of Gall and Gawlina as well as of Cardinal Kakowski and the Apostolic Nuntio Achille Ratti who later became Pope Pius XI. One of the penances he gave was giving alms for the poor. Furthermore, as winter approached he gave the Cardinal the penance of providing a load of coal to a poor family.

Br Anicet managed to care holistically for those in need by taking care of their physical and spiritual needs. When encountering rich people he demanded from them to provide bread for the poor. This great man of Christ came to realize that, after all, in God’s eyes we are responsible for one another. It was very impressive to see a whole line of Army Officers, farmers, rich ladies and poor widows, queuing his confessional. Br Anicet loved them all, irrespective of their social status. When he got to know that a person was in agony he immediately used to go to comfort the person by the sacraments of Confession and Communion. If a person had no one to bury him and her when he died, Br Anicet would organize a dignified funeral for that person. He would participate in the funeral and the procession which headed to the cemetery, and would pray the breviary or the rosary on the way. Anicet used to be so united with God that frequently he would go past the cemetery while the funeral cortège would go near the graveyard unaccompanied by him.

Anicet Koplin or Koplinski never hid his nationality, especially when Hitler was seriously transgressing any morally sound political leadership. In his fraternal dealings with his brothers Anicet grew greatly dissatisfied by the degenerative way to which Germany was turning, often beating the table with his fists as a sign of his anger for justice. Anicet must have felt that anti-Christian spirit and the demonic perspective with which National Socialism was replete with. For Anicet pacts with such a criminal political force was unthinkable.

From his childhood experience of the honesty and faith of the Polish people, Br Anicet felt that he was to take their side. As a sign of this he gladly accepted the surname Koplinksi to show a radical solidarity with them. Following the first week of the German occupation of Poland, Anicet decided to go out of the convent and kept helping the poor together with those who fled due to Nazi violence. Anicet used the German he knew so as to get the required permission from the German Embassy to get food, clothing, shoes as well as medicines. As Archbishop Niemira witnessed, Fr Koplinski helped the non-Catholic Christians as well as Jews.

Due to this spectacular involvement with the poor of this particular time, the Gestapo saw Br Koplinski as an arch enemy of the regime it was brutally serving. He was taken in for interrogation, starting from Ascension day 1941. The Prussian Capuchin was direct and fearless in his declaration: After what Hitler has done in Poland I am ashamed to be a German. Neglecting the possibility of reclaiming his German citizenship and being adamant on his views,. Br Anicet was again called in for questioning, this time on June 28, 1941. The excuse the appalling regime found was that he read ant-Nationalist Socialist flyers and voiced his opposition to the Nazi rule. He together with some twenty other brothers were shut in Pawiak prison while having their heads and beards completely shaved. Although they were stripped of their Capuchin habits, they were given permission to keep the breviary. Useless was the torture inflicted on both the guardian and Anicet to force them to confess. They did not confess any rebellion against the Nazi regime among the people. In all this great turmoil Anicet had only this to say: I am a priest and wherever there are people I will exercise that priesthood: be those people Jews or Poles – especially if they are suffering or poor.

Their fate was signed on 3 September 1941 when they were all put in a cattle truck and transported to Auschwitz. There they received the striped jacket as well as a prison number, reduced to that number among thousands of prisoners. As he was by then 66 years of age, Br Anicet was considered as invalid. That meant that he was destined for extermination. How did he pass his last weeks on earth? Brother Ancangelo, his provincial who was his cell-mate and a survivor of the holocaust, said: As soon as Father Anicet reached the entrance of the concentration camp, he was beaten because he could not keep up with the others. An SS dog also took hold of him. During the roll call he was put together with the elderly and those who could not work. He was placed in the block near the one for those assigned for death. During this whole period of sufferings, Brother Anicet prayed and remained silent, continuously maintaining peace and silence.

Br Anicet not only helped others to bear their Cross behind Our Lord but was united with them through his very painful Golgotha. This most ardent champion of the poor now was silent and preparing himself in prayer. A few moments before he was taken to the gas chamber, Anicet confessed to one of his friends: We must drink this chalice to the bottom.

After a farcical trial by the jailers Br Anicet was thrown into a pit together with other prisoners and threw on them quicklime onto them. What a horrific death it was since the caustic lime becomes corrosive acid on live flesh to the extent of consuming bodies like fire!

Anicet lived poverty in its utmost point not just by helping the poor but also by being stripped of everything, including his flesh, to win, once and for all, that priceless treasure of faith, dignity and loving attention to those in need. His violent and courageous death greatly served to heal the divisions between Germany and Poland, Jews and Christians, Catholics and Protestants, poor as well as rich.

In the words of St Pope John Paul II, who preached the homily on the occasion of the Beatification of 108 martyrs killed during the second World War, Blessed Anicet is part of the group of Blessed [who] are religious brothers and sisters who persevered in the service of charity and in offering their torments for their neighbour.

Almighty, everlasting God, you conferred the victory of martyrdom on Blessed Anizet and his companions, who persevered in religious life. Through their intercession may we learn to love our enemies and remain steadfast in the fullness of faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.