St. Joseph’s Church in Gdansk

Initially, it functioned as a hospital and St. George’s chapel. In 1467, the Carmelite Order received, as compensation, the area of St. George’s Leper Hospital, where the construction work begun shortly after. The construction began with a grand portal, but the lack of funds made it impossible to carry out the initial construction plans, and thus, nowadays, the gate is at a distance from the main building. Only one of the three planned aisles was constructed by 1623, with a presbytery and a chapel. The church burned down in 1663, then it was rebuilt and its furnishing changed into the Baroque style. In 1840, after the displacement of the monks, a parish was established here.

On 27 March 1945, the Red Army soldiers rolled barrels with incendiary liquid into the church and torched them. Over 100 people taking shelter in the church burned to death. The destruction of St. Joseph’s Church was dramatically described by the then curate (for Binnebesel) Rev. Georg Klein:

“The church, the rectory and the quarter of the houses around the church were not damaged, except for UFA-Palast (a new cinema by St. Elizabeth’s Church), which burned down on 23 March. On Saturday, 24 March, a funeral service began at 8 a.m., when, suddenly, a grenade hit the roof of the church, right over the main altar and the plaster, the rocks and the rubble fell down on the altar, ending the Mass. This was the only damage the building suffered during the War.

The women and the elderly took shelter in the rectory and the church. There, together with the people from the neighbourhood, we spent the night of Monday 26th. In the morning, it got really quiet. No shots, no vehicle sounds, no voices. We carefully entered the basement stairs, when we heard the heavy steps of a person entering the house. The first Soviet soldier stood before us, ready to shoot, then another one came and took our watches. We were allowed to leave outside and we saw Soviet vehicles and many soldiers, but we also noticed that everything remained untouched. The soldiers begun running around the rectory and plundering it. We felt paralysed and moved back to a semi-ravaged room. One soldier followed us and, with threatening gestures, threw us out of the house and made an 18-year-old girl stay. After a while, she returned, troubled, tousled and silent. The damage was done. Other groups appeared, and they were drunk. Allegedly, they found alcohol reserves in the basement of the nearby Old Town Hall. They hurried us back into rectory and church with shouts, laughter and nudging. Everyone who wanted to leave was threatened with a pepesha. Then, a vehicle with barrels appeared. One of these barrels was taken into the church and another one into the rectory. The smell of gasoline was in the air and so we knew right away what was to happen to us. Some woman ran out of the church and was immediately shot. A drunken soldier entered the church. We saw from the rectory the flames flaring out of the church and we heard the screams and cries of the people inside. The soldier left and closed the door.

Meanwhile, Parish Priest Fedtke, through an unguarded window in the back of the rectory, spotted an officer who seemed to be sober and gestured to him to focus his attention on the events in the church courtyard. After that, when a soldier tried to enter the rectory, probably to set fire in this place too, the officer appeared at the courtyard, chased off the soldiers and threw us out. None of the people from the burning church left it alive.

Later, the author of the above account, Rev. Klein, had to leave his family town, as did most of the German residents of Gdańsk. For some time, he worked in Berlin. He died in 1994. The lawlessness of the drunken marauding soldiers turned the wonderful heritage of many ages of history into dust. This historical monument, although destroyed, presented such a high value that its reconstruction was planned as early as in 1946/47. In 1948, the church and monastery was taken over by the Missionary Oblates of the Immaculate Mary.

In the jubilee year of 2000, on the initiative of the Father Superior of the house and the church rector, Bernard Briks, on 27 March of that year, His Excellency Bishop Zygmunt Pawłowicz with Polish missionary oblate His Excellency Bishop Eugeniusz Juretschko, consecrated an Epitaph – the monument to the victims, residents of Gdańsk, burnt alive with the church on 27 March 1945 in the number of over one hundred people, by Red Army soldiers.




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