This “baseball” tale of the clergy who served Nazi war criminals includes a moving backstory of morality, faith, and the face of evil. The cinematic version cannot be far behind:
The war had upended his family. His two oldest sons had joined the Army, with the oldest grievously injured in an accident and the second deeply affected by his experiences at the Battle of the Bulge. The minister was eager to return home, but then his commanding officer made a surprising request: Would he serve as chief chaplain to an incarcerated collection of accused Nazi war criminals?
After vacillation and prayer, Gerecke accepted.
“He had been to Dachau many times; he knew what these guys had done,” said Tim Townsend, the author of “Mission at Nuremberg,” a yet-to-be-released book about the chaplains’ experience. “But to him, it was worth his time and effort to try and save as many souls as possible.”
In late 1945, the two chaplains met their congregation: 15 Protestants and 6 Catholics, including Hermann Göring, the highest-ranking survivor of the Hitler elite; Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy führer; and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a top leader of the SS, the paramilitary organization that oversaw, among other activities, the concentration-camp system.
Kaltenbrunner was a Catholic, making him O’Connor’s pastoral responsibility. “There cannot be a more direct facing of evil,” Townsend said, “than to liberate a concentration camp and then, weeks later, minister to the very face of the concentration camp system.”