Four days later, Otto Kessler returned to St.
Ludger’s. This time the Gestapo officer was not alone.
“Hartmann Bottger! You are under arrest,” announced
Kessler, striding into the church. This time, the Gestapo officer was in
civilian dress, wearing a brown fedora and khaki trench coat. He was
accompanied by two black-uniformed SS personnel with pistols holstered on their
“I’ve been expecting you, Kessler. It’s a wonder
it took you this long. Incidentally, what is the charge?” asked Harti serenely,
rising from his knees in a pew where he had been praying the mid-morning office
“Abuse of the pulpit for political purposes,”
answered Kessler crisply.
“How conveniently ambiguous. Could you perhaps elaborate?”
“Last Sunday, you read to your congregation a
foreign-produced tract critical of the Reich’s government and you defamed the
“It’s only defamation if it isn’t true, Kessler. By the way,
I understand the Gestapo arrested seven little girls for distributing copies of
the pope’s encyclical inside a parish church in Essen following the Palm Sunday
Mass,” stated Harti. “Tell me, are these highly dangerous criminals still in
“Your sarcastic comments will be noted for the record,”
answered the Gestapo officer.
“Pah! As if that mattered,” responded Harti.
“Oh, very well, Kessler,” he responded a few moments later with both a shrug
and a sigh that could have indicated either resignation or merely boredom.
“What? No argument this time, Father Hartmann?” asked
Kessler with mock surprise. “No justifications for your actions? No protests
that you are merely abiding by the terms of the Concordat?”
“I doubt any argument would help,” answered Harti. “I know
the truth of the matter. And what’s more, I know you do as well.” Kessler
glowered in response to Harti’s calm resolve and fearless audacity.
“It might help you if you told me how you received the foreign
document in question.”
“I have no information for you,” answered Harti flatly.
Kessler shrugged and signaled to one of the SS guards, who
approached Harti, brandishing a pair of handcuffs. Harti complied without
comment, holding out his hands in front of him with the insides of his wrists
facing together while the SS Trooper shackled him. The priest, still wearing
his Benedictine robe, was led out of the church and down the path toward
Kessler’s waiting sedan. A group of curious and worried villagers, including
Arnold and Hilda Hoppner, stood across the street at a respectful distance.
Little Ernst was standing next to his mother, gripping her hand tightly and
looking scared. Harti noticed the other villagers were just as frightened as
“Be calm, my friends,” called Harti in a loud yet calm
voice. “There is no reason to worry.” One of the SS men moved as if to try to
silence the priest, but Kessler curtly ordered him to stand down. “Arnold,”
Harti continued, addressing the baker, “I am compelled to accompany these
gentlemen. Please send a telegram to Father Franz Müller at the diocese offices
in Münster. The bishop will need to appoint a replacement to say Mass and
administer the sacraments in my absence.” Arnold merely nodded with a stricken
look on his face.
With that, Harti was placed in the rear of the car with
Kessler seated to his left and one of the SS Troopers to his right. The other
Trooper sat in the front passenger seat next to Karl, the driver. The sedan
pulled out from under the old oak tree and headed out of the village.
“I don’t suppose there will be anything as inconvenient as a
trial?’ asked Harti. Kessler ignored him.
“I see we are headed west rather than east toward Oldenburg.
Can you at least tell me where we are going?” Harti inquired.
“Esterwegen,” the Gestapo officer answered.