Josef Mayr-Nusser

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Josef Mayr-Nusser
Josef Mayr-Nusser.jpg
Layman; Martyr
Born 27 December 1910
Bozen, Austria-Hungary
Died 24 February 1945(1945-02-24) (aged 34)
Erlangen, Bavaria, Nazi Germany
Resting place Chiesa di San Giuseppe, Bolzano, Italy
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 18 March 2017, Bolzano Cathedral, Bolzano, Italy by Cardinal Angelo Amato
Feast 3 October
  • Prisoners
  • Bolzano
  • Fathers

Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser (27 December 1910 – 24 February 1945) was an Italian Roman Catholic who served as the President of the Saint Vincent de Paul Conference of the Bolzano division as well as a member of Catholic Action. He is known best for refusing to recite the Hitler oath after he was drafted as a Nazi soldier and was sentenced to death at the Dachau concentration camp. He died en route to the camp in 1945. He is known as the "Martyr of the First Commandment".[1]

He was hailed for living his life according to the tenets of the Gospel and of Saint Vincent de Paul and his cause of sainthood was introduced in 2005 upon local demand; he had the title Servant of God once the cause was initiated. Pope Francis approved his beatification on 8 July 2016 and he was beatified in Bolzano on 18 March 2017 as announced on the very same day.[2][3]


Mayr-Nusser in a commemorative plaque.

Josef Mayr-Nusser was born on 27 December 1910 in Bolzano into a rural German-Italian household. He grew up on a farm in which his devout parents instilled in him Christian values along with his elder brother Jakob,[4] whom enrolled in a seminary to become a priest.

He became fascinated with the life and works of Frederic Ozanam and with the life of Saint Vincent de Paul. To that end, in an attempt to emulate the pair and to help the poor in the spirit of charity, he joined the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul at the age of 22 and became its elected president in 1937.[5] Mayr-Nusser served as the president of the society in its Bolzano division and in that capacity constantly visited the poor, providing them both material and spiritual assistance, in the process becoming a vocal anti-poverty advocate. In a 1938 letter to members, Mayr-Nusser said: "When a brother is going to visit a poor family, you should do everything to organize your time so you can spend at least 10–15 minutes to visit people".[5] In an attempt to deepen his understanding of faith, he studied the letters of St. Thomas More and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

His friends nicknamed him "Pepi" in his adolescence and early adulthood.[6] In 1934, he became the head of Catholic Action in the Diocese of Trent, accepting the invitation of Pope Pius XI to broaden his lay activities.[7] In addition to these posts that he filled, Mayr-Nusser secretly became a member of the anti-Nazi movement "Andreas Hofer Bund" in 1939.

On 26 May 1942 he married Hildegard Straub (1907–1998) and his son Alberto was born in 1943.

As part of Nazi conscription during World War II he was enrolled in the SS unit in 1944 which forced him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia; he was sent off on 7 September 1944. Sometime during the war, his father was killed on the frontlines. Franz Treibenreif (a comrade and friend) said of him on what became a fateful 4 October 1944: "Josef was pensive and worried. Unexpectedly, he raised his hand: 'Sir Major-General', he said with a strong voice, 'I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it'". Mayr-Nusser's friends attempted to convince him to recant or to cease from the explosive statement, but he eschewed their offers in order to stand up for his beliefs. Mayr-Nusser believed ardently that Nazism could not be reconciled in any way with the values of Christian ethics and believed that the ideology ran counter to the divine law of God.

As a result of this he was jailed and later transferred to Danzig where he was prosecuted. While he was awaiting trial, Mayer-Nusser took to chopping wood and peeling potatoes, and was given the right to pray during his time in captivity.[5]

From prison he sent a range of letters to his wife and said of his actions: "You would not be my wife if you expected something different from me".[6] In February 1945 he was sentenced to death for treason and was ordered to be shot by a firing squad at the Dachau concentration camp. However he fell ill with dysentery, and en route via train to Dachau with approximately 40 others being sent to the camp, died on the morning of 24 February 1945. When his corpse was discovered, he was found with a Bible and rosary on his person.

His remains were transferred to the Church of San Giuseppe in Bolzano in 1958.


In 2013 the South Tyrolian Society for Political Science appointed him as its Political Personality of the Year. Several places are named after him as a tribute to his life and sacrifice.

On 19 March 2017 on the feast of Saint Joseph, Pope Francis described Nusser as "a model for the lay faithful, especially for fathers, who we remember with great affection today."[8]


Memorial plaque.

The beatification process was set to commence in Bolzano after rights for the cause transferred from Bamberg to Bolzano on 23 February 1991. However, the cause did not receive the formal approval from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints until 30 September 2005 at which point he was granted the title Servant of God and the diocesan process could begin. The diocesan process spanned from 24 February 2006 until 19 March 2007 when all documents collated were sent to Rome for further inspection. The decree of validity on the process was granted several years later on 23 April 2010, and allowed for the postulation to draft the Positio on his martyrdom. The Positio was submitted to the C.C.S. in January 2015.

It had been reported that his beatification would take place in Bolzano in 2016 since theologians advising the C.C.S. had approved the cause on 29 October 2015 and passed it to the members of the C.C.S. itself for their decision on 21 June 2016 who also approved it.

Pope Francis approved the beatification on 8 July 2016 and he was beatified in Bolzano on 18 March 2017 with Cardinal Angelo Amato presiding over the celebration on the pope's behalf.[9][10]

The current postulator of the cause is Carlo Calloni, O.F.M. Cap. The first postulator assigned was Josef Innerhofer.


  1. ^ "Martyr of the First Commandment - William Doino Jr". Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  2. ^ "Chiesa: Mayr-Nusser proclamato beato a Bolzano". Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  3. ^ "Pope signs decrees in causes for U.S. bishop, martyr of Nazi regime". Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  4. ^ Likely German. The Italian form is "Iacopo"
  5. ^ a b c "Servant of God Josef Mayr-Nusser". Santi e Beati. Retrieved 8 January 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "One Who Shunned Oath to Hitler Is on Possible Path to Beatification". Zenit. 13 January 2004. Retrieved 8 January 2016. 
  7. ^ "Cause of canonization of German man who opposed Nazis moves forward". 21 March 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2016. 
  8. ^ "Pope Francis: Bd Joseph Mayr-Nusser a model for fathers". Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  9. ^ "Beato. «Disse no a Hitler». Oggi sugli altari Josef Mayr-Nusser". 18 March 2017. Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  10. ^ "This layman who refuted Nazism was declared a martyr by Pope Francis". Retrieved 2 October 2017. 

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