Józef CebulaOMI (1902-1941)
Priest and martyr
Table of contents
Fr Józef Cebula will be beatified June 13 inWarsawone of a group of 108 Polish martyrs who died in the Nazi concentrationcamps. This number of OMI Documentation would like to help makebetter known this confrere and witness of the faith. We have chosen tolet the Servant of God and the witnesses of his martyrdom speak for themselves.
Józef Cebula was born March 231902 at Malniain the present diocese of Opolethe son of Adrian Cebula and RozaliaBuhl. He was the eldest of three children (two brothers and one sister).Between 1916 and 1918 he attended the Königliche Katholische Präparanden-Anstalt(Royal Catholic School for Teachers) in Opole. He was obliged to interrupthis studies due to a serious lung infection and to stomach disorders.He entered the Oblate minor seminary at Krotoszyn in 1920where he finishedhis secondary studies. A year lateron August 141921 he began his novitiateat Markowice. He was then sent to Liege (Belgium) for philosophybutwas called back to Poland a year later and finished his philosophicaland theological studies at Lubliniec. He was ordained to the priesthoodon June 51927. Between 1923 and 1931 – while still a scholastic– he taught at the minor seminary in Lubliniec. He was Superior therefrom 1931 to 1937and also taught Polish literature. On August 11937he was appointed Superior and novice master in Markowice. After the arrestof the parish priestJózef saw to the pastoral care of the parishin spite of the ban by the Nazi occupiers. After being denounced for administeringthe sacraments to the sick he was arrested by the SS on April 21941and sent to the camp at Inowroclaw. He was deported to the concentrationcamp at Mauthausen on April 7 where he was killed on May 91941 about9 o'clock in the morning.* (Processus Informativi... pp. 45-46).
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There are several letters in the General Archivesbetween the General Administration and the Servant of God concerning hisappointment as Provincial of the Polish Province. They help us to knowthe man a little.
Fr. Blanc inquires very indirectly about Cebula'savailability for appointment as Provincial.
To Fr. J. CebulaLubliniec
My Reverend Father
We have beenobliged to relieve dear Fr Provincial of his duties. It seems that hishealth has been jeopardized for quite some time yet.... We do not planto choose a replacement before the Very Rev. Father [General] returns.But then we will have to make a choice. Whom should we choose? Peoplesay a lot of good about Fr Cebula. You know him very well. What do youthink? He might fear the responsibilitybut the exercise of authoritywhen one is obliged to do itgives courage. But if he is not your candidatewhom would you propose? ....
I am answering yourletter of 13 January. Forgive me for not having done so sooner. The questionsyou asked are so important that I hesitated quite some time before makinga decision. Also latelyI have not been feeling welland your letterof January 29 found me sick in bed.
The matter of the futureProvincial for Poland is a difficult one to resolve. You asked about myself.I know Art. 236 of the Holy Rule and I stand by it: Nullum postuleturmunus nullumque recusetur. (No office should be sought nor shouldany be refused.) But all false modesty asideI must tell you that I amconvinced that it would be a fiasco if the lot were to fall on mebecauseI do not feel capable of this responsibility. Here are the reasons.
1. Lack of health. Evenin the junioratewhere life was very regular due to a scheduleI wasoften obliged to keep to my bed. All the trouble is caused by my stomachwhich in my case is too low [a ptosis]. I am a sick man.
2. Lack of the necessaryformation and knowledge for the office of Provincial. During your firstvisit to Poland in 1925/26 you were able to see for yourself that thescholastic brothers' studies were not regular. I do not complainon thecontrary I am happy that even as a scholastic brother I was able to beuseful teaching at the juniorateand I am grateful to the General Administrationfor admitting me to Ordersand especially to the priesthood at the endof the fifth year of my studiesdespite these difficulties.
I finished my studiesprivatimbut there are still some big blanks. I was always atthe juniorate and limited myself to pedagogical questions and to the classicalsubjectsand I neglected theology and especially Canon Law.
3. "People say alot of good about Fr Cebula." It might be true. I always tried todo what was good (right)but that good dates rather from the time whenI was an ordinary subject. As Superior I was always timid and embarrassed.The opinion of goodness is often the result of a misunderstanding. Doyou say someone is "good" because he is timidbecause he cannever say "no"because he tolerates abuses? That is my defect.I see something wrongsome abuses and I cannot open my mouth to stopthem or to demand something. I lack the strength and courage to lead notonly suaviter but also fortiter.
As much as possible Iwould give my vote to one of the eldersbut the appointment of Fr. [N.]or Fr. [N.] would only stir up old animosities....
So this is my letter.The difficulty of expressing myself in French unfortunately does not permitme to say more about our Fathers and our affairs.... I have but to leavethe choice up to your judgmentand to pray God and the Holy Virgin toshow us through the decision of Rome who is most worthy to be the Provincial.
P. J. CebulaO.M.I.
His appointment as Provincial was decided by theGeneral Council sometime in March 1936 – at least "in petto"since no trace of the decision is found in the Council minutes for thatmonth. The Assistant GeneralFr Euloge Blancnotified Cebula of thedecision and asked him to come to Rome as soon as possible to discussthe affairs of the Province. Fr. Cebula received this letterwhich cannotbe foundon March 29. He rushed off three letters asking that the decisionbe reconsidered:two letters in French to Fr. Blanc and to Fr. LabouréSuperior Generaland one in Polish to Fr Karol P. Brzezinaat the scholasticatein Rome. He nevertheless says clearly that he will accept his Superiors'decisionburdensome as it might be. Here are the letters.
Reverend Father Assistant GeneralBlancEuloge
Thank you for your letterreceived the day before yesterday. At first sight I thought it is an ordinaryletterbut when I read the news of the choice of Provincial for PolandI was filled with dismay. I don't know what to say or do. Since your letteris a letter of obedienceI want to obeyand so already yesterday I beganthe procedures for obtaining a free passport. It will take me a few daysbecause the Starosty is not competent to grant a free passport. It musthave the authorization of the palatinate at Katowice. I will go to Katowicetomorrow to settle the matter. If all goes wellI will be ready nextMondayand should arrive in Rome on Wednesday or Thursday.
Please forgive meReverendFatherif I should dare to still express doubts about myself. It is notthat I want to resist. It is difficult for me to speak to you in Frenchand to tell you all my troubles. You mentioned Fr. Brzezina in your lastletter. I suppose that he knows about my case. I am writing him a longletter in Polishand asking him to see you and the Very Rev. Father Generalas my interpreter.
Very Reverend Father General
On Monday March 29 I receivedthe letter from Fr Blancthe First Assistant Generalby which you callme to Rome. In January when Fr Blanc asked about me as a candidateIanswered in the negative and gave my reasons. My letter was brief becauseI have difficulty expressing myself well in French. I was sure that Iwould in no way be implicated in this business as a choice for Provincial.Fr Blanc's letter really stunned me. I did not think about it longbutimmediately set about preparing to go to Romethe duty you had imposedupon me. I began the procedures for obtaining a passport.... That is whatI also wrote to Fr Blanc in my last letter.
On Thursday I went tothe palatinate in Katowice. The clerk who handled my request was verykindbut could not grant it. He said that my request had to be approvedby the Ministry of the Interior. Since it is too far to go to Warsawthe request was posted to the Ministry and we will have to wait a fewdays for an answer.
It seems to me that Godhas arranged things this way so that this wait / delay / can give me theoccasion to write to you and to report on my situation. In conscienceI feel obliged to tell you that I will not be able to carry out the dutiesof Provincial. Believe memy dear Father Generalthis is not exaggerationnor imagination nor false modesty on my part. My problems are real andserious.
The state of my health:I have always been of frail constitutionespecially after a lung infectionand pleurisy in 1918/19. An operation was necessaryand I remained bedriddenin hospital for 6 months. That is how I lost a year of studies. I wasable to continue them laterbut I remained a sick man forever. My greatestworry was that I might be sent away from the juniorate or the novitiate.Laterafter I had become a priestI was bothered with stomach troubles.I saw several doctors who prescribed various medicines. But this did notcure me. An X-ray photograph indicated that the stomach was too low[aptosis – sagging or prolapse of the stomach] thus impairing digestionand evacuation.
At the end of my firstterm as SuperiorI asked Fr Provincial and his Council to relieve meof my duties as Superiorbut I had to stay on. When you visited Polandyou were surprised that I never go away from LubliniecI have not seenKoden yetnor do I go to the other houses eithernot even during theholidays. I don't travelbecause travelling kills me. You advised meto visit the German juniorates and Fr Navrat also suggested that at leastI visit the juniorates of other Congregations closer by in Poland in orderto better organize our housebut I did not go anywhereit is too hardon me. ThursdayI went to Katowicea 70 km triptwo hours by trainthe next day I could not get out of bed and said my Mass after 10 o'clock.
How many times I haveto lay down during the day. Since I do not want to show my illnessIusually lock myself in my room without telling anyoneso that they thinkI have gone into town: the Superior is absentthat surprises no one.It is a ruse that you may find strangebut if I were to let my indispositionand illness be knownI would cause my dear FathersBrothers and juniorsdistress and troubleand discourage them. For the dishonest it wouldbe a temptation to various abuses and excesses / to weaken their conscience.
Since I was always athome and in the same houseI was able to arrange things so that I couldlay down when I had to. A Superior's business is such that it is easierfor him than for a Provincial to put things off until later. SometimesI would have the Prefect of juniors replace me. And so people could say:everything goes well at Lubliniec.
If I were to be Provincialthis would soon change. It would be impossible for me to lead the kindof life I have here as Superior of the juniorate. The travelthe visitsthe different affairs of the Provincethe feaststhe conferencesthechange of kitchen [diet]this would kill me. In little time things inPoland would be like they were a year ago and are now. Then you wouldhave to look for another candidate and choose another Provincial. My VeryReverend Fatheryou might say: he is exaggerating. I could send you adoctor's certificate. I am enclosing an X-ray of my stomach. An operationis neededbut since my body is too weakenedI do not want to risk it.
ThereforeI beg youmy Very Rev. Father Generalas well as I can and mayto not only dispenseme from the obligation of making the trip to Romeand to choose anothercandidate as Provincialbut also not to be angry with me. I know thatthis business of the Provincial of Poland has already taken up much ofyour time and caused you a great deal of worry. By this letter I do notwant to make more problems for youbut to avoid problems in the future.I have often been reproached for saying little / of keeping things tomyself / and then coming forward later with difficulties when it is toolate.
Another problem that Iwould like to mention is my inability to demand anything of my subjects.If you still have the notes from your visit to Lubliniec you will seethat what I say is true. You yourself told me that I should not alwaysask the Fathersbut as Superior I must at times also demand or requirethat they do this or that. I know thisbut it is not in my nature toorder or demand. I would try tobut at the last minute I would turn theorder into a wish or a request. Fortunately here in Lubliniecthis beinga formation houseI have been given good Fathersand with my kindness[easy going manner] and exampleI have been able to do much goodandeverything goes well here.
You know well the situation in our Province. Do youthink that with gentleness and kindness I would get all that I wantedand that is needed? I am not a pessimistand I do not see everythingin black: there is much good herebut there is also much that is notright. After your visit of our Provniceand the letters you receive fromPolandyou know the weak points better than I do. I cannot stand up toanyone because I am too easygoing. There would be abusesand I wouldnot know what to say. I would worryand be distressed but without benefitfor the Province. Fr Navrat had agehis health was very stronghe hadmuch experienceand was known as a learned man and neutral. And laterwhen he was appointed Provincial? When he was faced with difficulties?Believe meif Fr Nawrat became seriously illit is because people madethings too difficult for him. Mewhat can I expect? There are at least15 Fathers older than I am. And even among the good onesthere are somewho are courageous and who are in good health.
I do not want to be toolongso I will finishmy Very Reverend Father Generaland I ask youonce more to free me of this heavy burden. I have not yet made publicFr. Blanc's letter. I only told Fr. Kowalski.
Please be assuredVeryReverend Father Generalof my complete devotion in Jesus Christ and MaryImmaculate.
P. J. CebulaO.M.I.
He asks Fr Brzezinaa member of the scholasticatecommunity in Rometo present the reasons against his appointment as Provincialto the General Administration. We no longer have the original Polish ofthis letteronly the French translation that Brzezina made for Fr Generaland the AssistantEuloge Blanc. It is four pages in Karol Brzezina'shandwriting but bears no date. It seems to expresse simply and openlythe same feelings Cebula expressed in his own letter to the Superior General.
Fr Cebulabeing so upsetby his appointment that he does not feel capable of expressing the difficultieshe sees in his assuming the responsibility of Provincialhumbly asksthe General Administration to kindly examine the following reflectionswhich I have translated for him.
"I do not refuseany work or dutynot even the burdensome tasks that will be part of theoffice entrusted to me. Butif I must accept the responsibilityI dareask that I be permitted to expose the reasons "pro" and "contra"my candidacy as Provincial.
"For some years nowrumors of Fr Cebula's goodness have been spread about. I cannot deny thisbecause I have tried to be kind to everyoneand I worked as hard as possible.I did not visit the houses in the Province and I had very little correspondence.The talk of my neutrality is a result of thissince I did not take sides.I can also say that I do not have any open enemies in our Province andpossibly not even any hidden ones. These are the "pros" thatI know well and that I cannot deny. It seems to me that a few Fathersgathered these "pros" and sent them to the General House proposingmy candidacy. This is the basis of the opinion about me. When the VeryRev. Fr. General was in Polandthe Fathers of my community spoke wellof my regularity as regards the exercises. And that is where the opinionabout me in Rome comes from.
But here are the problems"contra" that I must enumerate against my candidacy.
1. Lack of health. I didnot want my illness to be seen. For some years now I have avoided doctorsand when asked about my health I would answer saying"it's alright"because I did not want to hear complaints about myself. But I really donot know what to say about the real state of my health. Sometimes I canbarely walkand have to drag myself along the corridors. Some of theinternal organs are not working well....
As Superior I could followa regular schedule. I did not have to undertake tiring trips that wouldonly embarrass me further; in the other communities my weakness wouldhave been noticed. That is why I always stayed in Lublinieceven duringthe holidays despite the need for a change....
Since I would have to travela lot as Provincial... I feel that I would be worn out in a year and theProvince would be in the same situation that it is now. It is not outof bitterness nor to refuse work that I write these linesbut only sothat no one will reproach me later for having remained silent or for nothaving warned the authorities of the Congregation.
2. Lack of organizationalskills. [...] As regards financesthe same is true. Fortunately I alwayshad good bursars like Fr Wilkowski and Fr Smigielski to help mebut theywere sometimes surprised at my ignorance in financial matters.
3. Shyness. As ProvincialI would have to represent the Congregation before ecclesiastical and civilauthoritiesto attend conferencesto give speeches on certain occasions.This is a weak point of mine.
Because of shyness I cannotmake remarkseven if I try to do so. That is why I have always had tostruggle with my consciencebecause there are times when one must reprimand.There are many subjects in our Province who would be happy to have meas Provincial so that they could make use of this weakness.
I regret having so littletime to reflect and to make known my fearsof which I have expressedonly a fewand I apologize for presenting them in this manner. I do notwant to resist the Very Rev. Father General's callso I am coming.
May I be so bold as tosuggest again the candidacy of Fr Adamski. He has good healthis energetican organizerhe has a lot of experienceand all the Fathersexcepttwo or threewould accept him. If there are complaints against himIam sure they are false."
I have just received yourletter of the 5th.... First of allbe assured that your letter did notupset mebut to the contrary it only increased the esteem I have foryou.
Your reasons are truly graveand I will bring them immediately to the attention of my Council.
Since travelling is so burdensomefor youdo not come to Rome. Your presence would have been helpful; butwe will try to find other solutions for the situation. We will not callupon you unless there is no other alternative. Thereforeuntil furthernoticeremain in Lubliniec.
Offer a part of your sufferingsmy dear Father Cebulaso that God will help us to find the right solutionfor our Province in Poland....
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The persecution of the religious house where theServant of God was Superior. "His priestly conscientiousness"compelled him to carry on secretly with his priestly ministry despitethe clear prohibition against it.
"[...] On October 51939 all the residents ofthe monastery were put under house arrest. [All] without exception hadto work in the fields. In May 1940all the scholastics were deportedto various concentration campsand in August of that year all the priests[underwent the same fate]. Several of them were killed.
Only Father Cebula and about 20 lay brothers remainedat the monastery. Some weeks laterthey were also evicted from the house.Fr Cebula and the lay brothers found lodging with people of the villageand in the farm sheds of the monastery. Volksdeutsche (German settlers)took possession of the monastery.
For awhile they permitted Father Cebula to care forthe two nearby parishesbecause all the priests of the area had beeneither imprisoned or killed. It was only in February 1941 that FatherCebula was forbidden to carry out any priestly ministry.
Neverthelessthe Polish Catholicsrobbed of theirpastorswanted the same pastoral care as before. Fr Cebula's priestlyconscientiousness would not permit him shirk this duty. He celebratedMass during the nightso as not to attract the attention of the settlers.Likewiseonly during the night would he go out to the villages to assistthe sickbaptizehear confessions and perform weddings.
On April 2about noonthe local German police arrestedhim. After a long interrogationhe was taken to the temporary concentrationcamp at Inowroclaw. Therehe was beaten and mistreated in various waysas was the custom.... On April 71941 he was sent to the concentrationcamp at Mauthausen. [...]"
Despite the prohibition of the Gestapo
the Servant of God fervently continued his priestly ministryriskinghis own life.
"[...] Fr Cebula's life during the period of housearrest was arduousand became even more so after the other priests weredeported to the concentration camp. He lived together with the lay brothersin one roomand shared in their ill fate. What precautions he had totake! How careful he had to be not to bring harm upon himself and theothers while fulfilling his priestly ministry. During the day he workedas an ordinary labourer; but at night he celebrated Mass in secretandin disguise he would bring spiritual solace to the sickassist at marriagesand baptize the newborn babies. In February 1941he was stricly forbiddento do any priestly ministry whatsoever. Despite thisaccompanied by abrother he would celebrate the Holy Sacrifice daily at midnight in oneof the farm shedsand often even in the cellars. He had a premonitionthat he would not be able to continue much longer bringing Jesus to thetormented land of Kujawy. On April 2after celebrating Mass at midnighthe told the brother who was always faithful to him: "BrothertodayI have celebrated the offering to God for the last time. I suggest thatyou make your confession to me for the last time." And everythinghappened as he had predicted. During the noonday meal the police cameand took Fr Cebula to the camp at Inowroclaw. Therehe joined other priestswho were prisoners and underwent very severe torturestogether with BishopKozalwho later became a martyr at Dachau. They were separated at Poznanand on April 7 [Cebula] found himself in the concentration camp at Mauthausen.[...]"
From the sworn Testimony of FrFeliks AdamskiOMI
The immediate cause of the Servant of God's arrest
"[...] The immediate cause of Father JózefCebula's arrest was the fact that notwithstanding the prohibition he visitedthe sick at Wymyslowice to bring them the Eucharist and to administerthe sacrament of the sick [...]"
Deposition of eyewitnessFr. WiktorSpinekSDB
prisoner at Mauthausen; concentration camp number 2705.
Deposition taken May 81945 by Fr Józef KRAWCZYK
Deion of the torture and death.
Fr Józef Cebula arrived at the concentrationcamp at Mauthausen on April 71941. Prior to being sent to block 7/1he underwent severe torture: in the barrack-roomthen in the shower andwhile putting on the camp uniform several SS kicked him repeatedly andalso ordered some dozen of the prisoners who worked in the barrack-roomto beat Cebula. They beat him especially on the face. Two of the Kapos(prisoner bosses)Wost from Vienna and Janca from Raciborztold me this.
A few minutes laterwhen Fr Cebula arrived in the blocksome SS with big clubs came in like a hurricanedragged Fr Cebula tothe washroom and beat him for more than an hourso much so that he lostconsciousness several times. Then they gave him a rope to hang himselfwithsince he was going to die anyway.
During the night they dragged him out of bed and againtook him to the washroom where they beat him for a long time. This wasrepeated more than ten timesup to the day of his death. Finally on April281941 they brought him to the rock quarry where he usually worked.Oberscharfuehrer Spatz and Kapo [N.] ordered him to run towards the offlimits area. Each time he got close to it the counter order would be given:'Come back.' [This was repeated.]. Finallywhen he was getting closeto the forbidden areathere was no order to 'Come back' on the contrarythey said: 'Forward!' In the same instant they opened fire with automaticweapons. Eight bullets hit him in the shouldersthe headand the neckbut he did not die immediately. He lived for about another hour.
taken by scholastic Bro. Stanislaw KOWALKOWSKIwholeft the Congregation for health reasons after his novitiate at Ripalimosani(Italy) in June 1947 .
The Servant of God did not want special treatment.On the contraryhe used to give some of his food to others. The SS regularlyobliged him to pray aloud and made fun of him. During the workwhichwas beyond his physical strengthhe was made to say prayers aloud.
"This is what the eyewitnessWrobel says: FatherCebula made such a profound impression on the German bandits (Germansimprisoned for common crimes) that not only did they not mistreat himthey tried to save him by giving him extra food. But he would not eatwhat he receivedand gave others a part of his own portionwhich initself was hardly sufficient to keep [himself] alive.
The SS thugs came regularly to the barracks to mistreathimmaking fun of the hymns and prayers they ordered him to execute.He never complained. Once in awhile he would say to his companions inmisfortunethat he never imagined that men could be so evil.
After a week he was assigned to the punishment detailwhose members were given the hardest work. Fr Cebula had to break enormousrocks with a huge hammer that he could hardly lift. The SS that guardedhim would strike him every time he raised the hammerand they would orderhim to pray aloud. [...]"
Despite extreme weaknessthe Servant of God alwaysbore himself with dignity and "his face seemed to radiate with majesty."The witness recounts in his own words what he remembers of the incidentwhen the Servant of God warned an SS that there was a God above who "judgedhuman actions."
"One day an interesting man arrived in our block.A tall fellowpalewith an otherworldly look and a funny family nameCebula [which means onion]. He was so frightened that for many days ofhis stay with usnot even one logical phrase could be heard from hislips. In everything he didin his attitude and behaviourthere couldbe seen a certain dignityI would say a mystery. He was so sick he couldnot take food any more; he was so weak that he could not get up into bed[two-tiered] without help. In spite of this he had to go to workandworked in the punishment company. In realityhe was not there to workhe was simply condemned to death. There wasn't a spot on his body thatwas not bruised.
One dayit seemed that he had been filled with somenew strength. He stood up to the SS who were yelling at him and beatinghim. There was such a majesty radiating from him that the SS were dumbstruckdespite themselves. Cebula said:
'You foolif only you knew how ridiculous you are withall your screeching. And what can you do? Only kill. Any imbecile is capableof that. But there is someone abovesomeone who will judge human actions.There is someone who knows what justice is. All of youyou are simplemurderersmen without character and sense. Your fury and wickedness arethe weapons of weak peopleof those who do not know how to thinkandwho ignore the elementary norms of morality. You kill usbut what willyou say when they kill you?'
In the end he was cremated like the others.
When a year later I told a young seminarian of the Congregationof the Oblates [of Mary Immaculate] about Fr Cebulahe said: "AhCebula was our Superior; we all thought he was a saint!"
Deposition of eyewitness HenrykRzezniczek
from Lodzprisoner (number 1893) at the Mauthausen concentrationcamp
given to Fr Franciszek DudziakOMI on January 141967
Besides more details about the torturinghe gavethe following informationwhich he had received personally from workersat the crematorimpeople who were used to everything.
[...] The day after [the death of Fr Cebula]at theend of workwhen we were all in the blocka friend from the Effektenkammer(storeroom for personal effects) met me and said: "Today was a terribleday in the crematorium. A miracle happened during the cremation of FrCebula; hardly had he been thrown into the furnace that he sat up andmade the sign of the cross. We all fled from the crematorium. The SS informedthe commandant of the camp about the incident. Bachmayer himself cameto the crematorium with a group of armed SS; he said that the corpse ofCebula was burntand forbade us under penalty of death to tell of whatwe had seen."
* Note on the date of death.
"After receiving a letter from Józef inMauthausenI answered. But my letter was returned with a note sayingJózef died May 9."
This is also the date given by the International Servicefor Research in Bad Arolsen (Germany). This Service has microfilm of manyof the original documents from Mauthausen. At the request of Fr JózefPielorzO.M.I.the Service answered:
"Cebula Josef [...] was incarcerated at the concentrationcamp in Mauthausen (date unknown)prisoner number 70where he diedMay 91941 at 12 o'clock; cause of death: shot while trying to escape.[...]."
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