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Dr. Max Größer
© Pallottiner-Orden

Max Größer * 1887

Adenauerallee 41 (Hamburg-Mitte, St. Georg)

JG. 1887

Dr. Max Joseph Grösser, born on 15 Aug. 1887 in Hannover, died of the effects of imprisonment in Berlin on 19 Mar. 1940

Adenauerallee 41

Max Joseph Grösser, long-standing staff member and fourth general secretary of the St. Raphael’s Association (St. Raphaels-Verein, today Raphaelswerk), was honored with a Stolperstein at Adenauerallee 41 in Hamburg on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Raphaelswerk.
Max Grösser’s life was devoted to serving emigrants and Germans abroad: In the nineteenth century, the number of emigrants rose rapidly, and they were exposed to numerous risks before embarking on the journey, in the course of the passage overseas, and in the country of destination. To provide them with protection, the Limburg merchant Peter Paul Cahensly had founded the St. Raphael’s Association in 1871. In 1920, the General Secretariat relocated to Hamburg, one of the focal points of emigration, where Max Grösser now became involved.

Who was this man? Having grown up in the orphanage of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul (Vinzentinerinnen) in Hannover-Döhren, he joined the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Latin: Societas Apostolatus Catholici, abbreviated SAC) in Limburg as early as 1901. Since the founding of this society in 1835 by Vincenzo Pallotti, its members are simply called Pallottines in the vernacular. Max Grösser attended the schools of the Pallottines in Vallendar and Ehrenbreitstein. Even in these places, his scientific, musical, and other talents were already discovered and his eagerness to work was noticed. In 1905, he began the novitiate in Limburg. On 9 July 1911, he was ordained priest. Following further studies at the Catholic-Theological Faculty of the University of Münster, he took on giving lectures on the New Testament and in missionary studies at the Theological-Philosophical College of his order in Limburg. Moreover, the order conferred upon him the editorship of its magazine entitled Stern der Heiden ("Star of the Heathens”). At the same time, Grösser published scholarly contributions in the Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft, a magazine dealing with missionary studies edited by the missionary scholar Joseph Schmidlin from Münster.

Starting with the outbreak of World War I until the end of 1915, Max Grösser served as army chaplain on the western and eastern fronts. With the "Sekretariat Sozialer Studentenarbeit," which the university student pastor, founder of student social work, and "urban apostle” (Grossstadtapostel) Carl Sonnenschein had built up, Grösser published Weltpolitik im Reiche Gottes ("World Politics in the Kingdom of God”) in 1918, a treatise that clearly revealed his commitment to social issues.

In 1921, Max Grösser earned his Ph.D. at the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Freiburg with a dissertation on the ethnological topic of Die ideellen Grundlagen bei den Todes- und Begräbnisbräuchen der Bantuneger ("The ideas underlying the mortuary and funeral customs of the Bantu negroes”). In his works concerning missionary studies and ethnology, he spoke out against the widespread prejudice at the time of "inherent inferiority” of African peoples, emphasizing the necessity for cultural refinement (Bildung) and the opportunities for people’s education in missionary work.
That same year, Max Grösser joined the Pallottine Father Georg Timpe, who was 14 years his senior, in taking on the task of looking after emigrants in terms of social matters. From then on, his energy was devoted to the welfare, pastoral care, and advising of emigrants. This work needed to be built up and organized anew after the First World War. For this purpose, the General Secretariat was relocated from Freiburg to Hamburg, the center of emigration. Advising activities were intensified, for the traditional countries of emigration, such as the USA, Canada, Australia, as well as those of Latin America, were restricting immigration, regulating it by annual quotas and newly introduced compulsory visa requirements. Thus, it was necessary to warn persons willing to emigrate of excessive expectations and overhasty steps. Max Grösser devoted himself to this task specifically on location but also in his contributions at conferences in Germany and abroad. For instance, he represented the St. Raphael’s Association at the international "conference for emigrant affairs” (Konferenz für Auswandererwesen) held on 1 Aug. 1922 in Luxembourg, attended by delegates from 15 nations, who strove to revive the cooperation of European organizations that had collapsed due to World War I.

Max Grösser managed the development of the Catholic Foreign Secretariat (Auslands-Sekretariat), the scientific information and archiving office for Catholic German ethnic groups abroad, initially in Hamburg attached to the General Secretariat of the St. Raphael’s Association and from 1927 onward attached to the "Reich Federation for Catholic German Ethnic Groups Abroad” ("Reichsverband für das katholische Deutschtum im Ausland”) in Berlin. He built up a specialized library holding 10,000 volumes regarding German ethnic groups abroad and authored numerous books and articles on German culture abroad. In 1924, together with Georg Timpe, he founded Die Getreuen. Zeitschrift für die Katholiken deutscher Zunge in aller Welt ("The Faithful. Magazine for the Catholics of German tongue worldwide”), which was circulated in Germany and overseas alike. It served to maintain contact with emigrants and as an intermediary between the native country and the foreign parts. Grösser also published in the Jahrbuch für die katholischen Auslandsdeutschen ("Yearbook for Catholic Germans abroad”) and furthermore in missionary magazines. He advocated the supranationality of missionary work – not a matter of course in those days.

From Mar. 1924 until Jan. 1925, Max Grösser undertook an educational trip to the United States and Canada, visiting church institutions and government authorities to stimulate their interest in emigrants, and scouting above all immigration opportunities for farmers. He presented his findings in Hamburg in May 1925. He maintained contacts to Brazil and helped settle the colonies of Terra Nova and Rolandia in the south of the country. Max Grösser had a crucial share in founding the "Society for Settlement Abroad” ("Gesellschaft für Siedlung im Auslande”) in Berlin in 1931, and by then he was considered an authority on the topic of emigrant welfare, representing the St. Raphael’s Association and the Foreign Secretariat at the German Catholics’ Day (Katholikentag), and advising the Reich government on emigration issues.

On 10 Oct. 1930, Max Grösser succeeded Georg Timpe as General Secretary of the St. Raphael’s Association in Hamburg, where he had already worked as a pastor in the emigration halls of the HAPAG [Hamburg America Line] years ago. His assumption of office coincided with the difficult years of the world economic crisis and then with the time of upheaval associated with Nazi rule, confronting Max Grösser and the St. Raphael’s Association with special challenges. In June 1931, commemorating its sixtieth anniversary in Stuttgart, the Association could point to having looked after more than two and a half million emigrants of the most diverse nations in the preceding 60 years.
During the years of high unemployment, the number of consultations for emigrants also rose. The St. Raphael’s Association increasingly addressed questions of settlement abroad. In the southern states of Brazil, in Argentina and Paraguay, Max Grösser saw opportunities for settling people willing to emigrate, primarily young farmers, at relatively low cost. The Terra Nova colony in southern Brazil was deemed a model settlement.

The National Socialist assumption of power changed the working conditions of the St. Raphael’s Association dramatically. Due to the constantly increasing dismissals, discriminations, deprivation of rights and persecution, numerous Jews strove to make their way abroad. As a result, in 1933 the Association created a "Special Relief Organization” ("Sonderhilfswerk”) headed by Max Grösser to help those who had lost their jobs for political reasons and wished to emigrate. In this context, the Association, working under the authority of the Reich Office for Emigration Affairs established in 1924, avoided doing anything that might have served the regime as a pretext for intervention. "In a purposeful and systematic way,” Grösser embedded the welfare work on behalf of Catholic "non-Aryans” "as a natural duty into the area of responsibility of the St. Raphael’s Association.” This concerned baptized members of the Catholic Church, who, according to Nazi criteria, were classified as "full Jews,” "Jews by definition” ("Geltungsjuden”), or "Jewish half-breeds” ("Mischlinge”).

In 1934, during a tour visiting German bishops and advisory offices for emigrants, Max Grösser promoted the "Special Relief Organization,” asking for non-material and financial support. The advisory offices, usually attached to the Caritas associations, in Berlin, Breslau, Oppeln, Cologne, Frankfurt/Main, and Munich shouldered the main burden because the numbers of "non-Aryans” and "Mischlinge” living there were particularly high.

In 1935, the St. Raphael’s Association joined the German Caritas Association in founding a "Relief Committee for Catholic non-Aryans” ("Hilfsausschuss für katholische Nichtarier”). It was intended to serve as an umbrella organization of the "Special Relief Organization” and the Caritas’ own "Caritas Emergency Organization” ("Caritas-Notwerk”), to prepare the training of Jewish adolescents as well as the vocational retraining of adults. The aim was to train them in occupations in demand abroad in order to prepare them for the requirements of the foreign job markets. However, retraining courses under Catholic sponsorship did not materialize for the time being. Therefore, the "Relief Committee” referred persons seeking advice to private retraining courses. Grösser complained, "Certainly, we as Catholics have been trailing far behind the Jews, who are carrying out such retraining courses for men and women willing to emigrate in an extraordinarily resolute and successful manner.”

The St. Raphael’s Association cooperated very closely with the "Reich Representation of German Jews” ("Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden”) or later, respectively, the "Reich Association of Jews in Germany” ("Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland”) and the "Aid Association of German Jews” ("Hilfsverein deutscher Juden”). Starting in July 1939, the Reich Association paid monthly subsidies toward the administrative costs of the St. Raphael’s Association. Moreover, it cooperated with the "Office Pastor Grüber” ("Büro Pfarrer Grüber"), which looked after Protestant Jews. This cooperation took place with approval of the government authorities in Berlin, i.e., of the "Reich Office for Emigration Affairs” and the Foreign Ministry.

With the aim of rescuing Catholics of Jewish descent, General Secretary Max Grösser undertook numerous trips abroad, including to Brazil (in 1933), the USA and Canada (in 1937), to the western European countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain (in 1934), and France (in 1934 and 1935), or to Great Britain (in 1936), in order to obtain entry permits for protégés of the "Special Relief Organization” and the "Relief Committee,” or to prepare at least means of transit toward emigration overseas. However, most European countries balked at admitting Jewish immigrants. Therefore, Max Grösser deemed an American relief organization for "non-Aryan” Catholics an urgent necessity. During his trip to the USA in Mar./Apr. 1937, he negotiated with US bishops with the aim of establishing a "Committee for Catholic Refugees from Germany,” something implemented at the Bishops’ Conference in Washington. This aid committee was to grant loans, obtain entry permits, and promote the social and religious integration of refugees. Grösser, however, was not particularly satisfied with the work actually accomplished by this relief organization, as a strictly confidential report reveals: "The relief organization founded in the USA has certainly gone through the initial stages of the first year with some benefit, but neither the working methods nor the response to the work among the American Catholics seem to be adequate … It is not really surprising that great disappointment and in part distress prevails in the circles of the Christian non-Aryans … Above all, it is hard for the Christian non-Aryans to comprehend that in various countries of emigration, the Jewish relief committees are collecting and making available financial assistance and loans, whereas on the part of Catholics here, more or less only consultations and good will toward job placements are forthcoming, and that even in the USA, actual financial aid does not exist yet due to lacking funds.” In a further report dated Aug. 1938 to Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich, Max Grösser wrote that the expectations in the American relief organization "unfortunately could not be fulfilled because the main task Germany expected of it, the procurement of so-called Freundesbürgschaften ["friends’ guarantees”] in the United States, apparently faces extraordinary scruples.”

The longer the Nazi regime ruled, the more Jews attempted to leave Germany, taking advantage of any opportunity to obtain advice and support. The advisory centers of the St. Raphael’s Association, with its modest number of staff, was hardly able to cope with this onslaught. Just between Aug. 1937 and Aug. 1938, 2,000 Catholic "non-Aryans” and "Mischlinge” were in contact with the General Secretariat and the advisory offices. During a single year, the count of consultations was 30,000. Max Grösser wrote in a report to Cardinal Faulhaber, "During the past half year, in addition to the roughly 1,000 persons expecting assistance entirely of us, approx. 700 persons have established contact with us … due to the endeavors toward Aryanization of businesses. Whereas until the end of the previous year, the liberal professions were definitely at the center of attention, now the merchant and commercial representatives are the main candidates for emigration. … Furthermore, in recent times, many non-Aryan physicians got in touch, after Jews are being eliminated from the medical profession based on the 4th Ordinance to the Reich Citizenship Law just announced.”
The great demand stood in contrast to the isolationist stance of most potential countries of entry and the policy of the German Reich to deny passports and make visiting trips to foreign countries more difficult. Almost in despair, Grösser wrote that the persons affected "are very depressed emotionally and at the same time have a feeling that the church does not look after them adequately. In many cases, the consultation can only be a temporary feeding with hopes and are thus of somewhat dubious value.”

The "Relief Committee” raised funds to grant travel subsidies to destitute "non-Aryans” and thus make emigration possible. This operation was not easy since public fundraising by the St. Raphael’s Association was prohibited. The "Relief Committee” received money from German bishops and individual private persons such as the big industrialist Fritz Thyssen. Special funds attached to the individual diocesan treasuries were geared toward financial subsidies; a more substantial fund resided with the Archiepiscopal Financial Administration (Kollektur) in Freiburg. The St. Raphael’s Association and the "Relief Committee” observed the legal regulations in order not to provide the Nazi regime with any points of attack. They also complied with the order issued in 1936 to advise only persons of Jewish descent but of Catholic faith. It was prohibited to look after Protestant "non-Aryans” and "Jews by religion” ("Glaubensjuden”). Non-compliance would have resulted in a ban of the St. Raphael’s Association.

However, despite this strict observance of the regulations, 16/17 Jan. 1936 and Nov. 1937 saw one house search each by 40 Gestapo officers at the St. Raphael’s Association and the confiscations of its files. Max Grösser was interrogated during these operations. To the question by the Gestapo officers, "what made him spend good German money on the Jews” during his advertising tour, Max Grösser reportedly asked them "to direct this reproach to the German bishops as the trip had been undertaken on their authority and with their personal money.” However, the Gestapo continued to suspect him of illegal foreign currency transactions, though not wishing to take action against him in the 1936 Olympic year, instead shadowing him in Germany and abroad. In 1938, the tax and revenue office considered withdrawing the non-profit status related to tax law from the St. Raphael’s Association because a routine audit had shown that the association financially supported "non-Aryans” from its funds.

On 9 July 1936, Max Grösser was able to celebrate the silver anniversary of his ordination as a priest. About 600 congratulations by friends, bishops, holy order associations, shipping lines, persons advised from various countries, migration organizations from Europe and overseas but also by state institutions reached him. After the simple jubilee celebration in Bremen, Grösser set out for London to participate as a representative of the German Caritas Association in the international social congress. The return trip took him to the Netherlands and Belgium to win support for persons in need of protection in these places as well.

Max Grösser’s international renown did not deter the Secret State Police from arresting him for the first time on 17 Dec. 1937, transporting him to Berlin, and interrogating him for several days. On 21 Dec., the Osnabrück bishop Berning asked the Berlin-based bishop Heinrich Wienken to make inquiries about the fate of Max Grösser and the reasons for his arrest. Wienken headed the new Commissariat of the German Bishops’ Conference, newly established in 1937, an important intermediary authority between the Catholic dioceses and the state and party offices of the Nazi regime. As an episcopal negotiator, Wienken achieved the easing of detention conditions for hundreds of persons, saving many from detention in concentration camps. For Grösser, he immediately hired a lawyer who obtained Grösser’s release after numerous interrogations that took place without him being brought before an investigating judge. From Oct. 1938 to Jan. 1939, Grösser was again detained in Berlin and then released on 4 Feb. 1939.

Despite these repressions, soon after his release from prison, he set out to talk with the "Comitee vor Vluchtelingen” ("refugee committee”) in Utrecht about temporary migration and residence of Catholic "non-Aryans” in the Netherlands. This journey, kept secret, resulted in annoyance, perhaps even defamation from his own Caritas circles. Grösser deemed it possible that despite the intended secrecy "reports about the trip went from Hamburg non-Aryans to the Netherlands. At least I have no knowledge of any enemies in the committee in Utrecht.” He feared that some persons belonging to the Caritas Association took a skeptic view of his strategy on behalf of the Catholic Jews. It is not known what happened exactly.

The St. Raphael’s Association had made efforts – as mentioned earlier – toward the settlement of Catholic Jews in Brazil and the granting of visas by the Brazilian government. At the request of the Association and the German Bishops’ Conference, Pope Pius XII supported via diplomatic channels the granting of visas by the Brazilian government. In July 1939 and Feb. 1940, Max Grösser traveled to Rome in order to achieve expedited issuing of thousands of visas by the Brazilian government in the course of negotiations with top Vatican authorities. The Brazilian President Vargas promised 3,000 visas, 2,000 of which were to be allotted in Germany and 1,000 via the Vatican. The issuing of the allocated 1,000 visas at the Brazilian embassy in the Vatican got under way well whereas the granting of the 2,000 visa via Berlin was repeatedly delayed due to dubious tactics of the embassy there. While a struggle ensued in the Reich capital for every single visa, thousands of applications piled up at the St. Raphael’s Association and the "Relief Committee.” Max Grösser, who during his return trip conferred with the advisory offices in Munich, Vienna, and Frankfurt/Main, arrived in Hamburg again on 4 Mar., ill due to imprisonment, persecution, and stress. On 18 Mar., he set out for Berlin, entering into negotiations on the same day with the Apostolic Nunciature and the Brazilian embassy. However, the psychological strains were so severe that Max Grösser died of heart failure in Hedwigsheim on 19 Mar. 1940. He only reached the age of 52.

His burial at the Hamburg-Ohlsdorf Cemetery took place in the presence of countless dignitaries of the Pallottine Order, the St. Raphael’s Association, the German Caritas Association, as well as the HAPAG and Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping lines on 27 Mar. 1940. Monsignore Bernhard Wintermann, the first chair of the St. Raphael’s Association, wrote in the death notice: "In these years, he [Grösser] knew how to expand the Raphael’s welfare for Catholic emigrants in such a way that it met all demands. During a trip to Berlin, God put an end to his tireless work. Even an hour before his death, he was active on behalf of the Catholic emigrants.”

In its obituary, the St. Raphael’s Association emphasized, "[E]very encounter with him has become a joyful memory to us. He only spoke seldom of the strokes of fate that hit him, never with bitterness. He knew how to make the best of, to see a valuable aspect to everything. Kind in conversation, modest in conduct, prepared to help at any moment, with an open eye to human greatness and weakness, equipped with a keen awareness of the German people’s right to live, a son of the church cheerful in faith and belief, tireless and pitiless against himself in work and deed, that is how his character stands before our eyes.”

Status as of Jan. 2015

Translator: Erwin Fink

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Manfred Hermanns

Quellen: Bericht über die Tätigkeit des Hilfsausschusses für die katholischen Nichtarier (August 1937–August 1938) unter dem Titel "Bericht Größer" vom August 1938 in Ludwig Volk (Bearb.), Akten deutscher Bischöfe über die Lage der Kirche 1933–1945. Bd. IV 1936–1939, Mainz 1981; Manfred Hermanns, "Im Dienste für andere will ich mich verzehren." Max Größer – Auswandererfürsorger und Auswandererseelsorger – Opfer des Nationalsozialismus. Festschrift zum 70. Todestag am 19. März 2010, hrsg. vom Raphaels-Werk, Dienst am Menschen unterwegs. Hamburg 2010; Manfred Hermanns, Weltweiter Dienst am Menschen unterwegs. Auswandererberatung und Auswandererfürsorge durch das Raphaels-Werk. Friedberg 2011; Wilhelm Nathem PSM, Die Fürsorgearbeit des St. Raphaels-Vereins für die katholischen Nichtarier. Dezember 1945, Archiv des Erzbistums Hamburg.

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