The Jewish Family Löb and Their Seven Christian Martyrs 

saints, discipleship

This article was written to honor the memory of Ludwig Lutz, his wife Jenny Jansjewho ( both Jews who were baptized and then married in the Catholic Church), and their Jewish Catholic children: 

  • Lien, daughter — Sister Hedwigis o.c.s.o. (1908-†1942), 
  • George, son — Father Ignatius o.c.s.o. (1909-†1942), 
  • Rob, son — Brother Linus o.c.s.o. (1910-†1942), 
  • Thea, daughter – Sister Maria-Theresia o.c.s.o. (1911-†1942), 
  • Wies, (twin) daughter -Sister Veronica o.c.s.o. (1911-†1944), 
  • Ernst, son -Father Nivardus o.c.s.o. (1913-†1942 or †1944), 
  • Hans Jozef, son (1916-†1945), 
  • Paula, daughter and a mother of a family (1918-2004) 

 

The personal and historical facts concerning the members of the Löb family are borrowed here from short biographies listed below; much more could be found about them in Dutch biographies and Dutch testimonies. The author’s interpretation of the destinies of seven oldest Löb kids as martyrs and saint Catholics are my own and thus remains purely personal. Still, my life under the Russian communists and Jewish life under the Nazis enabled me to understand the Löb family’s story. I have adopted the presentation of the Löb family story from The Holocaust of the Löb Family by Christensen Anscar, a rather laconic, simple understanding of their heroic, intelligent lives. 

The Story 

Il fallait que [cet ouvrage] fût composé par quelqu’un en qui fussent unis l’amour de l’Église et la fidélité à Israël: deux convictions qui, il y a peu d’années encore, et à beaucoup, paraissaient incompatibles.

It was necessary that [this work] should be written by somebody in whom were united the love of the Church and the fidelity to Israel — two convictions that, just a few years ago and to too many of us, seemed incompatible (Preface to Marguerite Aron. Prêtres et religieuses de Notre-Dame de Sion.).

In the tidy cemetery of the Cistercian Abbey of Koningshoeven, near Tilburg, in the central area reserved for abbots, there stands, reverently surrounded by Dutch flowers, an unusual granite cross: 

In memory of our Brothers, Father Ignatius, Father Nivard, Brother Linus, of the Löb family, who in the year 1942 in Auschwitz, died for the name of Christ. 

The visitor asks why only these particular monks were singled out for death, especially since Löb is a German name, rather than Dutch. Here unfolds a story where every element is precious. 

These three brothers were the sons of an unusually talented and devout pair of Jewish convert parents. Lutz and Jenny Löb had the distinction, unparalleled in modern times, of having at one and the same time three sons in one Cistercian abbey and three daughters in a single Cistercian convent. Then all six of these specially dedicated Christian men and women were seized by the Nazi government simply for being of Semitic extraction. They showed heroic faithfulness in their sufferings and, free from all bitterness, ultimately died for their faith.

It is worth taking a closer look at them.

Ludwig (Lutz) Löb, the father of our remarkable family, was born in the Rhineland in 1881 of liberal Jewish parents. His father had a good clothing business in the Hague, and he moved his whole family there in 1882. Actually, though his children were all Dutch citizens, Ludwig himself never got around to officially giving up his German citizenship. 

Lutz grew to be a reflective, sensitive, and noble young man. After an interest in Marxism, he turned to read Cardinal Mercier and others and became interested in Catholicism. He became engaged to a young Jewish woman, Johanna (Jenny) van Gelder, daughter of a prosperous Amsterdam exporter. They say she, by contrast, was a peppy, talented and extroverted girl. They were baptized a few days before their marriage in 1906. 

Ludwig had varying success as a mining engineer and teacher. The family moved from Holland to Indonesia and finally returned and settled in Bergen op Zoom. Meanwhile between 1908 and 1918 eight children were born. In Bergen op Zoom they were in a strongly Catholic region. Here they were not rich, but the personalities of the family flowered in a very healthy way. Jenny was the most popular hostess in town. “At the Löb there’s always a fest (celebration) going on!” Lutz was a gentle, beloved teacher and youth leader. He was given to quiet reflection, studied St. Bernard, translated French books (including Thibaut’s life of Dom Marmion), made yearly eight-day retreats at Koningshoeven Abbey not far away and was known to all as a real saint. 

So it was that when the oldest son, George, finished high school and wanted to become a priest, he, after some difficulty and hesitancy, entered the choir novitiate at the nearby Trappist monastery in 1926. Thus the procession began. After George there followed his younger brothers, Robert (Rob) as a lay brother and Ernst as a choir monk. Meanwhile, the oldest girl, Lina (Lien) felt the same attraction and wanted to enter the Trappristines. The closest convent was French-speaking: Chimay in southern Belgium. Here she came as the first Dutch girl to enter that house. “I am offering myself for the return of the Jews”. She, too, was then followed by two sisters, Door and Wies. In 1937 they all went to the new foundation at Berkel, in the Netherlands, not far from Koningshoeven. 

So here were two paters, a broeder, and three zusters from the same family, and each was a genuine existential personality in his or her own right. George (Fr. Ignatius) was extroverted, hearty and helpful. He and Rob had their troubles sometimes in the chapter of faults but submitted well. Rob (Bro. Linus) was handsome, active, and full of a happy camaraderie. He even constructed a forbidden hand-made radio with a tin roof as an antenna and secretly listened to Hitler’s speeches!

Ernst (Fr. Nivardus) was earnest: “A monk to the core”. A self-controlled sub-master of novices, he was strict with himself but kind to others. His nervous tension often caused sleepless nights, but he came tonight Vigils manfully and struggled against sleep by means of many “satisfactions”. Lien (M. Hedwigis) was a lovely, mature, and motherly girl. She held various offices in the community and was known as an exemplary religious, open-hearted and spontaneous, but controlled. Door and Wies (Mother Theresia and Mother Veronika) were generous in sacrifice and had a tender love for the Blessed Virgin. However, they were not as physically strong as Lien. There remained at home only the two youngest children, Hans and Paula. 

Meanwhile, Lutz Löb died a saintly death and had a pauper’s burial, as he had requested. Shortly after Pater Ni- vardus’ first Mass, the mother, Jenny Löb, also died. 

The Third Reich rose. War came. Nazi panzers rumbled into the Netherlands. The Dutch bishops, in an outspoken pastoral, protested the cruelties done to the Jewish people. Rather than hit the hierarchy directly, Commissary General Schmidt chose to silence them by an act publicly announced as a reprisal: a week later all Jews of the Catholic faith in Holland, about 300 of them, were rounded up. This is why their subsequent death could rightly be called martyrdom suffered in hatred of the Faith and of the teaching authority of the Church. 

On Sunday morning, August 2, 1942, while the nuns at Berkel were singing the familiar night office, the police came and demanded that Mother Hedwigis and Mother Theresia be turned over. They left the choir, received Holy Communion from their chaplain and smilingly said Goodbye to all who were near. “Aren’t you going to run?” “No, I have simply said to Our Lord, ‘I give myself to You; do with me what you will'”. Mother Veronika lay seriously ill with tuberculosis and was not taken. 

When they arrived at Koningshoeven in the police car, the SS guards had the brothers taken from the night office, but they actually allowed Fr. Nivard and Fr. Ignatius to say Mass. Fr. Nivard was remarkable in the way he offered Mass with his customary calm and deliberate gravity. Asked if he didn’t want to try to escape, Fr. Ignatius said, “But what effect would that have on the monastery? They’ve threatened to shoot ten Fathers if we don’t come”. To another brother he said, “Till we meet again in heaven”. Bro. Linus’ first reaction was to run, but he resigned himself and served Fr. Ignatius’ mass. 

When the brothers got out to the car and saw the sisters they hadn’t seen in 12 – 14 years, the reunion was hearty and joyful. An astonished SS guard said, “You’d think you were being taken to a party!” “That’s right,” said Mother Hedwigis, “you’re just going to help us get to Heaven faster!” 

That day no less than 300 Catholic Jews were rounded up in the Netherlands and sent to Amersfoort collecting center, then to the infamous Westerbork camp on the German border. Mention is made that at that time the Nazis still hoped America would furnish refuge for their victims, and detailed questions were asked and records made of friends and relatives in America. The U.S. Government did not agree to accept them, however. The Löbs were in brilliant company, with medical doctors, intellectuals, learned Dominican Fathers and Sisters, and the great Carmelite, Sister Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein. Because of the great strength of her character, the latter was a natural leader in the group of religious who prayed the Office and the rosary in common. 

Witnesses say that the two priests of the Löb family were active consoling and hearing confessions, and the nuns were courageous and helpful, especially to the children. This is all we know. The group was moved to the terrible Auschwitz camp in Poland, where a Nazi document tersely records their dates of birth and dates of death: August and September 1942. One unconfirmed report from an anonymous letter says that because of their hearing confessions, Frs. Ignatius and Nivardus were killed by a firing squad with two Polish and two Greek priests and that Fr. Nivardus, the former submaster, exclaimed before the guns were fired, “For the novitiate of Koningshoeven!” 

Sister Veronika, who had been sick, was finally taken by the Nazis to Westerbork but released after only eight or ten days, then sent to various hospitals by her superiors and finally died at her own convent in August 1944. The youngest brother, Hans, was captured and did forced labor in a zinc mine in Poland. When the communists advanced, he was put on a western-bound, open transport truck, froze his feet and died in the infirmary barracks at Auschwitz in February 1945. The youngest Löb child, Paula, married a Dutchman, remained hidden in the home of a courageous Catholic in Nymegen during the war and is the only living member of the family. 

The Löb Jewish Story is so Catholic 

Martyrdom by faith and fidelity to the Holy One is a road to Sanctity that has been defined and assumed by Jesus Himself. 

The first Christian martyr, Jewish deacon Saint Stephen (died 36 CE, Jerusalem; feast day December 26), interpreted it (Acts 7:7-53) as the unique and religiously traditional Jewish way to the unique scene where on could be directly, publicly, and forever adopted as His son by the Almighty — the God whose laws « were given [to the Jews] through Angels », not by men : 

Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things? (Acts 7:49-50; cf. Isaiah 66:1) 

What is so surprising in the history of Löb family, starting with Lutz and Jansje, it is their pure and uncompromising openness to the Heaven’s light, the openness and the accompanying joy ignoring all earthly shadows — from the very beginning of Lutz’s search for his God to the very Catholic end of the heroic deaths of their children. 

This amazing light abolishes the feeling of horrors expressed, for example, by the cousin (Judith Herzberg [6], [8]) of the murdered kids of Löb: « While the killing of Jews has gradually become an obvious historical fact, I noticed that killing Catholic Jews often aroused a new horror. » Also, this light doesn’t allow us to take to heart some cousinly complaints of « social failures of Lutz with the additional money problems ». Or the “week education” of Löb kids as the “reason” of their entry into the Trappist monastery. 

This is the same blinding light which inspired and transformed the lives of the Jewish pioneers Marie Theodor Ratisbonne (1802-1884, baptized in 1826 and ordained in 1830) and his brother Marie Alphonse Ratisbonne (1814-1884), the visionary of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a visit to Rome, 1842, in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte (baptized 1842, ordained 1848). 

The brothers founded and guided the male and female congregations Notre-Dame de Sion [1]. This is the story of a massive movement of the first modern Jewish saints and martyrs [2], [3], repeating and embellishing the well-known story of the first Christian martyrs and saints.

Bibliography
[1] Marguerite Aron. Prêtres et religieuses de Notre-Dame de Sion. Éditions Bernard Grasset, Paris (1936).
[2] Dr. Edouard Belaga. The Jew in the Catholic Church. Catholic Stand (February 10, 2017).
[https://www.catholicstand.com/jew-catholic-church/]
[3] Dr. Edouard Belaga, Dr. Ekaterina Belaga. Marguerite Aron: Jewish Martyr and Catholic Saint. Catholic Stand (June 30, 2019) .
[https://www.catholicstand.com/marguarite-aron-jewish-martyr-and-catholic-saint/]
[4] Anscar Christensen. The Holocaust of the Löb family (November 19, 2013).
[https://www.facebook.com/183911334986231/posts/656083117769048/]
[5] Father Paul Hamans. Edith Stein and Companions on the Way to Auschwitz. Ignatius Press, San Francisco (2010).
[6] Judith Herzberg. Een godsgruwelijk verhaal. (Augustus 1, 2009) [https://www.vn.nl/een-godsgruwelijk-verhaal/]
[7] Anne Mohr and Elisabeth Prègardier. Passion in August (2.-9. August 1942) – Edith Sten und Gafährtinnen: Weg in Tod und Auferstehung. Plöger Verlag GMBH, Essen (1995).
[8] Peter Steffen, Hans Evers. Scheuren in het kleed: het joods-katholieke gezin Löb 1881-1945. Valkhof Pers Nijmegen, Netherland (2009).

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