[The following is excerpted from the "Priestlings" chapter of The Shadow of His Wings: The True Story of Fr. Gereon Goldmann, OFM
, published by Ignatius Press.]
"...[I] returned to finish off my three-month training period [for the Waffen SS], the last three days of which were being conducted by Reichsfuhrer [Heinrich] Himmler himself. The day of demonstration maneuvers was a bitter one; snow blew from the mountaintop, and one of our units became lost there. At last, a command was given to them that saved them all, and during review of the unit at the close of the maneuvers, Himmler commanded that the officer leading it step forward. No one moved....Finally, a soldier whom I knew well stepped forth. He was our Franciscan brother Roger Ricker. We were all amazed, and Himmler asked him, 'Did you give the order?'
"'Yes, Herr Reichsfuhrer.'"
"'But who gave you, a mere soldier, permission to take over the command?'"
"'Sir, our leader was incapacitated. In our instructions, we have been told repeatedly that, in case of necessity, anyone has the duty to give a saving command.'"
"Himmler exclaimed, 'Bravo. Here is a soldier who knows his duty. You are worthy to be an officer in the SS. I will send you at once to a school for officers.'"
"Roger's clear reply rang out in the stillness, 'Sir, that is no longer possible; I have already been at officers' school.'"
"No one understood his answer, and, when he was asked what he meant, he said loudly and firmly, 'I attended the officers' school of the greatest and best-known army in the world---the army of Jesus Christ in the Order of St. Francis. I am in training to be a priest!'....Himmler talked briefly to those close to him and then said, 'You are free to serve your God. There is no religious coercion here. But you must have observed already that whoever is among us undergoes...a change, and that without force.' I laughed."
"He looked at me and said, 'Why do you laugh?' I blurted out, 'We shall see who changes whom."
"The others stared at Himmler: What would he say now? But he merely looked at us and said, with satisfaction, to his companions, 'These fellows are all right; we need them.' To us, he said, 'You are free to go.' And go we did, with this assurance from him who frightened everyone that we were free to fulfill our religious obligations."
"There was a sequel to this incident. The next morning, one of the higher officers received a communication from headquarters that had been passed on from the highest source. In it, we learned that the final goal of the war was to free not only Germany and Europe but the whole world from two adversaries---the Communists and the Christians. The more dangerous, they said, was the Church, which for two thousand years had enslaved mankind with its religion of hypocrisy and false love. 'Until the last priest hangs on the gallows, the final victory has not been won!' the communique said."
"'Yesterday, we were assured religious freedom from one of the highest sources; what we now hear is just the opposite!' I cried.
"The officer sneeringly replied, 'Yes, indeed. Religious freedom, but all means---as long as the war lasts. Nothing has been said, though, about what happens after the war is ended!'"
"I have an unfortunate tendency to put my foot into it, so I could not refrain from asking, 'Sir, what will happen when we are again in our monasteries?'"
"'If one of my men should dare to enter again into those nests of stupidity, I would personally tie him to the nearest tree for flogging!'"...
"When the officer sharply inquired if I doubted the final outcome, I answered, 'I know only this, sir: that whatever transpires, the will of God will prevail. Only that which is right before [Him], and in keeping with [His] Divine plan, will conquer. This has been proved a thousand thousand times in the history of the Church and surely will not now be changed."