The Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser

The life of Josef Mayr-Nusser (1910-1945) is a chapter in the complicated story of South Tyrol.  Born in Bolzano Bozen, he was an active German speaking Catholic, contributor to the subversive young Catholic newssheet Tiroler Jugendwacht (subversive because the Italian government banned use of the German word Jugendwacht – literally “youth watch”).  Despite reservations about Italy’s treatment of the South Tyrol, he was unmoved by the Nazis’ siren calls to German speakers and became a key member of the South Tyrolean resistance group, the Andreas Hofer Bund. 

The Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser, beatified by Pope Francis for his heroism in defence of South Tyrol and martyrdom by the Nazis.

This Bund was an anti-Nazi association and resistance movement, formed in opposition to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s “Option Agreement” of October / November 1939, by which the German- and Ladin-speaking inhabitants of South Tyrol were given the “option” of either remaining in their homes and facing Italianisation or migrating to the Germanic “homeland” – in this case the recently seized lands of Western Poland.  The Bund was formed particularly to protect the remainers (“Dableiber”) from the aggression of the leavers (“Optanteren”).  Of the 75,000 who eventually opted for migration – mainly the landless rural poor, few burghers and almost no farmers – many got no further than the Austrian Tyrol, and after the war around one third of them returned.

When Mayr-Nusser was drafted into the SS he refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler, claiming it contrary to his faith.  For this he was sentenced to death.  Beatified by Pope Francis in 2016, he is referred to as the Martyr of the First Commandment (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”). His reliquary casket is in the south aisle of Bozen Cathedral.

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