Polish priest visits Michigan to spread story of German soldier’s martyrdom

Fr. Julian Kaplon, a Polish priest who wrote a book about Otto Schimek, a German soldier who was martyred by his own squad during World War II, is visiting Metro Detroit this month to help spread the young soldier’s “message of mercy.”

Fr. Julian Kaplon, a Polish priest who wrote a book about Otto Schimek, a German soldier who was martyred by his own squad during World War II, is visiting Metro Detroit this month to help spread the young soldier’s “message of mercy.”

Otto Schimek executed by own squad for refusing to persecute Poles during WWII

Sterling Heights — Fr. Julian Kaplon is on a mission, a mission to spread the tale of Otto Schimek.

Fr. Kaplon, a priest from Poland who is visiting southeast Michigan this week and next, wrote the story of Schimek, a German solider in World War II who was executed by his own squad after refusing to persecute civilians in occupied Poland.

“I wrote the book because I was interested in the person,” said Fr. Kaplon through a Polish-to-English translator at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Sterling Heights. “I used to live in Austria and got to know his siblings. I think every person that does good things; that message needs to be spread.”

Fr. Kaplon is in the United States for the first time, speaking at Our Lady of Czestochowa, SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake (1 p.m. Sept. 4) and St. Florian Parish in Hamtramck (10 a.m. Sept. 11) about Schimek and the need to focus on works of mercy.

“We don’t want to spend our time on people that didn’t make good decisions, we want to focus on people who did good,” said Fr. Kaplon, who has been a priest for 56 years. “The way he acted was so important. The love of God, he showed great love for his fellow man. When he was only 19, he decided to be faithful to his conscience, even though he didn’t know the people he was being merciful toward.”

Schimek’s story of wartime mercy is popular in Poland, where there is a shrine to the Wehrmacht soldier. In sections of his native Austria, his story is known, and more and more Germans are embracing the legacy of the merciful soldier, something Fr. Kaplon said he hopes people will see as an example for today.

“He certainly was an example for our times, he was merciful, and there is a huge value in mercy,” Fr. Kaplon said. “St. John Paul II talked positively about mercy, and when it comes to Pope Francis, he said who is merciful, will be shown mercy.”

Expanding on the words of the two pontiffs, Fr. Kaplon said it’s equally important to share stories of mercy, especially in a world that has lost touch with it.

“I want all good people to show good deeds, because it’s important to share merciful acts,” Fr. Kaplon said. “Good deeds will always bring people together. Otto Schimek is a positive role model because he was true to his conscience, because in a money-driven society, people have seemed to have lost their faith.”

Fr. Kaplon relates Schimek’s standing up for his conscience to persecuted Catholics in missionary countries in Africa and Asia today, as the faith is under attack in certain corners of the globe.

World War II history is filled with dark and grim stories, but Fr. Kaplon said the story of Schimek shows that one act of mercy can change the lives of countless people, leaving a legacy that’s lasted long after the last shot of the war was fired.

As the tale of Schimek’s spreads to the New World, Fr. Kaplon hopes to emphasize how much the presence of one merciful soul can do for people all over the world.

“It’s an act of mercy that he helped Pols, Yugoslavs; wherever he was stationed, he helped,” Fr. Kaplon said. “Just like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, he was helping the strange person. He was a person of faith, a faith that served as an evangelist to the world.”