The story of a German priest who became a key figure in the Catholic missions to Shandong before being killed in 1945.
by Johannes Fleckner and Helmut Moll
The Making of a Missionary
Friedrich Hüttermann was born on March 30, 1888. He was the son of a prematurely retired lathe machine operator of the Gute-Hoffnungs-Hütte in Sterkrade near Oberhausen (Rhineland). Already as an altar boy, he had expressed the wish to become a priest. In the year 1902, he came to the house of the Divine Word Missionaries (Verbites) in Steyl, The Netherlands, passed in 1907 his “Hausabitur” (the common exam of the religious institute), and moved to the St. Gabriel novitiate in Mödling, near Vienna, where he started his training on September 12, 1910. After the novitiate, he started studying philosophy and theology in the same institute. On September 28, 1913, he was ordained as a priest. After a last year of study, the determination emerged of becoming a missionary in faraway China.
The outbreak of the First World War prevented his move to Asia. In the year 1915, trained as a paramedic, Hüttermann served first as a military-hospital chaplain to the Grenadiers, and then as a field chaplain. He was tall, slim, and very much ready to serve. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his war achievements. In 1919, he passed the state exam known as Abitur. Subsequently, he became assistant to the novice masters Father Karl Friedrich in Steyl, and Father Alois Kaufhold in Sankt Augustin in the Rhineland, for two years. Against his wishes, he had to study Catholic theology at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Bonn from 1921 to 1925. During this time, he finished his dissertation, “Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altlateinischen Evangeliumsübersetzung (der br-Text des Jo.)” [“Investigations of the History of the Old Latin Gospel Translation (the br-Text of John)”] whose methodical approach, certainty of purpose, and exact execution were rated with the highest academic praise, “magna cum laude.” His solemn promotion took place on July 8, 1925.
First Years in China
Despite his special theological training, Hüttermann urged the officials of his religious order to send him to China, according to his original purpose. His wish was granted. Already on November 21, 1925, he landed in Tsingtao with the boat “Saarbrücken.” With another five new missionaries, he had to wait almost two months before starting, the onward journey. In the middle of January 1926, they arrived in Yenchowfu, the center of the Divine Word Mission in the Southern part of Shandong.
After a very brief introduction into the language, history, and culture of China, the Steyl missionary and Bishop Augustinus Henninghaus (1862–1939), since 1904 Apostolic Vicar of Yenchowfu, called Hüttermann, as his theologically best trained new missionary, to serve as lecturer in dogmatics and biblical sciences at his seminary. At that time, the Yenchowfu seminary was attended by 24 theology students, among whom were four Chinese brothers who had just entered the Society of the Divine Word. A remarkable fruit of these years concerns the classical works in which Hüttermann instructed his students. The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch († 107), the martyrdom of St. Felicitas and Perpetua († 202/203), the protocol of the Scillitan martyrs († 180) and the life of St. Malchus († 260) were translated into Chinese, and competently explained for the benefit of Chinese readers.
Without doubt, Hüttermann would have achieved an excellent knowledge of Chinese and the higher writing language, with all his unbending energy, although he was distracted from his courses as he was also requested to give lectures in religion and Latin in the minor seminary, had not other events occurred. Hüttermann also helped publishing the new edition of the Chinese grammar by Father Theo Mittler, adding the appropriate “tones” to the sound reproduction of the Chinese characters. Finally, Hüttermann wrote twelve reflections on the Way of the Cross, each with 14 stations, which were published as lecture notes by the publishing house of the Yenchowfu seminary.
Called to Leadership
To deepen his insights in the missionary work in a larger mission, and gain a better knowledge of the environment of his theology students, Hüttermann spent the school year 1928–29 in Shanhsia, Zhejiang, as chaplain to Father Franz Hoowaarts, while being free of lectures. His bravery, spirit of sacrifice, and pronounced zeal for mission earned him the sympathy of all missionaries. When Father Theodor Schu (1892–1965) was appointed Bishop of Yenchowfu in 1936, the missionaries elected Hüttermann as his successor as their regional leader.
Named after the the place where the Divine Word order’s headquarters were located, this area was simply called the region of Taikiachwang. It included the missions of Yenchowfu, Tsaochowfu, and Yangku. Furthermore, the fathers and brothers of Peking University and of the Mission Procuratorate in Shanghai were subject to special visitation rights by the Taikiachwang regional administration of the Society of the Divine Word. To get to know the personalities and tasks of all missionary co-workers in such a wide area, and help them to the best of his ability, required much consideration, patience, empathy and firmness, even though the responsibility for the evangelization lay entirely in the hands of the respective bishops.
War and Revolution
Hüttermann’s term in office turned out to be extremely difficult. Half a year after his election, the Japanese invasion armies entered China and penetrated as far as South Shandong. Terror, gangs, insecurity, and inflation depressed the peaceful population. Very soon, there was talk that the Red Army and the CCP were starting to build a state within the state taking advantage of their hedgehog positions.
Each year, Hüttermann visited every single missionary of his jurisdiction. With the mission centers of Yenchowfu, Tsaochowfu, and Yangku, there were about 43 stations and 174 missionaries. Invariably, come rain or come shine, he traveled by bicycle. Brother Malachias or a Chinese assistant accompanied him; in general, Hüttermann never rode alone, although he was not afraid. Often, he had to endure embarrassing interrogations, body searches and harassment. Once he was imprisoned with Brother Malachias as a spy. “I will die a soldier’s death,” it slipped away from him occasionally.
Hüttermann devoted great attention to common retreats, pastoral conferences, and debates. He encouraged the apostolic zeal, let current problems be openly discussed, but turned against undisciplined opinions and behavior, no matter where he observed them. Occasionally, Hüttermann used inconsiderate and even hurtful words, and became unpopular with certain people over time.
Hüttermann, however, deserves respect for the fact that in the interest of the mission and the missionaries he promoted a solid religious discipline. The novitiate of the Chinese novices, and since 1938 the episcopal seminary as well, were located in Taikiachwang. This religious house was the first station for all new missionaries of the Chinese mission of the Society of the Divine Word. When for example, in late autumn 1940, the last course of 21 members joined the pre-existing penultimate course, which had 32 new missionaries, the population of Taikiachwang consisted of 65 fathers, 16 brothers, and 28 seminarians. Despite the considerable number of younger and older people living under the same roof, the order reigned. Hüttermann insisted on this, sometimes harshly.
The Time of the Martyrs
Painful sacrifices had to be accepted. On May 17, 1938, the young Father Alfons Gärtner (1908–1938) was shot dead and buried. On April 23, 1941, partisans suspected Father Joseph Bayerle (1899–1941) of being a spy and murdered him. In the summer of 1940, Communist guerrillas kidnapped the missionaries Father Paul Heyer and Father Wilhelm Sermon and released them only after several exhausting weeks. Heinrich Werner suffered the same fate. Finally, in March 1943, the Japanese interned the Dutch Father Johann van Schie in the camp of Weihsien (Eastern Shandong). Although the country was becoming more and more troubled, and the roads less secure, Hüttermann resisted dejectedness and tactical withdrawal. In his official gazette, he sought to encourage and present the difficulties openly.
After the collapse of German forces in World War II in May 1945, Communist partisans tried to intimidate and blackmail the German missionary and religious superiors, allegedly in order to confiscate their “arsenal of weapons.” Unfortunately, two or three days after the German surrender on May 8, 1945, a Japanese division from the nearby trading town of Tsining came to the Taikiachwang Divine Word headquarters and started inventorying all its possessions, apartments, schools and stables for hours. This became known in a flash, and the partisans decided to forestall the Japanese.
In the late evening of May 16, 1945, the CCP partisans opened a wild shooting and invaded the house of the community in Taikiachwang. They also invaded the nearby convent of the missionary sisters. Suddenly the big bell resounded in the courtyard in front of the church during the excited hurrying and plundering, accompanied by the fearful roar of the cows who were being taken away. It was Hüttermann who had started sounding the alarm. This was followed by a stormy shouting, and a violent exchange of words. Two shots were fired, and Hüttermann fell dead. “When we prayed at his corpse, the tower clock struck midnight,” the chronicle reports. Hüttermann was killed on May 17, 1945, according to the Redemptorist Father Eusebius Arnaiz and the Italian missionary to China, Giancarlo Politi—a statement which is confirmed in the “Bibliotheca Missionum.”
For a bibliography, see the German version of this article.