The history of the Catholic Church is full of saints that gave witness to Christ until death. One of these martyrs is Father Joseph Muller, executed by the Nazis for telling a joke criticizing Hitler.
“Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. the martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 2473
Joseph Muller was born August 6th, 1894 in the town of Salmünster in Hesse, Germany, his father being the local cantor and teacher. He served as a volunteer in World War I, having to stop because of a serious injury. After the war, he resolved to become a Catholic priest like two of his brothers.
He attended seminary at the Diocese of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, and received holy orders a year later. Throughout his ecclesiastical career, he served as a chaplain, briefly joined a Franciscan convent, and served as a parish priest before serving the small Catholic parish in the German Village of Groß Düngen from August 1, 1943 onwards.
Muller was known as inspiring orator that connected to his congregation. He was devoted to spiritual guidance, particularly the youth and young workers. He was monitored by the Gestapo and had to cope with the repression of government authorities following the Nazi power seizure in 1933.
About a month after moving to Groß Düngen, Muller was arrested for telling a political joke to an electrician: he joked about a wounded soldier on his deathbed, who asked to see the people for whom he was laying down his life. The nurse laid a portrait of Hitler on his one side, and a portrait of Göring on the other. Then, he gasped: “Now I can die like Jesus Christ.”
Muller was taken into temporary custody and interrogated on the charges of comparing Hitler and Göring to the criminals crucified alongside Jesus Christ. He was released, but re-arrested eight months later and deported to a prison in Berlin. He was interrogated and did not reveal who first told him the joke. He was taken to the “People’s Court” in a show trial, and sentenced to death. He was executed by guillotine on September 11th, 1944.
Since the end of World War II, a bell is tolled every year on the anniversary of Muller’s death at his former parish church in Groß Düngen. In May of 2016, the Diocese of Hildesheim opened his cause for martyrdom, giving the the title Servant of God.