My Thirty-Third Year
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By Gerhard A. Fittkau
Winter 1945: the Soviet army sweeps through the village of Suessenberg. After desecrating the church, pillaging the homes, raping and killing women and children, the Soviets deport the remaining people and their pastor, Fr. Fittkau, to the gulag in Siberia. The burden of My Thirty-Third Year is the story of their unbounded suffering: the starvation and cold, the brutal toil, the specter of death, and the persistent temptation to despair. Throughout the ordeal, Fr. Fittkau maintains his priestly vocation, tending to the needs of his fellow prisoners, aided by his friends—the Protestant minister Theo, Fr. Kolfenbach, and Sr. Imelda. The ultimate source of sustenance, however, and source of the book’s enduring power, is “the fruits of God’s victorious grace…grown in the garden of Christ’s agony.”
I was not different in my wretched appearance, in my physical misery, in my struggle to stay alive, in my material helplessness than any prisoner in the camp. Yet my priesthood gave purpose to every day of my life and saved me from the pit of futility and despair… (Gerhard A. Fittkau)
As intense as it is inspiring, My Thirty-Third Year is both an indictment of the human capacity for evil and a celebration of the human capacity to overcome evil with good and fear with faith. It is, without a doubt, a book that must endure.
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Gerhard A. Fittkau (1912–2004) was a German Catholic priest, theologian, and author. Ordained in 1937, he was exiled by the Nazis at the outset of World War II and then captured by the victorious Soviets at the end of the war and sent to the gulag in Siberia. After his release, he served the Church in a variety of positions, including pastor, professor, and director of the American St. Boniface Society. In 1982, Pope John Paul II awarded Fittkau with the title and privileges of a protonotary apostolic.