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Kaj Munk - Pastor, Playwright, Martyr

Statue of Kaj Munk (Photo: flickr/insightsunspoken)

Kaj Munk

Life: January 13, 1898 - January 4, 1944

Why you should know him: A Danish playwright and Lutheran pastor, Kaj Munk opposed the Nazi occupation of Denmark, a stance which led to his murder.

Born Kaj Harald Leininger Petersen, the young Danish boy was raised by a family named Munk after his parents died. Kaj was ordained as a Lutheran minister, and served as the vicar of Vederso in Western Jutland, Denmark, from 1924 until his death twenty years later. Munk also wrote many plays during the 1920s, plays that were performed publicly during the 1930s.

When fascism overtook Europe in the 1930s, Munk was disgusted by Hitler and Mussolini, disgust caused by his witnessing of the Nazi persecution of Germany's Jews and Mussolini's actions toward Ethiopia. In 1938, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a front page editorial that Munk wrote to Mussolini which criticized persecution of the Jewish people.

When the Nazis invaded and occupied Denmark, Munk was also a vocal and active opponent. His plays directly attacked Nazism. Friends urged Munk to go underground, but he continued to preach against Danish collaborations with Hitler and the Nazis.

Around Christmastime of 1943, Munk defied a Nazi ban and preached an Advent sermon at Copenhagen's national cathedral. Because of this, the Nazis arrested the pastor on January 4, 1944. Munk's body was found in a ditch the next morning.

Four thousand Danes attended his funeral, and many influential Scandinavians condemned his murder. Munk's widow, Lise, continued to live in their parish house until her death decades later in 1998. Today, the church and house have been restored as a memorial to this pastor and playwright who gave his life to defy evil.

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