Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Transfiguration


Emilian Kovch — priest, patriot, and righteous (1884-1944)

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“Kovch, whose German was perfect, yelled at the German soldiers to let him into the synagogue [which probably the Germans had set aflame]. They were shocked into silence and let him in. Father immediately began to carry people out of the burning synagogue. Among those that Fr. Kovch saved was rabbi of Belz Aaron Rokeach.”

Fr. Emilian Kovch, a priest and martyr, was born on 20 August 1884, in Kosmach near Kosiv. After graduating from the College of Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Rome, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1911. In 1919 he became field chaplain for the Ukrainian Galician Army. After the war and until his imprisonment in the Second World War he conducted his priestly ministry in Przemysliany, at the same time tending to his parishioners’ social and cultural life. He helped the poor and orphans, though he had six children of his own.

  During World War II he carried out his ministry, preaching love to people of all nationalities and rescuing Jews from death. He was arrested by the Gestapo on 30 December 1942. He displayed heroic bravery in the concentration camp, protecting the prisoners sentenced to death from falling into despair.

  He died in the ovens of the Majdanek Nazi death camp on 25 March 1944. He was recognized as a “Righteous Ukrainian” by the Jewish Council of Ukraine on 9 September 1999.

I understand that you are trying to free me. But I am asking you not to do anything. Yesterday they killed 50 persons here. If I I were not here, who would help them to endure these sufferings? I thank God for His kindness to me. Except heaven this is the only place I would like to be. Here we are all equal: Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians and Estonians. I am the only priest here. I couldn’t even imagine what would happen here without me. Here I see God, Who is the same for everybody, regardless of religious distinctions which exist among us. Maybe our Churches are different, but they are all ruled by the same all-powerful God. When I am celebrating the Holy Mass, everyone prays . . .. Don’t worry and don’t despair about my fate. Instead of this, rejoice with me. Pray for those who created this concentration camp and this system. They are the only ones who need prayers… May God have mercy on them…” — From Fr. Emilian Kovch’s letters written in the concentration camp to relatives.

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