The Apple Priest: Korbinian Aigner (1885-1966)
A fruit variety’s history can make fascinating reading and often the most remarkable part of the story is the person who discovered or raised the new fruit. None more so than Korbinian Aigner, a Bavarian priest, who bred Korbiniansapfel, Korbinian's apple, that became a well known variety in this part of Germany. It was raised by Aigner between 1941 and 1945 when he was a prisoner in a German concentration camp, but not named Korbiniansapfel until 1985. An account of Aigner’s life and work as a priest, political activist and fruit grower was sent to Fruit Forum by Martin Kunz, who was sufficiently intrigued to buy a tree of Korbiniansapfel from Germany. The account printed below appeared in The History of Hohenpolding by Josef Hofstetter, translated by Linda Elkins-Schmitt. It was taken from an original story by Hans Niedermayer and reproduced here (slightly abridged) with the author and translator’s permission.(Hofstetter, Josef: 'Geschickte des Apfelpfarrers'; Hohepolding, copyright Josef Hofstetter).
Korbinian Aigner was born on 11 May 1885 at the ‘Poldingerhof’ in the district of Hohenpolding, Bavaria. As was the tradition, being the oldest son in a family of eleven children (he had six sisters and four brothers), he was to inherit the Poldingerhof from his father. However, against the wishes of his parents and the local pastor, he refused this inheritance, and expressed his desire to become a priest.
Aigner completed grammar school in Hohenpolding (1891-1896). He then became a pupil at the Catholic High School in Freising which was the Archbishop's Seminary for boys. In 1904, however, at the end of the eighth class, he was dismissed because of his poor grades in Latin and Greek. He repeated this class at Luitpold High School in Munich and successfully completed his final exams. In November 1906 he entered the Seminary in Freising as a theology student and in 1911 was ordained as a priest at the Cathedral in Freising. His ordination was celebrated at the Poldingerhof in Hohenpolding, which by this time had been taken over by his brother, Simon. Their father had died in 1910.
His first placement was as an assistant priest in Ilmmünster. In his high school days he had already discovered his love for drawing. At the beginning of the school year 1912/13 he also worked as an art and athletics teacher in the Boys Seminary at Scheyern Monastery. Amongst his students at that time were Alois Hundhammer, later to become the Minister of Culture for Bavaria; Josef Schwalber; and Josef Martin Bauer, the Taufkirchen author who wrote So weit die Füße tragen (‘As Far as the Feet Can Travel’) which was an autobiography about Bauer's escape from imprisonment in Siberia, and his long walk back to Bavaria. After a number of posts, in July 1931, twenty years after his ordination, Aigner was granted his first parish and appointed Vicar of Sittenbach, which was part of the parish community of Indersdorf.
The Apple Priest
During the early 1900s it was customary that every property had fruit trees, and often its own orchard. Money was in short supply and whenever possible was not used for purchasing food which could be grown at home. Aigner also had an interest in growing fruit trees and in 1908 with Franz Hausladen, a weaver from Harting, he established the first Fruit Growers Cooperative in Hohenpolding. The 44 members paid a yearly membership fee of sixty pfennigs. After Aigner was voted in as the Chairman, the membership quickly climbed to 82. Courses on the planting and care of fruit trees were provided for the members.
Then in 1910 Aigner received a government grant of 1000 marks to continue the cooperative. This made it possible for his hometown of Hohenpolding to establish the first juice-producers cooperative in Bavaria. It was called the Mostkeller (Juice Cellar). The building still stands today and is used as a club house for the Hohenpolding Voluntary Fire Department. During his years as a chaplain he worked untiringly lecturing and providing advice to the fruit growers in his own area. Soon he was travelling to other communities as well. He took over the Chairmanship of the Fruit and Garden Society for Upper Bavaria in 1930. During that time he published relevant articles in the Bavarian Fruit and Garden Magazine. He also worked as moderator, organiser and club functionary. However, as often as possible, he worked in his own large fruit orchard.
An Opponent of Fascism
In addition to his interest in orchards, Aigner always had an interest in politics. He became a member of the Bavarian People's Party (BVP) and in 1923 attended a Nazi meeting and heard Hitler express his ideas concerning a death plan for Jews, Communists and Catholic priests. Hitler's remarks at this meeting were inconceivable to Aigner and he thought Hitler must have been drunk. To confirm his belief, he attended another meeting at which Hitler once again acted in the same radical fashion. From then on, Aigner fought against Hitler and his followers. In his sermons he openly expressed his fears about what was happening. Adolf, as a child's name, was gaining sudden popularity, but Aigner caused an uproar in his parish when he refused to baptise any child with this name. In February 1934 he wrote these disparaging words about the SA ( the militant wing of the Nazi party) in the Christianlehre magazine: ‘that there aren't any intelligent people [in this group], and the last one who stood there looked like he had wet his pants’. Korbinian was then charged with defamation of character and had to pay a monetary penalty of 150 reichsmarks.
On New Year's Day, 1936, when the flag displaying the swastika was flown for the first time as a national flag, he announced in his sermon: ‘So that you don't come to any wrong conclusions, I am informing you that the flag out there is not consecrated and doesn't belong inside the church.’ Aigner further opposed Fascism on the 26 March 1936, when all the bells in the country were supposed to ring on the occasion of Hitler's peace appeal. In Korbinian's parish the bells remained silent. As a penalty, Aigner was moved from Sittenbach to Hohenbercha in County Freising in January of 1937. For Korbinian Aigner, however, this was not grounds to change his beliefs.
When the attempted assassination of Hitler on 8 November 1939 failed, the following day Aigner talked about the fifth commandment - ‘Thou shalt not kill’ - in his religion class at the Hohenbercha school. His students had already heard about the attempted assassination on the radio. Aigner discussed the seriousness of the sin of killing, and also talked about the actual assassination attempt. Witnesses later reported that he said: ‘I don't know if what the assassinator had in mind was a sin because it would have spared one million people's lives.’
On 12 November, a substitute teacher, Charlotte Gerlach, who was a fascist, informed the NSDAP's town group leader in Hohenkammer, Inspector Münsterer, about the things that had been said. Münsterer then reported this to his superiors, and as a result, on 22 November Aigner was arrested and detained in the jail in Freising. He was charged with a violation of the Treachery Act . At his hearing in the following May Aigner was sentenced to seven months in the Munich Stadelheim prison. Including time already served, he was then released on 23 June, but he was not free. As with many other opponents of fascism, he was taken to a concentration camp.
The Concentration Camp
After weeks of custody under the state secret security police, Aigner was put in the concentration camp (KZ) at Sachsenhausen. He developed a serious lung infection and almost died. He is reported to have said ‘I won't do you the favour to die here in Prussia’.
In 1941 he was moved to Dachau, where he was placed in the priest block. He worked on the ‘plantation’, where he could still nourish his love of fruit trees and orchards. He raised apple trees from seeds which he planted on a tiny strip of lawn between two of the barracks. Here he bred new varieties of apples. He named them KZ1, KZ2, KZ3 and KZ4. The most successful was KZ3 and it later became a common apple variety in the Freising area. In 1985, 100 years after Aigner's birth, this apple variety was renamed the Korbiniansapfel (Korbinian's apple).
Shortly before the end of the war the SS decided to evacuate Dachau. On the evening of the 26 April 1945, Aigner and 10,000 other weakened prisoners, were sent on a route towards South Tirol. Along the way, many prisoners escaped, including Aigner. When they arrived at Aufkirchen on Starnberger Lake he fled to the convent where the nuns hid him from the SS. Two days later, the Americans liberated the camp at Dachau and Aigner left his hiding place.
The Post -War Years
After the war Aigner returned to his parish in Hohenbercha. During his time in the concentration camp, the neighbouring village of Jarzt looked after his parish. He also resumed his hobby of working in his orchard and when the weather was bad there, he always wore his Dachau prisoner’s coat. He also resumed his functionary activities and from October 1945 until 1950, he was the Chairman of the Bavarian State Association of Fruit and Orchards. He was later awarded the Bavarian Service Award and the State Honour Medal in gold. When he was 81 Aigner developed another lung infection. Unlike the episode in Sachsenhausen, this time he could not overcome the disease. He died in 1966 at the hospital in Freising. Aigner is buried in the cemetery at Hohenbercha, the parish that he truly served until his death. As was his wish, his coffin was covered with his old concentration camp coat.
Many of the fruit trees in Hohenpolding and Hohenbercha exist as a result of Aigner's work and ideas. These apple trees are our reminder of Korbinian Aigner, the ‘Apple Priest’.
German nurseries offering trees of Korbiniansapfel for sale:
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