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October 28, 2010

“Priestblock 25487″ by Jean Bernard, Part II

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:49 am

As I continue to read the book Priestblock 25487 by Father Jean Bernard, I realize that he, and the other priests who were prisoners, completely misunderstood the purpose of the Dachau concentration camp.  Father Bernard describes the treatment of the Dachau prisoners in terms which make it clear that the Dachau camp was a correctional facility, not a “death camp.” According to his description, Dachau was much like an American Marine boot camp.  In today’s world, unruly teenagers in America are sometimes sent to a boot camp to learn discipline.

But to Father Bernard, everything that he experienced at Dachau was “torture.”

The priests took a nap every day which meant that they had to make up their beds after their naps.  In German culture, an unmade bed is a metaphor for a sloppy, slovenly person who lacks discipline and does not conform to the very important German ideal of ORDER.

Here is Father Bernard’s opinion of bed making:

Then it’s time to make the beds. What a horrible phrase! It sums of the whole brutal idiocy of camp discipline.

On page 10, Father Bernard describes what he saw on his arrival at Dachau:

The broad avenue leading to the second gate has well-tended lawns and plants on either side.

In other words, incoming prisoners were immediately aware that this is a place where beauty and order are important.  At the Memorial Site today, visitors see nothing but gravel as they approach the concentration camp which is inside what Father Bernard calls the “SS town.”

Following his description of the lawn and flowers, Father Bernard wrote this:

How much blood and tears go into maintaining the insane degree of cleanliness and tidiness in this part of Dachau….

To Father Bernard, the beauty and cleanliness of Dachau was just another method of torturing the prisoners who had to maintain the grounds.

Father Bernard did not mention the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign which was installed in 1938, three years before he arrived in May 1941.  Today, the tour of the Dachau camp begins with the tour guide telling visitors how offended the prisoners were by the sight of this motto because the only way out of Dachau was “through the chimney.”

Father Bernard claims that he received “the obligatory slap in the face from each one” of the “camp officials” immediately upon his arrival.  Throughout his book, he mentions being slapped, but he doesn’t explain the reason for slapping.  Maybe he didn’t know the reason.  The SS men in all the camps were forbidden to punish the prisoners without permission from the head office in Oranienburg.  Instead of reporting a prisoner and requesting permission to punish the prisoner by whipping, the SS men would just slap a prisoner with an open hand.  Father Bernard didn’t realize that slapping was a way of maintaining discipline by getting around the rules of the concentration camps.

Upon arrival at Dachau, Father Bernard had all his body hair shaved before he took a shower and was then assigned to “the newcomer’s block.”  He describes this as though it were some sadistic form of abuse.  He didn’t realize that the body hair was shaved to prevent lice and the newcomer’s block was a quarantine block where prisoners had to stay for several weeks until it was determined that they were free from contagious diseases.  He mentions going to visit the “newcomers” from Luxembourg, not realizing that he could have spread a contagious disease throughout the camp by doing his.

Father Bernard mentioned that he wore a red triangle at Dachau which means that he was classified as a political prisoner.  He was most likely sent to Dachau because he was helping the French Resistance. In his book, Father Bernard claims that he didn’t know why he was arrested.

Father Bernard wrote that the prisoners called the SS man who was in charge of their barrack by the initials B.B. which stood for “blond beast.” This comes from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who coined the term “splendid blond beasts.”  You can read about more about it here.

On page 54, Father Bernard mentions “gassing” at Dachau. He is describing the scene in “early October 1941″ when the priests were ordered out of their barracks and told “Germans and Poles line up separately!”

Here is the gassing quote from the book:

“We are going to be gassed!” screams a Pole next to me who is an ethnic German.  He tries to squeeze over to the German ranks.

This scene took place in October 1941 although it was not until June 1942 that the British first broadcast the news that Jews were being gassed in the camps in what is now Poland.  I was amazed to learn that there were rumors of prisoners being gassed at Dachau as early as October 1941, even though there was no alleged “gas chamber” until 1943. Today many of the tour guides at the Dachau Memorial Site tell visitors that prisoners were gassed at Dachau, although this was never proved.

At this point in my reading of Father Bernard’s book, I skipped to the back to read more about Father Bernard in the Biographical Note, which I presume was written by Robert Royal who wrote the Introduction.

Here is a quote from the Biographical Note:

In 1929 Bernard became involved in the work of the Church on films and the cinema, and in 1934 he became general secretary of the International Cinema Office, which had its headquarters in Brussels.  [...]  In June 1940 the German Gestapo closed the office and seized its files.  [...] After the collapse of France, Bernard worked [...] to organize the return of many Luxembourg citizens who had fled to France before the advancing German army. This effort [...] required Bernard to make eleven trips between Paris and Luxembourg.  [...] After the operation was completed, Bernard was arrested by the Germans on January 6, 1941.  [...] he was accused of having “incited” the returning Luxembourg citizens with “separatist propaganda” on various occasions, and to have carried letters and messages on his trips between Luxembourg and France.

With his background in producing films, Father Bernard knew how to use details that would attract attention.  One of his work assignments at Dachau was working on the “plantation.”  This was a huge farm where Heinrich Himmler, who had a degree in agriculture, was growing medicinal plants.  He was using the latest methods in organic gardening, including the use of compost.  On page 139, Father Bernard wrote about the “huge compost heap, where sometimes we could find something edible.  One day, “a garbage pail of boiled bones was emptied there.”

Then he told a story that was designed to show just how cruel the SS men were and how the priests were humiliated and starved.

The following quote is from page 139 of the book:

At once we threw ourselves on them (the boiled bones).  The thought indeed occurred to me the bones probably came from the dog kennels…but what difference did that make? Just because an SS dog found nothing more to gnaw on, that didn’t mean a prisoner would give up yet.

Another time a capo brought a hand basket full of discarded leek seedlings to the compost.  When he saw our longing glances, he tossed them out, then spread his legs and urinated on the pile of them.  “That’s so you’ll lose your appetites,” he said.

He was mistaken, however.  I learned on this occasion that some of my fellows were even hungrier than I was…

You can read Part III here.

October 27, 2010

“Priestblock 25487″ by Jean Bernard, Part I

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 1:48 pm

I am reading the new release of the book Priest Block 25487 which was published in English in 2007.  The book was written by Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest, immediately after his release from Dachau in August 1942 and first published serially in 1945 in the weekly supplements of a Catholic newspaper, the Luxemburger Wort.

I first heard about this book from someone who visited my web site scrapbookpages.com and e-mailed me that my original section about the treatment of the priests at Dachau was all wrong.  I updated and revised that section of my web site, which I had written before I was told about Father Bernard’s book.

After reading the book, I am very dubious about some of the incidents which Father Bernard described.  I got most of my information about the treatment of the priests at Dachau from the book entitled What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau? by Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler.  Curiously Dr. Neuhäusler didn’t mention any mistreatment of the priests at Dachau.

In his book, Dr. Neuhäusler wrote this about Jean Bernard:

In his memoirs he writes: “My first day at the transport commando “Präzifix”: It is March 19, 1941, the feast of St. Joseph – As we push the wagon through the door, I pray to him.”

In the new version of Jean Bernard’s book, I learned that he arrived at Dachau on May 19, 1941 and he did not mention being put to work on his first day in the camp.  Obviously, there was an error in either Dr. Neuhäusler’s book or in the memoir of Father Bernard when it was first published in 1945.

I went to Catholic school as a child and we were taught that the most wonderful thing in the world is to be a martyr. We were told that some of the saints wore hair shirts in order to create misery for themselves so that they could become martyrs. We were taught that when something bad happened to us, we should be happy because this would give us the opportunity to “offer it up to God.”

My overall impression of Father Bernard’s book is that he dwells excessively on every tiny bit of his alleged mistreatment at Dachau so that he will be considered a martyr, and potentially be canonized as a saint.

For example, the passage on pages 33 and 34 of the book in which Father Bernard writes about the priests being given a daily ration of  wine which they were forced to drink.

As we take our seats at the tables with our metal cups, as quiet as mice, the “wine detail” has returned and is distributing the bottles. [...]

An SS man must always be present for the occasion. [...]

Three men to a bottle.  [...]

Not everyone is capable of drinking a quarter-liter of wine in one gulp. As soon as our cups are empty we have to hold them upside down above our heads.

Note that he wrote “three men to a bottle” which would be a third of a liter of wine, but then he also wrote “a quarter-liter.” So which was it?  A third of a liter of wine per day or a quarter liter of wine?  Note that he writes that not everyone can drink a quarter-liter in one gulp, implying that they were not punished if they didn’t drink the wine in one gulp.

Then he writes:

One prisoner chokes out of nervousness and falls behind. In a flash the SS man is on him and slams his fist into the bottom of the cup so violently that the metal rim slices a semi-circle through his lips and cheeks, all the way down to the bone.

I don’t believe this story. I think that this was Father Bernard’s way of turning a privilege, that was given only to the priests, into an act of torture. What was the name of this priest?  How about including a photo of this man’s facial scar in the book?

I’ve never seen a cup with a sharp metal rim. The prisoners at Dachau ate from enameled dishes and drank from enameled cups.  Look at  the photo below, which shows Dachau prisoners carrying metal bowls coated with enamel.

Prisoners at Dachau carry enameled bowls for their soup

Bowls and cups used at Mauthausen camp

Look at the photo of a cup used at the Mauthausen concentration camp.  Does it look like the cup has a sharp rim that could cut a man’s face to the bone?

Father Bernard also wrote extensively about how the priests were forced to make up their beds.  He mentioned that the bed covers were blue and white striped.  Look at the photo below which clearly shows that the bed covers had checks, not stripes. Was Father Jean Bernard actually at Dachau?

Bed covers at Dachau had blue-and-white checks

Many of the “tortures” that Jean Bernard describes in his book are still told to tourists at Dachau; for example, his story about an SS man who turns up the water in the shower room so hot that the prisoners think they are being “scalded alive, then suddenly makes it ice cold.”  Is it possible that the SS man was only trying to get the temperature just right by first turning on the hot water and then the cold water?

On the same page, he tells about being given a shirt, jacket, a pair of trousers and also socks. This is news to me.  I didn’t know the prisoners were given socks.  Maybe this was only for the priests.

Then he writes about how the SS photographer has a “spring-mounted spike” on the seat of the chair where the prisoners had to sit for their photo when they were first brought to the camp. No one told SS judge Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen about this when he came to investigate the Dachau camp, and he gave the SS men and the Commandant at Dachau a good report.

Father Bernard didn’t even know the name of the Commandant of Dachau; he mentioned that the Commandant’s name was Hoffman, but there was never a Commandant by that name at Dachau.

An Introduction to the book is provided by Robert Royal who writes excessively about the truthfulness of the book, making me suspicious that he knows that the  book is full of lies.  For example, Royal writes “He takes great pains to be accurate…” and “His strict regard for truth…”  Royal wrote that in 1932 there “were 21 thousand priests in Germany, but by the time Nazism was defeated a decade later, more than eight thousand of these men had either been threatened, beaten, imprisoned, or killed by the regime.”  To me, this sounds like a gross exaggeration.

The Introduction gives a good preview of the disingenuous nature of the book, as for example, this quote:

Priests were sent to every camp the Nazis had created, either because they had expressed dislike for Nazism or because the Nazis disliked them. (Bogus charges of financial misdealing or sexual impropriety were often trumped up, but many priests, like Father Bernard, never knew what, exactly, they had been arrested for.)

Finally Robert Royal writes in the introduction that the priests were sent to Dachau “as a way of keeping them together and thereby preventing them from ‘infecting’ other prison populations with Christianity.”  Does he not know that the German bishops and the Pope persuaded the Nazis to send all the priests to Dachau, the mildest camp of all, so that they could be given special privileges?  Or is he just denying that the priests were treated better than the other prisoners?

For example, Marcel Pasiecznik was a Polish priest who was first sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp.  According to Father Pasiecznik’s own account of his stay at Flossenbürg, the prisoners were not expected to live longer than three months; they were forced to work 12 hours a day at hard labor while receiving only 1,000 calories of food per day. In only two months, he lost 50 pounds. He did not hide the fact that he was a priest: he would hear the confessions of his fellow prisoners as they worked side-by-side. Eventually, he was transferred to Dachau which was the designated camp for Catholic priests.

In 1987, Father Pasiecznik wrote the following in the “Homiletic and Pastoral Review” regarding his short stay at Flossenbürg and his later transfer to the Dachau concentration camp:

I should have died at Flossenbürg, but God had other plans. Once again, he intervened at the last moment, and I was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp. Strange as it may sound, Dachau saved my life.

Priests were imprisoned under relatively less rigorous conditions at Dachau – this was one of the few concessions which the Holy See had been able to wrest from Nazi Germany. God’s merciful providence sent me on my way with a package from a local pastor, a German Catholic priest. It contained bread, apples and a Latin edition of The Imitation of Christ. After the war I was able to thank him personally, and that’s when I determined that he had arranged my life-saving transfer.

When I arrived in Dachau, my death was further forestalled thanks to the good graces of the other Polish priests there and the American Red Cross, which sent us care packages. I was made a tailor, which meant light work done indoors. There were 800 priests in one barrack, all Poles, and 400 priests from Germany and all over Europe, in the other. There were 28 barracks in Dachau in total. The authorities permitted the German priests to say Mass daily in the chapel in their barracks. They in turn smuggled bread and wine to the Polish priests for them to say Mass as well. I participated every morning in this secret Mass and received Holy Communion. And three times I celebrated Mass for my colleagues before our liberation. I even made visits to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the German priests’ chapel, but you had to tell one of them the watchword. One time I remember it was “Lux de luce,” light from light.

I received a care package from Poland, which contained bread, stockings, a cap and the “Novena to God’s Mercy,” revealed to Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska. This last was a miracle because the package must have passed through Nazi hands. Pope John Paul II has elevated Sister Faustina to “Blessed” in recent years.

You can read Part II here and my impression of the book cover here.

September 14, 2010

The priests who were imprisoned at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, movies — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:36 pm

The history of Dachau has changed since I first visited the Memorial site in 1997. Especially, the history of the priests at Dachau.  You can read some of the revised history of the priests at Dachau here.

These quotes are from the web site cited above:

“Many people do not know that Dachau was the concentration camp that Hitler designed just for priests.  Several hundred thousand priests were tortured and murdered there.”

[...]

“In April 1945, as the war was ending, the Nazis, in order to destroy any evidence or witnesses to their crimes, decided to liquidate all the priests left at he death camp in Dachau.  One of the priests encouraged the other prisoners to pray to the Holy Family of Kalisz.  The camp was miraculously liberated several hours before the Nazis could begin their planned executions.  Ever since, the priests from Dachau have made an annual thanksgiving pilgrimage to the Icon of the Holy Family in Kalisz.”

A movie entitled The Ninth Day has been in the news a lot lately.  It is about Father Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest from Luxembourg, who was a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp from May 19, 1941 to August 1942. Father Bernard wrote a book entitled Pfarrerblock 25487 which was translated into English in 2007 under the title Priestblock 25487. The movie The Ninth Day by Volker Schlöndorff was based on a 9 day furlough that Father Bernard was given to go home when his mother died.

Ronald J. Rychlak wrote the following in his review of Father Bernard’s book:

There was so little food that Fr. Bernard tells of risking the ultimate punishment in order to steal and eat a dandelion from the yard. The prisoners would secretly raid the compost pile, one time relishing discarded bones that had been chewed by the dogs of Nazi officers. Another time the Nazi guards, knowing what the priests intended, urinated on the pile. For some priests, this was not enough to overcome their hunger.

Here is another quote from Ronald J. Rychlak about what he read in Father Bernard’s book, Priestblock 25487:

Priests at Dachau were not marked for death by being shot or gassed as a group, but over two thousand of them died there from disease, starvation, and general brutality. One year, the Nazis “celebrated” Good Friday by torturing 60 priests. They tied the priests’ hands behind their backs, put chains around their wrists, and hoisted them up by the chains. The weight of the priests’ bodies twisted and pulled their joints apart. Several of the priests died, and many others were left permanently disabled. The Nazis, of course, threatened to repeat the event if their orders were not carried out.

I haven’t read Father Bernard’s book and I don’t plan to read it any time soon because I have to watch my blood pressure and I don’t want to have another stroke from reading such a sensational account of the treatment of the priests at Dachau.

In 1940, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler designated Dachau as the camp for clergymen because it was the mildest of all the camps in the Nazi system; 2,720 clergymen were sent there, including 2,579 Catholic Priests. The priests at Dachau were separated from the other prisoners and housed together in several barrack buildings in the rear of the camp.

There were 1,780 Polish priests and 447 German priests at Dachau. Of the 1,034 priests who died in the camp, 868 were Polish and 94 were German. This information comes from the book, What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?, by Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler.

The clergymen at Dachau included 109 Protestant ministers, 22 Greek Orthodox, 2 Muslims and 8 men who were classified as “Old Catholic and Mariaists.” A few of the priests, who were sent to Dachau, had been arrested for child molestation or for a violation of Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuality.

The most famous priest at Dachau was Leonard Roth, who had to wear a black triangle because he had been arrested as a pedophile.  A street that borders the Dachau Memorial site has been named for him.

Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, an auxiliary Bishop from Munich, was one of  8 clergymen at Dachau who had a private cell in the bunker, the camp prison building. He was free to leave his cell and walk around the camp. He could also receive visitors from outside the camp. The worst thing that happened to Dr. Neuhäusler at Dachau, according to his book, was that he was once punished by being confined indoors in the bunker for a week. He was punished for secretly hearing the confession of a former Italian minister who had just arrived at the bunker the day before. Dr. Neuhäusler wrote in his book entitled What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau? that he had been betrayed by a Bible inquirer (Jehovah’s Witness) who worked as the Hausl (housekeeper) in the bunker.

Dr. Neuhäusler did not mention any ill treatment at Dachau but he did write about how he was beaten when he was initially sent to the Sachsenhausen camp, before he was transferred to Dachau.

The first clergymen to arrive at Dachau were Polish priests who were sent there in 1939. The Polish priests were arrested for helping the Polish Resistance after Poland had been conquered in only 28 days.

The German bishops and the Pope had persuaded  Himmler to concentrate all the priests imprisoned in the various Nazi concentration camps into one camp, and to house them all together in separate blocks with a chapel where they could say Mass.

In early December 1940, the priests already in Dachau were put into Barracks Block 26 near the end of the camp street. Within two weeks, they were joined by around 800 to 900 priests from Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and other camps, who were put into Blocks 28 and 30. Block 30 was later converted into an infirmary barrack.

At first, the priests at Dachau were given special privileges such as a ration of wine, a loaf of bread for four men, and individual bunk beds. The priests were not required to work and they were allowed to celebrate Mass.

In October 1941, these privileges were taken away. Only the German priests were now allowed to say Mass. All non-German clergymen, including Poles, Dutchmen, Luxembourgers and Belgians, were removed from Block 26 and sent to Block 28. A wire fence was placed around Block 28 and a sentry stood guard. The non-German priests were now forced to work, just like the rest of the prisoners. Allegedly, this change happened because the Pope had made a speech on the radio in which he condemned the Nazis, and the German bishops had made a public protest about the treatment of the priests.

During the time that the Polish priests were not allowed to say Mass, they asked the priest from Block 26, who was in charge of the chapel, to give them hosts and wine so they could celebrate Mass in secret, according to Dr. Neuhäusler. The Polish priests who worked on the plantation (farm) at Dachau would kneel on the ground and pretend to be weeding. They had a small portable altar which one of the priests would press into the ground. The priests would knell down and receive Communion from their own hands.

One of the German Catholic priests who survived Dachau was Father Hermann Scheipers who was still alive in October 2009 at the age of 96. In an interview with Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News, Father Scheipers said, regarding Dachau:

“So this is what I saw in front of my eyes, that people were gassed in the gas chambers.”

After an interview with Father Scheipers in October 2009, Greg Hayes of the Sun Gazette wrote the following:

Scheipers described the horrors of working and living among the sickness, torture, horrific experiments and death that inundated Dachau.

The priest delivered the story of how his life was saved by his sister Anna and how her courage not only rescued Scheipers but about 500 other priests who were lined up to go, or would have later been sent, to the gas chambers.

Scheipers said his “death certificate” was signed when he was feeling faint during a role (sic) call session one morning in 1942, because he had become “completely exhausted from all the work” in the camp, not because he was sick.

When Anna got word by making illegal contact with other imprisoned priests from the outside that her brother was sentenced to die, she and her father entered the SS security main office (RSHA in Berlin), and Scheipers’ sister insisted the officer guarantee her brother’s safety.

It was then that orders were made to spare the lives of the priests.

Paul Berben was a Dachau prisoner who wrote the Official History of Dachau.   He wrote the following about how the priests were treated differently than the other prisoners:

On 15th March 1941 the clergy were withdrawn from work Kommandos on orders from Berlin, and their conditions improved. They were supplied with bedding of the kind issued to the S.S., and Russian and Polish prisoners were assigned to look after their quarters. They could get up an hour later than the other prisoners and rest on their beds for two hours in the morning and afternoon. Free from work, they could give themselves to study and to meditation. They were given newspapers and allowed to use the library. Their food was adequate; they sometimes received up to a third of a loaf of bread a day; there was even a period when they were given half a litre of cocoa in the morning and a third of a bottle of wine daily.

Father Bernard arrived at Dachau on March 19, 1941, just in time to benefit from the changes made on March 15, 1941. Yet Dr. Neuhäusler wrote this about Father Bernard who first published his dairy in 1945:

In his memoirs he writes: “My first day at the transport commando “Präzifix”: It is March 19, 1941, the feast of St. Joseph – As we push the wagon through the door, I pray to him.

Präzifix was the name of a screw factory just outside the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at Dachau. According to the diary that he kept at Dachau, Father Bernard was doing heavy work outside the camp on his first day there.

Regarding the priests’ ration of “a third of a bottle of wine daily,” Father Bernard wrote that the priests were forced, under threats of a beating, to uncork the wine and pour a third of the bottle into a cup, then consume the wine all in one gulp. He mentions an occasion in which one priest, who hesitated, had the cup slammed into his face, cutting through his lips and cheeks to the bone.

The regular prisoners in the camp had to drink ersatz coffee, and they were never allowed to drink wine.

June 16, 2010

Lies told by Catholic priests who were prisoners at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 12:15 pm

Let me say right off the bat that I am a “fallen away Catholic,” so I have no love for Catholic priests.  I was a devout Catholic as a child; I went to Mass every day and took Communion. By the age of 13, I was beginning to have doubts, mainly because of the behavior of some of the priests that I knew.  So I admit that I am biased on the subject of Catholic priests.

Nerin E. Gun, a Turkish journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote a book entitled The Day of the Americans, published in 1966, in which he was critical of the priests at Dachau. This was the first book that I read when I started studying Dachau in 1997. In his book, Gun pointed out that, by 1965, almost every book ever written about Dachau was written by a Catholic priest. According to Gun, the priests lived comfortably in their block and refused to let any other prisoners take refuge there. They did not work; they were not mistreated, and therefore they were able at their leisure to observe everything that went on about them and write fine books.

There were around 20 million Catholics and 20,000 Catholic priests in Nazi Germany. Hitler himself was a Catholic, as were many of the Nazis, especially in Bavaria where Dachau is located.  A total of 2,579 Catholic priests were sent to the Dachau concentration camp during its 12 year history, including 447 German priests.  A total of 1,780 Catholic priests from Poland were sent to Dachau, and 868 of them died in the camp; there were 94 German priests who died at Dachau.

The vast majority of the German clergymen and the German people, including the 40 million Protestants, went along with Hitler’s ideology and were not persecuted by the Nazis.  The Catholic priests were not sent to Dachau because they were priests, but because they were anti-Nazis; the Polish priests were arrested for helping the Polish Resistance in German-occupied Poland.

Father William J. O’Malley, S.J. wrote the following regarding the priests who were arrested and sent to Dachau because they were actively helping the underground Resistance against the German occupation of Europe:

The 156 French, 63 Dutch, and 46 Belgians were primarily interned for their work in the Underground. If that were a crime, such men as Michel Riquet, S.J., surely had little defense; he was in contact with most of the leaders of the French Resistance and was their chaplain, writing forthright editorials for the underground press, sequestering Jews, POW’s, downed Allied airmen, feeding and clothing them, providing them with counterfeit papers and spiriting them into Spain and North Africa.

Henry Zwaans, a Jesuit secondary school teacher in The Hague, was arrested for distributing copies of Bishop Von Galen’s homilies and died in Dachau of dropsy and dysentery. Jacques Magnee punished a boy for bringing anti-British propaganda into the Jesuit secondary school at Charleroi in Belgium; Leo DeConinck went to Dachau for instructing the Belgian clergy in retreat conferences to resist the Nazis.

Parish priests were arrested for quoting Pius XI’s anti-Nazi encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge, or for publicly condemning the anti-Semitic film, “The Jew Seuss,” or for providing Jews with false baptismal certificates. Some French priests at Dachau disguised themselves as workers to minister to young Frenchmen shanghaied into service in German heavy industry and had been caught doing what they had been ordained to do.

Other priests who were sent to Dachau had been arrested for child molestation or for a violation of Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuality. The most famous priest at Dachau was Father Leonard Roth, who had to wear a black triangle because he had been arrested as a pedophile.  The street that runs along the outside of the Dachau Memorial Site is named after him.  You can read all about Father Leonard Roth here.

In his Official History of Dachau, Paul Berben, who was a prisoner himself, wrote the following about how the priests were treated differently than the other prisoners:

On 15th March 1941 the clergy were withdrawn from work Kommandos on orders from Berlin, and their conditions improved. They were supplied with bedding of the kind issued to the S.S., and Russian and Polish prisoners were assigned to look after their quarters. They could get up an hour later than the other prisoners and rest on their beds for two hours in the morning and afternoon. Free from work, they could give themselves to study and to meditation. They were given newspapers and allowed to use the library. Their food was adequate; they sometimes received up to a third of a loaf of bread a day; there was even a period when they were given half a litre of cocoa in the morning and a third of a bottle of wine daily.

David L. Israel was a soldier in 45th Thunderbird Division of the US Seventh Army during World War II.  After the Dachau concentration camp was liberated, he was assigned to interview the surviving prisoners in order to gather evidence for the war crimes trials which had already been planned.  According to David L. Israel, the Catholic priests told him a completely different version of how they were treated at Dachau.

The following quote is from David L. Israel’s book entitled The Day the Thunderbird Cried, published in 2005:

New and special tortures were devised daily for the Catholic priests. Sometimes, if they were lucky, they would be assigned to clean the dog kennels or the horse stables. On those occasions, they could sometimes get some of the leftover food which meant another day of survival. Being assigned to the pigsty was almost sure death; many of the prisoners never returned. Their bodies remained where they had been drowned in the pig swill as the SS guards looked on.

Israel did not make this up.  The Catholic priests told him these stories. Yet, when the SS staff members at Dachau were prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal in 1945, there was no testimony about the Catholic priests being given food left over from feeding the animals or drowning in the pig swill.

Among the famous Catholic priests at Dachau was Father Jean Bernard, from Luxembourg, a country that was occupied by Germany during World War II.  Father Bernard wrote a book entitled Pfarrerblock 25487 which was translated into English in 2007 under the title Priestblock 25487. The movie The Ninth Day by Volker Schlöndorff was based on a 10 day furlough that Father Bernard was given to go home when his mother died.

Father Jean Bernard was imprisoned on May 19, 1941; he was released in August 1942.  In his Dachau diary, which he published in 1945, Father Bernard wrote:

My first day at the transport commando “Präzifix”: It is March 19, 1941, the feast of St. Joseph – As we push the wagon through the door, I pray to him.

Präzifix was the name of a screw factory just outside the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate at Dachau. According to the diary that he kept at Dachau, Father Bernard was doing heavy work outside the camp on his first day there, although Paul Berben wrote that the priests were withdrawn from work on May 15, 1941 on orders from Berlin.

After reading some of the reviews of Father Bernard’s book, I decided not to read it myself.  I am afraid that the lies told by Father Bernard in his book would make my blood boil — literally.

For example, Ronald J. Rychlak wrote the following in his review of Father Bernard’s book:

There was so little food that Fr. Bernard tells of risking the ultimate punishment in order to steal and eat a dandelion from the yard. The prisoners would secretly raid the compost pile, one time relishing discarded bones that had been chewed by the dogs of Nazi officers. Another time the Nazi guards, knowing what the priests intended, urinated on the pile. For some priests, this was not enough to overcome their hunger.

Father Bernard “ate a dandelion from the yard?”  Dandelions are edible, but if there were any dandelions growing at Dachau, they would have been in the greenhouse which was located where the Protestant church now stands, or on the farm that was located outside the camp.  The “yard” at Dachau had grass and flowers, but you can be sure that the Germans, who are obsessively neat, did not allow weeds to grow among the grass and flowers. A dandelion is considered a weed when it is growing where it was not planted.

Heinrich Himmler, the head of all the concentration camps, had a degree in agriculture and he was way ahead of his time in organic gardening, so of course he was using compost at the Dachau farm.  Any Nazi guard who urinated on Himmler’s compost pile would have been severely punished.

The lie told by Father Bernard that completely totaled me out was the one about the priests’ ration of  “a third of a bottle of wine daily.”  Father Bernard wrote that the priests were forced, under threats of a beating, to uncork the wine and pour a third of the bottle into a cup, then consume the wine very quickly. He mentions an occasion in which one priest, who hesitated, had the metal cup slammed into his face, cutting through his lips and cheeks to the bone.

Why don’t I believe this story? Wine comes in one liter bottles in Germany.  A third of a liter of wine would be around 11 ounces.  Did the Nazis really supply the Catholic priests with huge cups that would hold 11 ounces, just so they could torture them?

The regular prisoners at Dachau had to drink their ersatz coffee out of a small enameled cup, and they were never allowed to drink any wine at all.  This was Father Bernard’s way of turning the privileges given to the priests at Dachau into torture.  In the Catholic Church, lies are not just sins of commission; a lie can also be a sin of omission, like failing to mention the good treatment that the priests at Dachau were given.

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