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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.