I finally broke down and ordered the book by Jean Bernard, a priest imprisoned at Dachau, who wrote Priestblock 25487, A Memoir of Dachau. You may have heard the old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” In this case, I eagerly tore open the wrapper when the book arrived in the mail and immediately judged it by its cover, which is shown in the photo below.
I immediately recognized the cross on the cover. This is the cross that was erected by the Polish political prisoners soon after the Dachau camp was liberated in 1945. The large wooden cross was set up in the roll call square in front of the administration building; it is shown in the photo below. It was obviously not at Dachau when Jean Bernard was a prisoner there in 1941 and 1942.
Father Jean Bernard was a prisoner at Dachau from May 19, 1941 to August 6, 1942 when he was released. The book is based on a diary which he kept while he was a prisoner; he didn’t choose this cover for the book which was published in 2007 by Zaccheus Press, but the cover sets the tone of the book which is disingenuous to say the least.
The cover picture, which is evocative of a crucifixion, shows something that could not have happened in this way. It attempts to portray a story that Father Bernard was told by another prisoner; the story was about 60 priests who were hung by their arms on Good Friday in 1940, more than a year before Father Bernard arrived at Dachau in May 1941.
In his book, Father Bernard mentioned that the Good Friday hanging took place in the large shower room in the administration building; the priests were hung from wooden “rafters” that have since been removed. His fellow prisoner had told Father Bernard that “the SS found some pretext to punish 60 priests with an hour on ‘the tree.’ ” Father Bernard then writes that the “tree hanging” punishment “is the mildest camp punishment.” Actually, “tree hanging” was the most severe punishment at Buchenwald and Dachau. It was rarely used, and only for the worst of crimes, such as sabotage in the munitions factories.
The old black and white photo shows one of the beams, on the right hand side, from which prisoners were hung by their arms as punishment.
The color photo immediately above shows the shower room at Dachau the way it looks now; you can see where the beams have been removed. The hanging punishment was discontinued in 1942 by the order of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. The man who devised this punishment was Martin Sommer; I wrote about him in a previous blog post which you can read here.
I’m on page 55 of the book now, and I will write a review of the whole book when I finish it. The book is pocket sized and has only 177 pages. On the last page is a photo of Father Bernard from the 1930s when he was a young man. Not a bad looking fellow. He doesn’t look like a hateful person, but his book seems to have been written by a person who was consumed by hate.
You can read part one of my review of the book here.