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April 17, 2012

Two Catholic priests were crucified upside down at Buchenwald

Filed under: Buchenwald, Dachau, Germany — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 7:27 pm

A couple of days ago, I read an article written by Kathy Schiffer on this website.  This quote is from the article:

It was at Buchenwald that two Austrian priests, Otto Neururer and Mathias Spannlang, were crucified upside down on June 5, 1940.

I had never heard about this before I read the article, so I went to Wikipedia to find out more.  According to Wikipedia, it was that evil Nazi Martin Sommer who perpetrated this atrocity.  This quote from Wikipedia tells the story:

Walter Gerhard Martin Sommer (February 8, 1915 – June 7, 1988) was an SS Hauptscharführer (master sergeant) who served as a guard at the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. Sommer, known as the “Hangman of Buchenwald” was considered a depraved sadist who reportedly ordered two Austrian priests, Otto Neururer and Mathias Spannlang, crucified upside-down.

Note that Martin Sommer REPORTEDLY ordered this atrocity.  “Reportedly” is only slightly better than “allegedly.”

Wikipedia also says this about Martin Summer, who was put on trial by the Nazis themselves:

After the SS trial Sommer received a reduction in rank and was sentenced to a penal battalion fighting on the Eastern Front where he was wounded in a tank explosion, losing his left arm and right leg. He was taken captive by the Red Army and was detained as P.O.W. until 1950 when his prisoner status was upgraded to war criminal. He was released from Soviet captivity in 1955 as part of the negotiations conducted on behalf of Soviet held German prisoners by Konrad Adenauer.

Karl Otto Koch, the Commandant of Buchenwald, was also put on trial at the same time and he was sentenced to death for ordering the deaths of two prisoners.  How did Martin Sommer get off with such a light sentence after he had ordered the crucifixion of two priests?

I googled some more and found the website where Kathy Schiffer had apparently gotten her information.  Here is a quote from that website:

Neururer was arrested on the charge of “slander to the detriment of German marriage” and interned first in the concentration camp of Dachau and later in Buchenwald. The sadistic tortures to which he was subjected caused incredible suffering, but even so he shared his scarce food rations with prisoners who were even weaker than himself. In the Buchenwald camp he was approached by a prisoner who asked to be baptized. Perhaps he was an agent provocateur. Neururer suspected that the request could be a trap, but his sense of duty did not allow him to refuse. Two days later he was transferred to the much feared “bunker”, which in concentration camps was the place of extreme punishment. There he was hanged upside down until he died on 30 May 1940.

Being “hanged upside down until death” is not crucifixion.  Note also that Neururer was sent from Dachau to Buchenwald.  That doesn’t make any sense.  The priests were sent to Dachau from other camps so they could all be together. Note that the date is also different from the date given by Kathy Schiffer.

I previously blogged here, way back in 2010,  about the priests who were allegedly crucified at Buchenwald.

After a little more searching, I found this website which has some information about Otto Neuruer:

Otto Neururer was one of hundreds of priests who died under SS Nazi persecution.  “He was injected with Malaria by the “doctors” who conducted human lab experiments in the camps during that brutal time.

I believe that this version of the story is the truth.  This quote is from my own website:

Because of the fact that they were exempt from work, the priests were chosen as subjects for medical experiments, conducted by Dr. Klaus Schilling, on a cure for malaria. As a result of these experiments, many of the priests died.

This information is also from my own website:

In 1940, the German bishops and the Pope had persuaded Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler to concentrate all the priests imprisoned in the various 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.


The Catholic priests were not sent to Dachau just because they were priests. Catholics and Protestants alike were arrested as “enemies of the state” but only if they preached against the Nazi government. An important policy of the Nazi party in Germany was called Gleichschaltung, a term that was coined in 1933 to mean that all German culture, religious practice, politics, and daily life should conform with Nazi ideology. This policy meant total control of thought, belief, and practice and it was used to systematically eradicate all anti-Nazi elements after Hitler came to power.

There were around 20 million Catholics and 20,000 priests in Nazi Germany. 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.


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.


On December 7, 2009, a monument to the late Cardinal Josef Beran, who died in 1969, was unveiled by Prague Archbishop Cardinal Miloslav Vik in Prague, a city in the Czech Republic. Father Josef Beran was one of the priests who was a prisoner at Dachau; he was arrested and sent to Dachau after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Deputy Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, on May 27, 1942. Beran was accused of being a member of the Czech Resistance which killed Reinhard Heydrich.


Nerin E. Gun wrote in his book “The Day of the Americans” that Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich sent food packages to Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler right up to the time that the prisoners in the “Honor Bunker” were sent to the Tyrol for their own protection before the camp was liberated. Gun pointed out in his book that Hitler was Catholic and that “he paid his religious dues to the German Catholic Church until the day he died.” Hitler was never excommunicated by the Pope, according to Gun, and he never apostasized.

Here is another paragraph in the article by Kathy Schiffer which contains two mistakes:

Among the Buchenwald survivors were Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel; child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim; Austrian architect and industrial designer Henry P. Glass; and Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Clergy held inside its formidable walls included Yisrael Meir Lau, former Chief Rabbi of Israel; and Paul Schneider, German pastor, who died at the camp in 1939.

Photo of Paul Schneider hangs in his former cell in the bunker at Buchenwald

According to Wikipedia, Pastor Schneider was executed in his cell when he was injected with poison.  He was  a prisoner in Buchenwald for two years, during which time, he continued to preach against the Nazis from the window of his cell, which finally irritated the SS to the point where they executed him.

I previously blogged about Dietrich Bonhoeffer here.  He was not a survivor of Buchenwald.  He was moved to another camp and hanged on April 9, 1945, two days before Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945.  Yisrael Meir Lau was a survivor of Buchenwald, but he was only 8 years old in 1945; it was after he survived Buchenwald that he became the Chief Rabbi of Israel.  I blogged about him here.

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.