The Priest Barracks Dachau 1938-1945 – Guillaume Zeller
I find that as much as I appreciate books about the Holocaust, and wars, I seldom love them. These are books that we need to read, they are books that we should read, but other than the triumph of the human spirit in these horrendous situations these books are often very hard to read. Prior to reading this book I was aware of some stories of some Christians, specific Catholics who had spent time in the concentration camps, but I was not aware of the extent of it. I was unaware of how many Catholic Priests were interned in the camps. I was unaware of the persecution they suffered, how they were singled out by the SS for extra punishment and torture.
Reading this book by no means diminishes the atrocities that the Jewish people and others suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany. But it tells another piece in that larger story. There are some incredible stories of sacrifice, service and true Christ like character in this chronicle.
The sections in this book are:
Map of the Dachau Concentration Camp
I. A Camp for Priests
1. The Precursors
3. The Largest Diocese in Europe
4. Organization of the Camp
6. Blocks and Commandos
II. “O Land of Distress”
9. Dying in Dachau
11. Anti-Christian Hatred
12. Medical Experiments
13. Himmelsfahrts Transport
III. A Spiritual Home
14. A Chapel in Dachau
15. The Eucharist
16. Sacramental Life
18. The Fruits of Dachau
19. Witnesses and Blesseds
The Priests in Dachau: Statistics
Some of the stories that really hit home for me were those about specific Pallotine fathers. The parish we attend and that is associated with my children’s school is served by priests from this order. The example the priests lived in the camps is character I have seen in the half dozen members of this order I have known over the years.
This is the Chronology of priests at Dachau:
March 22, 1933: The camp in Dachau opens.
1938: Arrival of the first priests from Austria.
December 1940: Priests are grouped together in Dachau.
December 14, 1940: 525 priests arrive from Mauthausen.
January 21, 1941: First Mass at the chapel.
February 1, 1941: Severe punishments for the priests of the snow commando.
March 10, 1941: Start of the “privileges”.
September 1941: End of the “privileges”, except for the German priests gathered in Block 26. Father Ohnmacht replaces Father Prabucki as chaplain of the priests.
October 30, 1941: Arrival of a convoy of 487 Polish priests.
January 9, 1941: Fathers Pawłowski and Grelewski are hanged.
March 28, 1942: Beginning of the “Holy Week” persecutions.
April 19, 1942: Non-German priests without a work assignment join the plantation commandos.
Spring 1942: Beginning of the “transports of the disabled”.
September-December 1942: Medical experiments conducted at peak operation.
October 28, 1942: The priests, except for the Germans, are deprived of Brotzeit for four weeks.
November 1942: Start of large-scale experiments on phlegmons.
End of 1942: Individual packages are allowed.
December 19, 1942: Priests of all nationalities are regrouped in Block 26, except for Poles and Lithuanians.
December 1942: Epidemic of typhus and quarantine.
January 26, 1943: Death of Bishop Michał Kozal.
March 14, 1943: Quarantine lifted.
March 16, 1943: Father Schelling replaces Father Ohnmacht as chaplain.
Spring 1943: Start of “leisure activities” and sports events.
March 14, 1944: Priests are dismissed from the postal commandos.
March 30, 1944: Priests must leave all infirmarian positions at the Revier.
Summer 1944: French priests arrive in great numbers. Polish priests are tolerated at the chapel.
November 12, 1944: The camp in Dachau is raised to the rank of deanery by the Archbishop of Munich.
December 1944: Beginning of the typhus epidemic.
December 17, 1944: Priestly ordination of Karl Leisner.
April 26, 1945: Partial evacuation of the camp: some German priests join the “death convoy”.
April 29, 1945: Liberation of the camp.
From early on until the end of the war there were two barracks dedicated to housing catholic priests, at the peak there were three full barracks dedicated to these men.
And here are the official statistics for Priests in the Camps:
This was a very important book to read. I am thankful that it came across my desk. I have been inspired by many of the stories. I have been encouraged by the faith these men lived and that over a third gave their life for. The research and writing was excellent, and I hope that someday Zeller’s other books are translated into English as well. I recommend this book, read it so that we do not forget, read it so we are challenged, and read it so that we may be inspired.
Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2017 Catholic Reading Plan!
Books by Guillaume Zeller:
The Priest Barracks: Dachau 1938 – 1945
Oran, 5 Juillet 1962 : Un Massacre Oublié
Un Prêtre à la guerre: Le témoignage d’un aumônier parachutiste
La Baraque des prêtres, Dachau 1938-1945