Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Mass at Belsen

A moving story for Holocuast Day is to be found at the blog of Fr Sean, Bangor to Bobbio. He refers to an article in the Telegraph by Lord Molyneaux, former head of the Ulster Unionist Party: I witnessed the dead of Belsen: we must always confront tyranny.

The liberation of Belsen was ingrained on British memories because it was the British who were given the task of going into the camp. Lord Molyneaux says:
On arrival at Tactical Headquarters, we had been briefed on the discovery of the Belsen prison camp nearby. In company with our RAF medical unit and the two 2nd Army Field hospitals, we wasted no time. Briefed though we were, the shock excelled all the horrors of the battles of the 12 months since Normandy.
I remember my father telling me about the horrors of the battles in Normandy, and although he had been through may ghastly experiences as part of a tank crew, he would certainly have agreed with Lord Molyneaux's assessment. Indeed every decent British soldier realised that whatever doubts they may have entertained about the War, the footage from Belsen confirmed that their cause had been a necessary and just one.

One story from the article is particularly poignant in view of the furore of recent days:
The most moving experience came on the second morning as I was walking from what had been the luxury SS barracks which our troops had transformed into a hospital. My attention was drawn to two packing cases covered by a worn red curtain. A young Polish priest was clinging to this makeshift altar with one hand, while celebrating Mass. Between his feet lay the body of another priest who probably died during the night. No one had had the energy to move the body.

I had no difficulty in following the old Latin Mass, having been educated at St James's Roman Catholic School in County Antrim, and, although an Anglican, I had gained a working knowledge of all the rituals. Still supporting himself against the altar, the young priest did his best to distribute the consecrated elements. Some recipients were able to stumble over the rough, scrubby heathland. Others crawled forward to receive the tokens and then crawled back to share them with others unable to move. Some almost certainly passed on to another - probably better - world before sunset. Whatever one's race or religion one can only be uplifted and impressed by that truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
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