Memoir of a priest in Dachau

I received "Priestblock 25487" yesterday as a Christmas present from the Mulier Fortis (late because of Amazon). The book comprises the memoirs of a priest from Luxembourg, Fr Jean Bernard, from his time at Dachau. He first wrote them up for the Luxemburger Wort in 1945 and made them available again because we must "never forget". He describes the period from May 1941 to early August 1942.

The book is compelling in its description of both the physical, psychological and spiritual suffering of the priests who were gathered together in the same block. The SS used this tactic in order to prevent the priests unduly influencing the other prisoners. About 2670 priests passed through Dachau, 600 to their death.

For a time, it was widely "known" in the camp that the priests did not have to work in the same way as the other prisoners and that they were given more food and even wine. In fact, they were degraded, humiliated and abused in much the same way as the other prisoners, sometimes more harshly. One Good Friday in 1941, 60 priests had been hung on the "tree". Their wrists were tied together behind their backs, palms facing outwards. The hands were then turned into the body, a chain tied round the wrists and then they were hung up from the ceiling so that their body weight ripped their joints apart. those who were physically strongest recovered, many were permanently disabled and some died as a result.

As to the wine: for the time that this "privilege" existed, it was itself used in a sadistic ritual. The priests were ordered under threat of beating to uncork and pour out the wine and then drink a third of a bottle in one gulp. One priest who hesitated had the glass slammed into his face, cutting through his lips and cheeks as far as the bone. Nevertheless, the rumour of "special privileges" made many of the other prisoners hate the priests and greatly reduced their opportunity to exercise any spiritual influence. In fact the "privileged" regime was ended after a time, probably because of strong statements from the Pope or the Bishops condemning the Nazi regime.

The Preface by Cardinal O'Malley and the introduction by Robert Royal are important additions. Royal outlines the history of the change of attitude to Pope Pius XII beginning with the KGB inspired play "The Deputy". (Cf. "KGB plotted to discredit Pius XII")and gives evidence of the widespread resistance of the clergy to the Nazi regime. He is keen to make the point that forgetting about the horrors of those times would be an act of cowardice with repercussions for the present and the future.

A film has been made of Fr Bernard's book. It is called "The Ninth Day": if you have seen it, I would be interested to know your views on it - especially if you have read the book as well.

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