The Priests of KZ Dachau
The Catholic Church was one of the first and most outspoken critics Nazism in pre-WWII Germany. As early as 1917 the papal nuncio to Bavaria, Eugenio Pacelli, began delivering speeches against the National Socialist Party and continued to do so throughout his long career.1 Fueled by Catholic doctrine and Pacelli’s bravery, Catholic outspokenness and resistance became widespread and contributed to priests, monks, and other clergy becoming special targets of Nazi arrests.2 As early as 1937 Pope Pius XI alluded to this firm Catholic protest against Hitler’s policies in the papal encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, making note that he had received “information on the stand the Faithful are making for their Faith.”3 By the time World War II was in full swing and Nuncio Pacelli had become Pope Pius XII, Catholic priests were very much on the Nazi radar.
One such priest was Jean Bernard, who later recorded his memoirs in the book, Priestblock 25487. On March 22, 1933, a concentration camp located just outside the picturesque Bavarian village of Dachau was opened, and it quickly became known as the camp where outspoken Christian clergy were sent in punishment for their “crimes” against the Vaterland. Beginning in 1938 and continuing throughout the remainder of the war, the Nazis imprisoned thousands of Christian clergy of all nationalities behind Dachau’s infamous Arbeit Macht Frei (“work makes one free”) gate. On May 19, 1941, Father Jean Bernard was one of the priests sent to KZ Dachau, and his stirring memoir Priestblock 25487 tells his story of fear, faith and inner freedom.4