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Last Priest from Dachau Concentration Camp Dies at 102

ERIC SCHWAB/Getty Images
Weak and ill survivors of the Nazi concentration camp in Buchenwald march April 1945 towards the infirmary, after the liberation of the camp by Allied troops. The man in foreground is General Audibert, an officer in the French Army and member of the French resistance. The construction of Buchenwald camp started 15 July 1937 and was liberated by US General Patton's army 11 April 1945. Between 239,000 and 250,000 people were imprisoned in this camp. About 56,000 died among which 11,000 Jews. On the 5th of April Patton's army liberated the Buchenwald commandos in Ohrdruf. A few thousand Russian and Hungarian Jews, and gypsies were then miserably evacuated from the main camp Buchenwald by the Germans to camps such as Dachau and Fl?ssenburg. On the 11th of April the International Committee (created in August 1943 by the prisoners), who managed to obtain and hide arms during previous shelling, gave the order for an insurrection which pave the way for the US army. (FILM) AFP PHOTO ERIC SCHWAB AFP PHOTO AFP/ERIC SCHWAB/lab/ls (Photo credit should read ERIC SCHWAB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Father Hermann Scheipers survived Nazis and communists in long career

The last Catholic priest to have been imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp has died at age 102.

Father Hermann Scheipers was a young priest in 1940 when he was arrested by the Nazis and taken to the camp, near Munich. Dachau had a large population of priests: some 95% of the 2,720 clergymen imprisoned there were Catholic.

Father Scheipers died June 2 in Ochtrup in Münsterland, the same town where he was born on July 24, 1913.

His work among young people, soon after his ordination, drew the attention of the Nazis. An obituary at KNA, a German Catholic news agency, translated by Mark de Vries, noted:

Because he was sympathetic with Polish forced laborers, celebrated Mass with them and heard their confessions, he was arrested [in] October of 1940 and brought to Dachau five months later. His file, which he came across by chance, states the true reason for his arrest: “Scheipers is a fanatical proponent of the Catholic Church and thus likely to cause unrest among the population.”

He wore the number 24255 on his prison uniform.

Father Scheipers recalled the way the camp commander welcomed him and his fellow inmates: “You are without honor, without help and without rights. Here, you can either work or perish.”

The sign over the entrance to the prisoner camp famously read, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work will make you free.”

Father Scheipers’ obituary said that like many of the priests in Dachau, he “slaved away as a field worker, receiving mostly watery soup to eat. Persons who aren’t fast enough are whipped, hung by the arms or drenched with icy water. Many die.”

“The only thing one could do was escape or pray,” Father Scheipers recalled in his memoirs, Gratwanderungen – Priester unter zwei Diktaturen (Balancing Act – Priest Under Two Dictatorships).

At one point he was in danger of being sent to the gas chamber, but was spared death when his twin sister, Anna, pleaded with officials in Berlin, warning them of a strong reaction among the Catholic population in Münsterland if such an execution were to occur.

A fellow priest was not as lucky, and years later, Father Scheipers would movingly recall how he gave him his ration of bread before he was taken to his death. “Every time when I celebrate Mass and break the bread, I think of that,” he said.

Finally, in April of 1945, Father Scheipers managed to escape from a death march towards Bad Tölz.

After the war he returned to his former place of work in the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen. He resisted those in power in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). When Scheipers found his Stasi file after the fall of communism, he discovered that 15 spies had been on his case and that a trial against him for distributing subversive propaganda was to be convened.

“I was in Dachau for the exact same reasons,” Scheipers commented.

Another account of a Catholic priest at Dachau was given by Father Jean Bernard, author of Priestblock 25487.

 

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