Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Dachau

Writings from the death camps in Nazi Germany have played a part in my formation as a Catholic and chief among them was the seminal book by Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, written about his experience in Auschwitz where he discovered that, regardless of the external situation you were in, you still controlled your internal life; a marker on the path to sainthood.

This book, Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau, will surely have much the same impact on its readers, and the introduction is posted to Ignatius Insight.

An excerpt.

“This story is both ordinary and extraordinary. It is ordinary because Catholic priests and religious were regularly rounded up and sent to concentration camps in large numbers during the nightmare of Nazism in Europe. It is extraordinary, as all such accounts are, because they give us vivid and unforgettable indications of both the depths of depravity and heights of sanctity to which the human race is capable. Father Jean Bernard offers a straightforward picture of how Good and Evil played out around him in his imprisonment in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. He takes great pains to be accurate about the ever shifting conditions as he witnessed them personally. His strict regard for truth, even in such circumstances, is itself an implicit rejection of the violence built on lies that the Third Reich inflicted everywhere it could. If there is any truth missing in this moving story, it is Father Bernard's own quiet heroism and holiness, which he is too humble to include, but which we may intuit in his primary ¬emphasis on the plight of his fellow inmates.

“People who have not looked carefully at the position of the Catholic Church under the Third Reich may be particularly surprised by this story. The Nazis did not want to exterminate all Catholics, but they most ¬certainly did want to exterminate all Jews, and they nearly succeeded. So the Shoah cannot and should not be described as if the Nazis did as much harm to Catholics as they did to Jews. Yet it is a fact of ¬history that millions of Catholics were murdered in the Nazi camps, and that is something we must never forget.

“During and right after World War II, it was commonly ¬assumed that Christians as well as Jews suffered a great deal ¬under Hitler. Jews were grateful to Catholics and ¬others for such assistance as they were able to provide, and especially esteemed Pope Pius XII, who quite probably saved more Jews from the Nazis than any other single person. That was why Golda Meir, one of the founders and later Prime Minister of the newly ¬created Jewish state of ¬Israel, thanked the pope and honored him among the righteous gentiles: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims." Similarly, Moshe Sharett, the second Prime Minister of Israel, remarked after meeting with Pius: "I told him [the Pope] that my first duty was to thank him, and through him the Catholic Church, on behalf of the Jewish public for all they had done in the various countries to rescue Jews. We are deeply grateful to the Catholic Church."