The last Catholic priest once imprisoned by the Nazis in the Dachau death camp is dead at the age of 102.
Dachau was the concentration camp that specialized in imprisoning clergy and at one time could have been considered the largest monastery in history. All told the camp held 2,720 clergy, 95 percent of whom were Catholic priests.
Father Hermann Scheipers was targeted by the Nazis because of his ministering to Polish forced laborers. He celebrated mass for them and heard their confessions. For this, in October 1940 he was arrested and five months later taken to Dachau.
According to his file, he was imprisoned because he was “a fanatical proponent of the Catholic Church and this likely to cause unrest among the population.”
In Dachau, Father Scheipers worked as a field worker, and he “received mostly watery soup to eat.” Scheipers said, “The only thing one could do was escape or pray.”
Close to death many times, once he was saved from gassing by an intervention of his sister with Nazi officials in Berlin. Though trapped in one of the most godless places on earth, Scheipers said he always felt His presence. A fellow priest, about to be taken to his death, gave Scheipers his final ration of bread. Scheipers says he remembers that moment “every time I celebrate Mass and bread the bread…”
After surviving Dachau and with the war’s end, Father Scheipers settled in what was then East Germany where he came under scrutiny from Stasi, the notorious secret police. According to his obituary, after the fall of communism, he was able to see his Stasi file and at one time there were 15 agents assigned to his case.
The Nazi death camps were the scene of many remarkable stories. Father Maximillian Kolbe volunteered for the starvation bunker at Auschwitz, taking the place of a man with a wife and family. The man later attended the canonization ceremony of Kolbe when he was named a saint by the Catholic Church.
Other Catholic clergy who died in the death camps and have been beatified (one step removed from saint-hood) include Titus Brandsma, Bernhard Lichtenberg, Karl Leisner, and Alojs Andritzki.