Spero News

Last surviving Catholic priest of Dachau concentration camp dies
 
Thursday, June 16, 2016
by Martin Barillas
 
Rev. Hermann Scheipers, the last surviving Catholic priest imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, has died. He reached the age of 102. Scheipers died on June 2 in Ochtrup, Germany.
 
After being arrested by German forces in 1940 for supporting Polish forced laborers, Rev. Scheipers recalled that he was told “Here, you are defenseless, without dignity or rights. Here, you either work or perish” by an officer when he arrived at the camp run by National Socialist Germany. At the entrance of the camp, the words "arbeit macht frei" (Work will make you free) are inscribed over the gate.
 
Scheipers was one of the approximately 2,800 clergy imprisoned during the Second World War in Dachau. Most of them were Catholic, and more than two-thirds were Polish. Only German priests were permitted to celebrate Holy Mass in a chapel inside the dismal barracks. More than 1,000 priests died at the concentration camp. Over the total 200,000 prisoner population held at Dachau, more than 41,500 were killed.
 
Scheipers narrowly escaped death at the hands of his Nazi captors after collapsing from hunger and exhaustion in 1942. He was sent to the invalid quarters, from which prisoners were taken to be killed in the nearby gas chamber. 
 
His twin sister, Anna, came to his rescue when she appealed for his life to officials in Berlin to whom she claimed that the killing of priests at Dachau was causing unrest in her region of Germany. Anna’s actions saved Scheipers. He was able to escape from a forced death march to Bad Tolz in April 1945, just days before U.S. forces liberated Dachau. 
 
Scheipers learned after the war, when he read his Nazi file, the reason for his detention. The file said: “Scheipers is a fanatical proponent of the Catholic Church and thus likely to cause unrest among the population.”
 
During his captivity, Scheipers and other priests slaved as a field workers, receiving mostly watery soup to eat. Those who were not fast enough to satisfy their Nazi captors were whipped, hung by the arms, and drenched in ice water. Many died.
 
In his memoir, “Balancing Act: Priest under Two Dictatorships,” Scheipers wrote, “The only thing one could do was escape or pray.”
 
Scheipers returned to ministry in the Diocese of Dresden-Meissen after the end of the war. He soon began his resistance to East Germany's communist regime. After the fall of communism, he learned that he had been under surveillance by 15 undercover officers and that he was to face trial for distributing subversive propaganda. 
“I was in Dachau for the exact same reasons,” he was reported to have said, KNA reported.


Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.


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