Priest’s ordination at Dachau concentration camp

Priests were among the thousands of prisoners held at Dachau concentration camp during World War II, permanent deacons and their families were told during the 2018 National Diaconate Conference in New Orleans.

The priests came from from 144 dioceses and 25 countries and were about a third of the camp’s total population.

Of the around 2,700 clergy imprisoned at Dachau, about 2,400 were Catholic priests, Dianne Traflet explained to conference attendees.

“It [the Dachau clergy] was the largest religious community living together in the history of the Catholic Church,” she said.

Traflet, who is an assistant professor of pastoral theology and the associate dean of graduate studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, said faith and hope flickered and often flourished in Dachau’s Cell Block 26 where the priests were held.

This was despite the camp’s routine of hunger, torture, medical experimentation and mass executions.

The priests held theological conversations, Bible studies, conducted baptisms, heard confessions and wrote a multi-lingual dictionary of basic phrases so they could comfort the sick and dying in their native tongues.

A deacon was even ordained to the priesthood, while escaping detection, Traflet said.

Traflet told the conference the priests would also talk and pray about how to help the Church, “wracked by the loss of so many clergy.”

They started thinking of restoring the permanent diaconate to help multiply the numbers “of ordained men who could bring comfort and news of salvation to the afflicted in this era of priestly attrition.”

The priests also thought married men could more easily blend in while doing their work in mission countries and in times of religious persecution, whereas priests were more visible targets because of their more public lives and manner of dress, Traflet told the conference.


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