01 November 2008

Priestblock 25487

The English translation of Fr. Bernard's memoir of Dachau concentration camp was published last year, but I am just getting to it now. It's rather intense and disturbing, as one would expect, so if you aren't into reading what may leave you in a somber mood, don't pick it up.

I visited the camp several years ago when a summer student in Innsbruck, Austria, taking the train north one day to the city of Dachau. All of the barracks have been demolished (including the clergy block: barracks 26, 28, and 30); only "the bunker" remains, where disobedient prisoners were kept, and one can enter its long, narrow corridor and look into each of its cells. This being back when I was still a heretic an apostate unreconciled to the Church, I didn't take the same interest in the clergy's role then as I do today.

International Memorial, Nandor Glid

All our clothes and the contents of our pockets are taken from us. Next each new arrival is shaved from head to toe and shoved into a huge shower room. "My" SS man turns up the water so hot that I feel scalded alive, then suddenly makes it ice cold. I summon all my energy and act as if I don't notice.

My companions can't manage it. They scream and try to jump out--just the reaction the guards have been waiting for. They shove themn back in and so it continues, in and out, in and out, until the sadistic game gets boring.
Now we get a blue-and-white striped shirt, jacket, and pair of trousers, socks (ah!), and "clogs," which have wooden soles with cloth or leather on top.

Next each prisoner is examined inside and out, with the results noted down, and finally has to take a seat to be photographed. The first of us is just finishing this process when he suddenly leaps up screaming. It turns out that the chair seat has a spring-mounted spike in it as thick as a man's finger--a little private joke on the part of the SS photographer.