Stories of Dachau Survivors
Father Marcel Pasiecznik was ordained a Franciscan priest in Krakow, Poland in July 1937. After Poland was occupied by Germany in 1939, the Nazis closed all the Catholic seminaries and universities. Priests were forbidden to do anything except work in the church and the parish office, but Father Pasiecznik defied the Nazis by becoming a chaplain for the underground Polish Army which fought as partisans. As irregular combatants according to the 1929 Geneva convention, the Polish underground army members were sometimes legally shot when they were captured, but when Father Pasiecznik was caught in 1944, his life was spared and he was sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany.
According to Father Pasiecznik's own account of his stay at Flossenbürg, the prisoners were not expected to live longer than three months; they were forced to work 12 hours a day at hard labor while receiving only 1,000 calories of food per day. In only two months, he lost 50 pounds. He did not hide the fact that he was a priest: he would hear the confessions of his fellow prisoners as they worked side-by-side. Eventually, he was transferred to Dachau which was the designated camp for Catholic priests.
In 1987, Father Pasiecznik wrote the following in the "Homiletic and Pastoral Review" regarding his short stay at Flossenbürg and his later transfer to the Dachau concentration camp:
I should have died at Flossenbürg, but God had other plans. Once again, he intervened at the last moment, and I was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp. Strange as it may sound, Dachau saved my life.
Priests were imprisoned under relatively less rigorous conditions at Dachau - this was one of the few concessions which the Holy See had been able to wrest from Nazi Germany. God's merciful providence sent me on my way with a package from a local pastor, a German Catholic priest. It contained bread, apples and a Latin edition of The Imitation of Christ. After the war I was able to thank him personally, and that's when I determined that he had arranged my life-saving transfer.
When I arrived in Dachau, my death was further forestalled thanks to the good graces of the other Polish priests there and the American Red Cross, which sent us care packages. I was made a tailor, which meant light work done indoors. There were 800 priests in one barrack, all Poles, and 400 priests from Germany and all over Europe, in the other. There were 28 barracks in Dachau in total. The authorities permitted the German priests to say Mass daily in the chapel in their barracks. They in turn smuggled bread and wine to the Polish priests for them to say Mass as well. I participated every morning in this secret Mass and received Holy Communion. And three times I celebrated Mass for my colleagues before our liberation. I even made visits to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the German priests' chapel, but you had to tell one of them the watchword. One time I remember it was "Lux de luce," light from light.
I received a care package from Poland, which contained bread, stockings, a cap and the "Novena to God's Mercy," revealed to Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska. This last was a miracle because the package must have passed through Nazi hands. Pope John Paul II has elevated Sister Faustina to "Blessed" in recent years.
According to Father Pasiecznik, the Dachau staff had planned to blow up the entire camp and kill all the inmates, and if the American soldiers had not arrived in the nick of time, they would have found everyone dead.
In 1947, Father Pasiecznik came to America where he continued to serve as a Franciscan priest.
This page was created on July 17, 2007