Saturday, 16 April 2011


Dachau Prison where over 6,000 Catholic
Priests were tortured and executed

Palm Sunday 1944 and, as the Second World War grinds to a finale a Catholic priest, French Jesuit Fr Henri Perrin, celebrates Mass in secret, fearful of discovery and punishment, not just for himself but for those other Catholics taking part.
This scene must have been repeated in concentration camps spread across Europe. In Dachau alone it is believed that over 6,000 priests gave their lives for the faith.
The following is an extract from Fr Perrin's book 'Priest workman in Germany'.....

"…..round five a.m. I said Mass. I did not want to do it in the evening lest the warder should make a late round and find me. At about four-thirty, I woke Raymond who was sleeping on the table, and then Marcel and Remy, who had asked to take part. No one else had shown any wish to do so in the evening – they had come in late and tired, and were going off again at
 half - past seven in the morning.
It was much better not to force them to attend a Mass unwillingly; anyhow, alas they would not understand. From their beds which were set up in a circle round the table, they could see the light, and follow me if they wanted to.
Everything was ready. Three handkerchiefs for a cloth; another one, which was quite new, served for a corporal, lying on top of the enamelled tin cup which was to contain the Precious Blood. A candle lit the German text from which I read a passage from St Paul, and one from St Luke. And there were the bread, the water and the wine.

‘In the name of the Father….’ Marcel and Remy could only follow me with memories of long ago, and I recited the psalm alone, and was the only one to make the public confession at the beginning of Mass. At the final Kyrie Marcel remembered what he ought to answer. But when I held the sacrifice between my fingers, I was holding up to God in complete faith the lives of all the men sleeping round me. In an absence of emotion I still find, without the least sentimentality, but simply looking to God in faith, I offered to our Father from the bottom of my heart all the suffering of the prison, and the gloom of all the poor wretches sleeping under its roof; I offered it through Christ, for the forgiveness of all the omissions and sins of men, for the salvation of the world.
The others were all asleep but the whole Church was beside me. At Gethsemane the Apostles slept and these were my ‘Apostles.’

A Pole got up, like an animal forced by instinct, to go to the W.C. six feet away from me. He didn’t realise that it was not a suitable thing to do….luckily our ideas of decency and indecency had little in common with God’s. We might be scandalized by this man’s behaviour, but we ourselves had often come to the sacrifice with our hearts full of bitterness, and that is incomparably worse. The flesh of our hearts is putrid and filthy, says St Ignatius, and that is why we need the purifying and strengthening flesh of Christ. ‘Body of Christ save me….’ I was alone in this ‘communion’ but through the Body of Christ I was in communion with the whole Church and with all my brethren – in this room, in this prison, in all our growing Christian communities……Mass was over.
Raymond had not gone, but sat in his corner watching what I did. As he came past me, he just said: ‘Your Mass is pretty terrific’. And that was all.
In deep silence I watched the windows whitening with the dawn, the dawn of Palm Sunday".

I do not know which prison Fr Perrin was in ( I will find out as I have ordered his book) but, in Dachau, Priests were given the most arduous roles. Their day commenced at 3.30am when they rose and prepared the breakfast meal for the whole camp. Afterwards they were set to work as "horses" pulling heavy carts and moving provisions and gear around until it was time to prepare the evening meal. Finally, after all prisoners were fed and all cleared away, the priests were free to rest but this only meant a few hours sleep before the same routine began again the following day.


  1. Wonderful post, his words almost placed me there with him. What a grace the Mass is, through time and space. Overwhelming.

  2. Would Christians in The United States have any of this conviction for their Lord...... I have my doubts, for it has never been hard to be a Christian here. I feel, that is changing. May the Lord strengthen us as the time approaches..... May there not be too many that are like Judas. Lord have Mercy....

  3. God rest their dear souls. If I were half as faithful . . . . . .