'Christ in Dachau' is a remarkable book about the priestly life in what may be the worst of all conditions, at least in the last hundred years – in the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp, written by one of those priests, Fr John Lenz.
Here is just one of the many memorable – and sometimes scarcely credible – stories it contains :
"Incredible though it seems, a priest was actually ordained in Dachau concentration camp. On December 17, 1944, our young comrade, the German Deacon Karl Leisner, was ordained a priest of Christ by Bishop Gabriel Piguet in the chapel of a Nazi prison camp run by the SS. It really seemed nothing short of another miracle of Christ in Dachau.
Karl Leisner, who had had some lung trouble while at the seminary, was sent to St Blasien in the Black Forest on the recommendation of his Bishop for a few weeks convalescence shortly before he was due for ordination in 1939. A few unguarded remarks about the Nazi regime had sufficed for his arrest and subsequent internment in Dachau. After five years in the concentration camp he was no dying of tuberculosis in the isolation block. He knew how things stood with him, and it was his dearest wish to be ordained as a priest before the end came.
Fortunately we still had a bishop in our community at that time (on January 22, 1945, the Bishop was removed from our block and placed under special arrest with the other ‘distinguished prisoners’), and permission was duly obtained in all secrecy from the diocesan authorities in Munich and in Münster. It was also necessary to obtain certain items of the Bishop’s insignia from Munich, although much of the regalia was made ‘on the side’ in the camp itself by the many fine craftsmen among the prisoners. The alb, the slippers and the mitre, for instance, as well as the ‘gold’ pectoral cross and crozier, were actually made in Dachau.
It was a memorable occasion that winter Sunday morning, as the Bishop made his way in slow procession from the hut across to the chapel. His episcopal vestments were worn over his striped prison uniform and his mitre covered his shaved head. Instead of some great cathedral he was entering a humble chapel in a concentration camp. More than a thousand priests had crowded into the chapel for this unique ceremony. The choir provided music worthy of the occasion.
Nine days later Fr Leisner celebrated his first and only Mass. A dying man, he had achieved his goal on earth. Five days after the camp was liberated by the Americans he was taken to the convent hospital in Planegg near Munich where he died that summer. The last comment in his diary might well have been written for all his priest comrades in Dachau : ‘Love – charity – atonement. O God, bless my enemies !’ May his soul rest in peace."
Fr Leisner was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 23 1996.
His Feast day is 12 August, the anniversary of his death.