Last Catholic priest to survive Dachau Nazi concentration camp dies aged 102

The notorious 'Work makes you free' slogan on the gates of Dachau.

The last Roman Catholic priest to survive wartime imprisonment in the notorious Dachau concentration camp has died aged 102, reports the Aleteia news service.

Fr Hermann Scheipers was arrested by the Nazis for his staunch Catholicism. An obituary for German Catholic news agency KNA said: "Because he was sympathetic with Polish forced labourers, celebrated Mass with them and heard their confessions, he was arrested [in] October of 1940 and brought to Dachau five months later. His file, which he came across by chance, states the true reason for his arrest: 'Scheipers is a fanatical proponent of the Catholic Church and thus likely to cause unrest among the population.'"

Scheipers himself recalled that when the camp commander welcomed him and his fellow inmates they were told: "You are without honour, without help and without rights. Here, you can either work or perish."

Dachau had a large population of clergymen. Of the 2,720 imprisoned there, around 95 per cent were Catholic priests. 

Dachau had a large population of clergymen. Of the 2,720 imprisoned there, around 95 per cent were Catholic priests. His obituary said that like other priests, he was forced to work as a field hand, receiving mostly watery soup to eat. Those who failed to work fast enough were whipped, hung by the arms or drenched with icy water. Many died. 

In his own memoir, Balancing Act – Priest Under Two Dictatorships, Scheipers said: "The only thing one could do was escape or pray."

He avoided the gas chamber when his twin sister Anna warned the authorities of the reaction from Roman Catholics.

Scheipers escaped from a death march in April 1945. After the war he returned to work in the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen, in what had become East Germany, and continued to speak out against the oppressive regime. After German reunification he discovered that 15 Stasi spies had been watching him and that he was to be tried for distributing subversive propaganda – "the exact same reasons" he was in Dachau, he remarked.

He died on June 2 in in Ochtrup in Münsterland, where he was born on July 24, 1913.