Fr Hermann Scheipers, the last surviving priest who was imprisoned in the notorious Dachau prison camp, died on 2 June in his North Rhine hometown of Ochtrup, Germany, at age 102.
He was arrested in October 1940 by German authorities because of his staunch Catholicism and taken to Dachau, near Munich, five months later. The camp held a large number of priests.
Fr Scheipers was sympathetic with Polish forced labourers, celebrating Mass with them and hearing their confessions prior to being taken into custody, reported KNA, the German Catholic news agency.
He later learned the reason for his arrest after coming across his Nazi file. “Scheipers is a fanatical proponent of the Catholic Church and thus likely to cause unrest among the population,” the German authorities wrote.
Fr Scheipers recalled the camp commander’s greeting when he arrived with a group of internees: “You are without honour, without help and without rights. Here, you can either work or perish.”
The greeting reflected the message on the large iron gate at the camp’s entrance, which read in German “Arbeit macht frei”, which in English means “Work will make you free.”
In the camp, KNA reported, Fr Scheipers, like many of the priests, “slaved away as a field worker, receiving mostly watery soup to eat. Persons who aren’t fast enough are whipped, hung by the arms or drenched in ice water” and many died.
In his memoir, Balancing Act: Priest under Two Dictatorships, Fr Scheipers wrote: “The only thing one could do was escape or pray.”
He escaped being sent to the gas chamber because his twin sister, Anna, pleaded with authorities in Berlin, warming that his death would stir the Catholic population around Ochtrup.
Fr Scheipers subsequently managed to escape from a death march to Bad Tolz, Germany, in 1945.
After the war, he returned to ministry in the diocese of Dresden-Meissen only to again soon begin resisting another repressive regime in East Germany’s communist rulers. He later discovered the files the government kept on him and learned that he had been under surveillance by 15 undercover officers and that he was to face trial for distributing subversive propaganda.
“I was in Dachau for the exact same reasons,” he was reported to have said, KNA reported.
He was born on 24 July, 1913.