GOLGOTHA OF THE WEST
FR. MARIUSZ FRUKACZ
During the Second World War nearly 3 thousand Polish priests were killed by German and Soviet occupants, which was 20 percent of the prewar clergy. On 29 April there is another anniversary of liberating German concentration camp Dachau. Church in Poland is celebrating the Day of Martyrdom of Polish Clergy during the Second World War.
KL Dachau is called by Poles and Polish clergy ‘Golgotha of the West’. 1777 Polish diocesan and religious order priests imprisoned in it were the biggest group of priests kept there. Among 1030 murdered priest 868 of them were Poles – it is 90 percent of priests who were killed during the Second World War in western Europe. Every diocese in Poland has its martyrology. The most difficult situation of the Polish catholic population during the Second World War was in the so-called Country of the Warta river (Eirchsgau Posen, Wrtheland, Warthegau), to which a part of the diocese of Częstochowa was included, in an enlarged province of Wieluń. Since the beginning of the war priests of the land of Wieluń had been undergoing repressions. On 9 November 1939 the Germans arrested 7 Catholic priests and an evangelic pastor from Wieluń. On 6 October 1941 everyone was arrested and transported to a transitory camp in Konstantynów near Łódź, and from there – to a concentration Dachau camp. In total 55 priests were taken to the camp in Dachau from the land of Wieluń ((including 2 monks). In the years 1939 – 45 61 priests of the diocese of Częstochowa were murdered, including 2 priest from Wieluń: Fr. Maksymilian Binkiewicz and Fr. Ludwik Gietyngier, who were beatified by John Paul II on 13 June 1999 in Warsaw, in a group of 108 martyrs of the Second World War.
Urn and a Book of Martyrology
In May 2012 at Jasna Góra there was a nationwide pilgrimage of priests. They brought an unusual gift then – urn and a Book of Martyrology as a testimony of priests martyrs’ faithfulness of the 20th century. The Book includes surnames of those among them who were killed by the Nazis and those who were sentenced to martyr death by communist regime, as well as surnames of Polish missionary martyrs for faith. Whereas the urn includes the ground brought from the former concentrations camps and places of execution where Polish diocesan and religious order priests sacrificed their life.
Although in 2013 the last priest who survived the Dachau died – Fr. Can. Leon Stępniak, a prisoner of German camps in Gusen and Dachau, testimonies left by priests who experienced the ‘Golgotha of the West’, it is necessary to hear them also today. Fr. Antoni Mietliński (1877 – 1959) was a prisoner of concentration camps in Auschwitz, Gusen and Dachau. He published his memories of the camp in episodes in ‘Niedziela’ in 1946. They were also published in a book ‘Memories of the war 1939 – 1945 of priests of the diocese of Częstochowa’. This book, elaborated by historians: Fr. Jacek Kapuściński and Fr. Jan Związek, came out in the series of ‘Niedziela’ Librar in 2012. ‘Somebody who did not neglect a prayer in the camp, who was looking for rescue in a prayer, he did not break down in spirit – despite experiencing evil, despite experiencing tortures – he survived as he was praying and others were praying for him to God’ – Fr Mietliński mentioned.
‘Beside that hell of the camp, hunger, hard work – care about the order which was normally needed, was a terrifying addition in our situation. We were still being reminded: ‘Ordnung muss sein’ but through what methods (…). Nearly four years made me remember its shape and details. The area of the camp had a shape of a rectangle, a long wall from the east and transverse walls, short, surrounded by a wall from concrete panels. By the walls on concrete pillars there was a thick wire connected to current’ – it is mentioned by Fr. Aleksander Roman Konopka (1912 – 94) from the camp in Dachau.
Fr. Jan Brodziński (1904 – 75), a prisoner of concentration camps in Sosnowiec, Gusen and Dachau, wrote: ‘Transported in May 1940 to Dachau in a group of four priests, I saw and experienced the whole suffering of humiliation and being deprived of humanity. Greeted with a suitable portion of hitting, having short haircuts and wearing striped uniforms we were listening to a speech of a commander of the camp who reminded us Dantesque words: ‘There is no rescue from this place’. He also emphasized that we had not been worthy living in the human society, so we had been arrested. We can only soften our fate with a diligent and efficient work’.
The words of those witnesses show what strength faith, prayer and faithfulness till the end are.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 17/2019 (28 IV 2019)