The clergy in KL Auschwitz

The clergy, like the intelligentsia, were treated very brutally during World War II. Priests and monks were also taken during roundups or arrests. The clergymen were then also brought to Auschwitz as political prisoners. However, the clergy had an additional marking: on the red triangles, a black circle was added or, as some say, a black stripe. It is estimated that there were at least 400 spiritual people of Polish origin in the camp, of which at least half were also killed, but of course, clergymen of other faiths or nationalities were arrested.

The clergy, or, as the Nazis preferred, „clergy” were very often referred to as the so-called penal company (German: Strafkompanie). Hitting this company was a clear death sentence because it was a commando doing the hardest work, therefore the death rate was also the highest there.

One of the arrested, with the camp number, was a Franciscan, Maksymilian Maria Kolbe. His story is quite well known. The friar gave his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek, another KL Auschwitz prisoner, who was to be sent to block 11, the so called “death block”, for the escape of one of the prisoners. However, Gajowniczek had a wife and children, as Father Kolbe knew. He objected to the decision to take Gajowniczek and joined him himself in the column that was going to his death. And when the man asked him who he was, he replied in German that he was a priest, though that might have made his fate even worse. Father Maksymilian Maria Kolbe was murdered on August 14th, 1941, with an intracardiac injection of phenol.

Nevertheless, the clergy tried to fulfil their role all the time. If it was possible, they comforted and supported the sick in the camp hospital or conducted masses. The latter were held as secretly as possible, with the participation of only the most trusted fellow prisoners. There were also confessions or communions, which, if someone found out, were punished with flogging. Prisoners recall that when communion was secretly administered after one of the Easter holidays, 25 blows were given to those who received it. The priest who gave communion then died shortly after, although it is not known what the main cause of his death was.

It is also known that several weddings were held secretly in Auschwitz. Children born in the camp were baptized by prisoners-midwives, mainly by Stanisława Leszczyńska.

As for religious objects, you could not have them with you. The prisoners, however, were very creative and created devotional articles from what was in the camp. That is how the crosses made by a French priest from metal spoons, rosaries of bread, and a piece of string were created.

Surprisingly, in all the tragedy of the camp, there came a moment of relaxation, when prisoners could crowd around the camp square and celebrate this time together, during Christmas time. Carols were sung and Christmas trees were allowed to be arranged in blocks. The Nazi regime, however, found its application there as well, when prisoners lined up on command to sing „Stille Nacht” the German equivalent of „Silent Night”.

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