Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas in Dachau's "Priest Block"

"The Nativity,"  unknown painter

Fr. Jean Bernard (1907 AD - 1994 AD), a Catholic priest from Luxembourg, was a prisoner in the "Priestblock" of the Dachau concentration camp from May 1941 to August 1942.   The following is taken from the chapter entitled "Christmas 1941" in Fr. Bernard's memoir of his time in Dachau, "Priestblock 25487."

"I suspect that Cappy (another priest) wants to give me something and am eager to find out what it is.
He is standing at the entrance of the barbed-wire barrier around the barrack, as announced.  We are not allowed to enter, but have to leave the pails in front of the "gate."  I set mine down next to Cappy, and as he bends down to pick it up he quickly presses a carefully folded piece of paper into my hand.  Very softly he mouths the word "ichthys."

I have difficulty concealing my excitement.  Swiftly I hide the precious gift in my glove.  And as I hurry back home images from the time of the catacombs come to mind.  Bacnk the, as now, the Most Holy had to be preserved from desecration, and so the Greek term for "fish," ichthys, became a code word for the Eucharist, since it is composed of the initial letters of the phrase "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior."

After the evening meal we Luxembourgers met a few friends inconspicuously in the darkness outside the barrack and divided the precious pieces into as many particles as humanly possible.  And then the Christ Child entered our hearts..."

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