Recalling the Polish Clergy Imprisoned in Dachau

Interview With Archbishop Emeritus Majdanski of Stettino-Kamien

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WARSAW, Poland, MAY 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The death of 20% of the total of 10,017 Polish clergy, including five bishops, at the start of World War II seems to be forgotten by many history books, says a survivor of Dachau.



Kazimierz Majdanski, now archbishop emeritus of Stettino-Kamien, was arrested Nov. 7, 1939, by the Nazis, when he was in the seminary of Wloclawek. He was arrested with other students and professors, and taken first to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and later to Dachau.

In Dachau, he was subjected to pseudoscientific criminal experiments. After the war, he was ordained a priest in Paris.

His superiors then sent him to Fribourg, Switzerland, to continue his studies. On his return to Poland, he was appointed vice rector of the seminary, auxiliary bishop of Wroclawek, and later archbishop of Stettino-Kamien.

He took part in the working sessions of the Second Vatican Council and in 1975 founded the pioneer Institute of Studies on the Family in Lomianki.

In remembrance of the witness of those men, the Catholic Church in Poland last Thursday observed the Day of the Martyrdom of the Polish Clergy During World War II.

In this interview with ZENIT, Vladimir Redzioch gathers Archbishop Majdanski's testimony.

Q: Excellency, why did the Gestapo arrest you right at the beginning of the war?

Archbishop Majdanski: I was arrested, as were other students and professors of the seminary, for wearing a cassock. The Germans who arrested us did not ask us for our particulars. So it can be said that I was arrested as a Catholic priest.

Q: What was life like in the Dachau concentration camp?

Archbishop Majdanski: At the entrance of the camp there was a sign: "Arbeit macht frei" [Work liberates]. But in reality, inhuman work in the cold of winter and the heat of summer, with insufficient rations of food, with blows and humiliations, served to destroy man.

In the end, when a person was no longer able to work, he was taken, in the so-called transport of invalids, to the gas chambers.

Q: You were one of the prisoners who were subjected to medical experiments.

Archbishop Majdanski: Yes. At Dachau, a certain Professor Schilling carried out pseudo-medical experiments. In fact, they experimented with prisoners, observing the reactions of man to different substances that were injected into us.

Before being subjected to the experiments I asked my seminary professor to inform my parents of my death and I left him my "treasure": two slices of stale bread.

It's a real miracle that I survived. Unfortunately, Father Jozef Kocot, my roommate, who taught philosophy in the seminary, died in silence, suffering in an incredible way.

Q: What did the concentration camp mean for you priests?

Archbishop Majdanski: We thought the times of Nero and Diocletian had returned, the times of hatred toward Christianity and all that Christianity represented.

The concentration camp was the incarnation of the civilization of death. It is no accident that there were skulls on the Germans' uniforms.

Our German executioners cursed God, denigrated the Church, and called us the "dogs of Rome." They wanted to force us to desecrate the cross and the rosary. To make a long story short, for them we were only numbers to be eliminated.

But we had our covenant with God, prayer recited in secret, confession made in secret. We really felt the lack of the Holy Eucharist. In this "death machine," priests were called to sacrifice their life, to be faithful unto death.

Father Stefan Frelichowski and Father Boleslaw Burian created a sort of alliance whose members were determined to endure, in a manner more consonant with the spirit of the Gospel, all the humiliations and sufferings of the camp, and to render an account of it all to Our Lady at 9 o'clock every night.

When the typhoid epidemic broke out, Father Frelichowski volunteered to serve the sick. He died giving his life for others, like St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Q: Did you see many companions die?

Archbishop Majdanski: Half of the Polish priests died who were imprisoned in Dachau. I saw so many priests die in a heroic way. All of them were faithful to Christ who said to his disciples: "You will be my witnesses." They died as Catholic priests and Polish patriots.

Some of them could have saved themselves, but none of them lowered themselves to such pacts. In 1942 the authorities of the camp offered Polish priests the possibility of special treatment, on the condition of declaring that they belonged to the German nation. No one came forward.

When Father Dominik Jedrzejewski was offered his freedom on the condition that he give up his priestly functions, he calmly answered "no," and died.

The martyrdom of the Polish clergy during the Nazi inferno was a glorious page of the history of the Church and of Poland. It is too bad that it has been covered by a veil of silence.