The Nazis’ systematic persecution and genocide led to the deaths of 6 million Jews in Europe, but Catholic priests and nuns were also among their victims.
Half of all Poland’s Catholic priests, monks and nuns suffered repression during the six years of World War II, with more than 2,800 killed at Nazi and Soviet hands. Researchers like Anna Jagodzinska of Poland’s National Remembrance Institute say clergy were particularly targeted as upholders of national culture and identity.
Of the nearly 2,800 clergy of all denominations incarcerated at the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, 1,773 were priests from Poland, of whom 868 were killed. Others were subjected to exhausting labour and pseudo-medical experiments.
Despite the horrors, many priests witnessed to the faith by hearing confessions and staging secret Masses, also offering practical and spiritual support to fellow inmates.
Catholic clergy of various nationalities died as martyrs at other Nazi-run camps, including the largest, Auschwitz-Birkenau, whose 1.2 million mostly Jewish victims included St Maximilian Kolbe and St Edith Stein, also known as St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Other beatified martyrs include 11 Polish nuns from the Holy Family of Nazareth shot by the Gestapo at Navahrudak, in present-day Belarus, in August 1943 after the nuns volunteered to die in place of local villagers. Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Dutch Carmelite, was killed with a lethal injection after defending Jews and press freedom. French lay Catholic Marcel Callo was sent to the camps for involvement with the Young Christian Worker movement.
Picture: Ss Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein are pictured in a combination photo. (CNS files).