CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP
Father Stephan Treuchel, S.A.C.
“Corpus Christi Procession in a Concentration Camp” is a Testimony of the profound faith of imprisoned priests, written by a survivor of the Nazi persecution, Father Stefan Treuchel, S.A.C., member of the Polish Province of the Pallottine Fathers. It is presented here by his classmate, Father M. Ignatius Curzydlo, S.A.C., chaplain of the V.A. Medical Center, Canandaigua, New York.
We express our gratitude to the unnamed lay persons who have underwritten the costs of producing this article.
The thermometer was rising heavenward on the third day of June in 1942. We were 120 priests interned at Dachau and our chief occupation lay in the building of a so-called “Barrack X.” The handling of masonry was very exacting of our strength and the extreme heat took toll of all our energy. Moreover, we were starved and craving for water and the strict surveillance of our captors, who did not permit even the shortest respite was almost more than we could humanly bear.
Our only consolation lay in silent prayer and Holy Communion stealthily though seldomly received. Sometimes at noon, our Kapo, Karl Wagner and Hilfskapo Gustav Eberle, former Communists who had fought with the Reds in the Spanish Civil War, and their helpers sought to escape the intense heat and retire into shade, and so we stopped working and instead our hearts were turned to the Throne of God in hearty prayer.
On this certain day in June, I stood beside Father Bronislaus Szymanski, (a fellow prisoner), who formerly served as a curate at a church in Suwalki. We were pretending to be using our trowels and hammers vigorously, when in reality we were trying to deaden our low chanting of the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
June the month of the Sacred Heart! How we wished to pay homage to this divine heart; yet, every means was denied us. We endeavored whenever possible, to recite the Litany to the Sacred Heart. This was done amid distraught distractions and many interruptions and it was sometimes after a long time that we were able to conclude, Sacred Heart of Jesus, delight of all the Saints, have mercy on us.
After the Litany on this memorable day, Father Bronislaus, after cautiously looking around whispered, “Father Stefan, will we be able to receive Holy Communion tomorrow?” “Why tomorrow?” I questioned. “Why especially tomorrow?”
“Because tomorrow is the Feast of Corpus Christi!”
Almost simultaneously with Father Bronislaus’s answer, Gustav came in view and with his unrefined and indelicate, “Auf, auf,” compelled us to return to work. I pretended to return for my tools for another word with Father Bronislaus, but for this I was brutally kicked and cursed at.
I hardly took notice of this for one incessant echo rant in my soul—tomorrow, Corpus Christi!
Dear God! Where will I obtain the Blessed Sacrament? True, not a distance from us were a group of German Priests, but we were entirely prohibited any conversation with them. Altar bread and wine—we had none!
But tomorrow—the feast of Corpus Christi!
No matter what I thought, every possibility to obtain the Blessed Eucharist for tomorrow morning seemed futile and yet how timely that we should receive It with great fervor—the feast of Its institution and the institution of the Priesthood. What to do? O Christ, Great Priest, we trust in Thee!
I had a restless night. The tension I was under reflected in my dreams and I was struggling with Gustav because he was about to tear away the Sacred Host from my hands when suddenly I awoke unrested to the “Auf, of” who was telling me that it was time to rise.
I washed and dressed hurriedly. After a very meagre breakfast I walked out to pray and tried to compensate in a small way for Holy Communion. I was surprised find almost immediately at my side, Father Joseph Fischer, a German Pallotine. He looked carefully around and handing me an envelope whispered, “Today is the feast of Corpus Christi and I brought you Holy Communion. Take care lest this be detected.” Could I ever describe my emotions? I scarcely had time for a whispered, “Thank you” when Father Fischer was gone and the shrill sound of a siren was summoning all of us. I took my place in line and pressed the Precious Envelope to my heart when from my soul burst out a prayer of Thanksgiving. But then, what should happen to me were my Treasure found? Would today be an inspection day? Where shall I place this envelope?
Suddenly an idea struck me! I took off my prisoner’s cap, tore a bit of lining, placed the envelope within and replaced my cap.
At the same time we had a roll call and after this we formed our lines to follow to our place of work. I hurriedly whispered to my companions and prisoner priests that I had the Blessed Sacrament with me so that each heart silently sang “Pange Linga Gloriosi.” We were nearing the gate and I felt that my heart would almost break because it beat so rapidly since I was ever conscious of the Treasure I carried in so inappropriate manner. If only not to be suspected and not detected!
Soon we were told to remove our caps and I lovingly fondled my Blessed Lord. We were recounted and then began the very unusual and unforgettable Corpus Christi Procession. My head covered with a prisoner’s cap served as the monstrance; the ejaculations we whispered—the incense; the rhythmic beating of our shoes against the pavement—the bells; and the azure sky—the canopy! Can one imagine anything more beautiful in the life of a priest—a prisoner?
The happiness and contentment we felt at having with us the King of Kings was enough to make us almost immune to the loud commands of Gustav to sing what we sang almost to loathing, “Die blauen Dragonen sie reiten, mit klingendem Spiel durch das Tor, Fanfaren sie begleiten, hell zu dem Himmel empor.” Yes, we sang, but the words had a very different meaning for us. We saw instead of the “blauen Dragonen” angel choirs accompanying us and their triumphant fanfare ascending into heaven.
Singing, some of us with our lips and some with our hearts, we finally came to the place of our work. We decided on groups and we agreed upon a place we were all to meet.
Normally, after a Corpus Christi Procession the Blessed Sacrament is reposed in the Tabernacle. Today, however, to our utter joy and happiness, our hearts were truly this Tabernacle.
Jesus Prisoner of Love, same to live in the hearts of His servants—prisoners in a Concentration Camp.
At the end of this Corpus Christi Procession on June 4, 1942, our hearts swelled out in the hymn of Praise and Thanksgiving, “TE DEUM LAUDAMUS”