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Last Catholic priest to survive Dachau camp dies

(RNS) The priest was one of around 2,800 clergy interned during World War II at Dachau.

(RNS) The last surviving Catholic priest imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp has died at the age of 102, more than 70 years after surviving a Nazi death march.

 The Rev. Hermann Scheipers died on June 2 in Ochtrup, Germany, the Catholic website Aleteia said.

 He spent more than four years at Dachau after being arrested in 1940, reportedly for supporting Polish forced laborers. “Here, you are defenseless, without dignity or rights,” Scheipers recalled being told on arriving at the Nazi camp.

 The priest was one of around 2,800 clergy interned during World War II at Dachau, according to LWL, a German cultural institute. The majority of clergy were Catholic, and more than two-thirds were Polish; only German priests were allowed to celebrate Mass in a chapel built inside their barracks.

 More than 1,000 priests died at Dachau, while of the total 200,000-prisoner population more than 41,500 were killed.

 Scheipers came close to being murdered after collapsing in 1942 and being taken to the invalid block, from where prisoners were sent to their deaths at a nearby gas chamber. But he was saved by his twin sister, Anna, who appealed to Nazi officers in Berlin and claimed there was unrest in the family’s home region over the killing of priests at Dachau.

 Anna’s intervention saved her sibling and Scheipers was able to escape from the Nazis during a forced death march in April 1945, days before the camp was liberated by U.S. troops.

 (Rosie Scammell is a Rome-based correspondent)