Friday, June 30, 2006

The angel of Dachau (Engelmar Unzeitig)

Engelmar Unzeitig, a newly-ordained Marianhill priest, was arrested by the Nazis for defending the Jews in his sermons. In 1941, he was deported to Dachau, a concentration camp for political prisoners. Dachau itself was called the “largest monastery in the world” because of the great number of priests deported there during the war. There, Catholic and Protestant prisoners united and prayed together and helped each other.

Despite the hellish atmosphere in Dachau, Fr. Engelmar regarded it as a school of holiness. He once wrote to his sister, “What sometimes appear as misfortune is often the greatest fortune. How much a person learns only through experience in the school of life? We should feel and experience for others, I think, the lack of peace in the world and help them to true peace. Then we are not surprised if God takes from us some tings which are dear and precious to us.”

When not engaged in labor, he would help and encouraged the other prisoners, especially the Russian Communists. He gained their trust and developed a friendship with them.

He survived four years in the camp, but he might have survived more years in the camp, had it not been for a terrible outbreak of typhoid. Those who were infected were sent to a special barrack, where they were left to die without dignity. A call went out for volunteers who would take care of the sick prisoners. Twenty priests stepped forward, including Fr. Engelmar.

The priests who volunteered knew that they won’t get out of the barracks alive. All but two prisoners died while taking care of the sick. In the seemingly God-forsaken place, the priests brought the presence of God and administered to the sick the sacraments. The guards would not enter the barracks, so the priests found the place as a haven to practice their religion.

Witnesses testified to Fr. Engelmar as an “angel of mercy” who poured out himself in tireless service to his companions. Within six weeks in the barracks, he contacted the typhoid. Still, he continued hearing confessions. He died on March 2, 1945, the day after his thirty-fourth birthday. A few weeks later, the Americans liberated the camp.


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