Submitted by Don Doman.
Dachau concentration camp was first built in Nazi Germany to hold political prisoners. A political prisoner is someone who disagrees with the current regime. In Nazi Germany that meant Adolf Hitler and his cronies. He sought total control. He padded the courts with fellow Nazis. Nazis were a combination of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and other far-right groups. Hitler demanded unquestioned loyalty. That he lied to his people, his enemies, and the world didn’t matter. He threatened his neighbors and lied to them, too . . . just another day at work.
Hitler was a master at naming bad things with good titles and slogans like “Arbeit macht frei,” which is a German phrase meaning “work sets you free”. That slogan appeared at the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Between 1933, when Hitler was elected and 1945 when Hitler was defeated there were 23 main Nazi concentration camps as well a other subcamps for a total of 900 people prisons including camps called “care facilities for foreign children.”
Families were separated from each other. Hitler didn’t care if people starved or died. The daily food ration in 1943 was one loaf of bread per four prisoners. Prisoners were tortured for no reason or killed for any infraction. Priests were housed separately, but their food ration was one loaf of bread for every three prisoners. This was not out of kindness. This was done so average prisoners would hate the priests. Social unrest is always a tool used by the unscrupulous.
I recently watched The Ninth Day, a 2004 German historical film. The story is based in part on the life of Father Jean Bernard (1907–1994). The book was printed as Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau (ISBN 978-0972598170). The movie is available on Netflix. In the film a Catholic priest is released from Dachau for nine days. He is sent to stay with his family in Luxembourg. The Nazis want him to pressure his bishop in Luxemburg to cooperate with the Nazis. He needs to persuade the bishop or he must create a statement that might convince other priests to cooperate. If he does that then he would not have to return to the concentration camp. Another option would be to run away to seek asylum in another country, which would endanger his family. Or to return to Dachau to face the horrors of starvation, torture, and possible death. What would you do? Would you have the courage to do the right thing? The priest is a man of principle. He submits a blank page to the SS Officers and returns to Dachau. Dachau was liberated by the United States Army on April 29, 1945.
Someone with a set of moral principles faithfully follows those instead of abandoning them in times of inconvenience. We build our life of principles by the books we read, our religions, the films and TV shows we see, and the people we spend time with an look up to. I remember as a young boy seeing the Davy Crockett episodes presented by Walt Disney. Davy said, “Be sure you’re right then go ahead.” In the movie Hondo, the character played by John Wayne says, “A man oughta do what he thinks is best.” Later I read Ayn Rand and loved her philosophy, “A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”
In a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine, John Wayne said, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.” My temporary heroes have turned out to be bad examples of people with principles. Davy Crockett and the Alamo has lost its charm because I now know that the epic battle was waged by people who wanted to steal the country from Mexico after they had signed papers and accepted free land and became Mexican citizens. The battle of the Alamo was fought in part to defend slavery. Walt Disney refused to hire women animators and happily appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denounced as communists members of the Screen Actors Guild as well as his own animators whom he had grossly underpaid. Ayn Rand was just plain wrong. She and her characters lacked gratitude and empathy. Although these people had principles, they just fell short of ideal.
A personal example of a principled man probably should have been President Harry S Truman, who said “I don’t pass the buck, nor do I alibi out of any decision I make.” I liked his ideals, “We do not believe that men exist merely to strengthen the state or to be cogs in the economic machine. We do believe that governments are created to serve the people and that economic systems exist to minister to their wants.”
I was a Cub Scout, a Jaycee, and a Rotarian . . . each one had a code of ethics and a pledge. I do the best I can, but sometimes I fail . . . actually, I often fail. Return on my own to Dachau? I don’t think I could live with myself if I put my family at risk, but I would sure look for loop holes and alternative solutions. The priest simply returned to the camp. He had to. His principles wouldn’t allow any other pathway.