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Chapter 3

The Clerics of Dachau


For five years Dachau was home to the largest religious community in the world. 2,771 clerics were fenced up in this immense concentration camp. More than a thousand died there.


By the end of 1940 Himmler decided that all preachers, priests and other clerics had to be brought together in one camp: Dachau. They were housed in cell blocks 26 and 28.  The Poles, who were the majority in cell block 26, the rest in cell block 28.


2,580 Roman Catholic priests and seminarians were there, from 38 countries. In addition, 109 preachers, 30 orthodox clerics and 2 Islamic imams.


These numbers are for Dachau only. They do not take into consideration the preachers and clerics who were tortured, or murdered in prisons or in the street. In Poland alone 700 priests were killed by the Nazis; in Dachau, the Poles were the ones who had to suffer the most. They wound up in punishment details or were exposed to medical experiments.


In February the Gestapo arrested 62 priests and transported them to Dachau. Only 41 of them made it to the camp. The rest succumbed during the journey.


Although the clerics had a hard time, they also had some privileges. It was possible to hold small, improvised religious services in the barracks. But just as important was the fact that the inhabitants of cell blocks 26 and 28, could receive packets with groceries, unlike most others.


Amongst the clerics in Dachau were a few hundred Dutchmen, protestant preachers and Roman Catholic priests. Amongst them was Professor Doctor Titus Brandsma of the Carmelite order, who was the rector of Nijmegen Catholic University.


Brandsma was born in Friesland in 1881, studied Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Nijmegen and was named professor at the newly established Nijmegen University. There he taught Philosophy and History of Religion, more specifically Dutch mysticism. In 1935 the archbishop of Utrecht named him spiritual advisor to the Roman Catholic journalistic society. A lot of his teachings were devoted to the troubling aspects of the national socialistic world views. In 1941 he made a journey to all directors and editors or the catholic press to warn them about the dangers of the national socialist movement. On January 19, 1942 he was arrested and imprisoned in Scheveningen (the Orangehotel).


“Der Pater Titus Brandsma (Nimwegen) ist wegen planmässiger Vorbereitung einer gegen die Deutschen Besatzungsbehörden  regichteten oppositionellen Bewegung umgehend zu verhaften und in einem Konzentrationslager zuzuführen”.


“Father Titus Brandsma (Nijmegen), due to deliberate planning of a movement against the German occupation, has been arrested and will be transported to a concentration camp.”


Through Vught, he arrived at Dachau, where he died the summer of that same year. After long deliberations between the `s Hertogenbosch bishopric and Rome, he was declared a saint in 1957. In his cell in the prison in Scheveningen, Brandsma wrote this poem:




O, Jezus, als ik U aanschouw

Dan leeft weer dat ik van U hou

En dat ook Uw hart mij bemint

Nog wel als Uw bijzondere vriend.

Al vraagt dat mij meer lijdensmoed

Och, alle lijden is my goed

Omdat ik daardoor U gelijk

En dit de weg is naar Uw Rijk


Ik ben gelukkig in mijn leed

Omdat ik het geen leed meer weet

Maar het alleruitverkorenst lot

dat mij vereent me U, o God.


“O, Jesus, when I look at you

My love for you lives again

And that Your heart loves me too

As Your very special friend

Although this asks more suffering of me

Oh, all my suffering is fine for me

Because I will resemble You that way

And this is the road to Your kingdom


I am happy in my suffering

Because I don't see it as suffering anymore

But the most privileged destiny

Which will unite me with You, oh God.”