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Oldest surviving Dachau concentration camp survivor dies at 100

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

He came face to face with Nazi evil at its most concentrated but used his faith to call for reconciliation afterwards. Polish priest Leon Stepniak, the oldest surviving inmate of the Dachau concentration camp has died at the age of 100.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Stepniak's ordeal began when he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940 in the village of Klebowiec. He spent the next five years in Dachau, the infamous concentration camp in southeast Germany. The camp was the first concentration camp to be opened by the Nazi government. KZ-Dachau was established near the town of Dachau in Bavaria in March 1933.

Heinrich Himmler, then Munich's chief of police, described the site as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."

After being released at the end of the Second World War, he returned to Poznan in Poland. He died over the weekend.

Stepniak became well-known for a speech he made at a commemoration to mark the liberation of Dachau, telling the audience that the camp's legacy should not be as a demand for revenge or recrimination, but as a sign of reconciliation.

Stepniak also said that Dachau's continued existence should serve as a reminder to ensure that no similar atrocity ever happens again.

During the war, Dachau was a leading center for the extermination of the Nazis' enemies, with around 32,000 people being killed there in total.

Dachau was originally set up to hold political prisoners and Jews, but after the annexation of Poland it began to hold more Poles than any other category of prisoner. It was also the main centers for Christian prisoners who were arrested because of their opposition to Adolf Hitler's regime.
 
Stepniak was one of at least 3,000 Catholic priests and bishops imprisoned at Dachau.

The camp was liberated by U.S. troops in April 1945.

American soldiers were so disgusted by the cruelty they found at Dachau that they summarily executed more than a dozen of the Nazi guards working there.

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