The Archbishop and the Concentration Camp

Retired Archbishop Philip. M. Hannan of New Orleans, still alive at the age of 98, discusses his service in the video above, made in 2007, with the 505th parachute infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne in World War II.  Ordained at the North American College in Rome on December 8, 1939, he served with the 82nd Airborne as a chaplain from 1942-46, and was known as the Jumping Padre.  He was assigned to be the chaplain of the 505th Regiment with the rank of Captain shortly after the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.  He had many adventures during his time with the 505th, but perhaps the most poignant was what happened to him on May 5th, 1945, in the final days of the War in Europe.

On May 5, 1945, the 505th overran a concentration camp near Wobbelin in Germany.  Captain Hannan and his assistant James Ospital hurried to the camp to see what they could do to help.  A scene of complete horror awaited them.  Corpses were sprawled everywhere.  Dying prisoners lay in filthy bunks crudely made out of branches.  All the prisoners looked like skeletons, both the dead and the living.  The camp reeked of the smells of a charnel house and a sewer.

He found a Belgian priest who had been in the camp since 1940.  He told the chaplain that another priest who had been arrested with him had just died.  Commandeering a truck, Hannan loaded as many prisoners into the truck as it could hold.   Here is a photograph of Hannan helping an inmate into the truck.

Since so many seemed on the verge of death he led them in an act of contrition and gave them a mass absolution.  He then had the truck driven to a nearby civilian hospital.  The Belgian priest refused to be helped until all the prisoners at the concentration camp had been aided.  The priest told him that throughout his captivity he had said mass every day, bribing the guards for a few crumbs of bread and a few drops of wine.  Even the non-Catholic prisoners took part in his masses, giving them something to live for. (more…)

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Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Archbishop and the Concentration Camp  
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