"Four Polish bishops were also killed in the camps, and nearly half of the Roman Catholic dioceses were deprived of the bishops who were at the head. Consequently, it can be said that it was not only a war against the Polish state and the Polish people, but also against the Catholic Church."
After the war, the clergy who survived Dachau fulfilled their vow, making a pilgrimage to Kalisz every year on April 29. In 1970, they founded a Chapel of Martyrdom and Gratitude in the crypt of St. Joseph's Shrine. At the chapel entrance, there is a representation of a barbed wire fence and a plaque thanking St. Joseph "for liberation from the abyss of death."
Poland's bishops established April 29 as the Day of Martyrdom of the Polish Clergy in 2002 as a way of continuing the survivors' annual act of thanksgiving. Fr. Leon Stepniak, the last surviving Polish priest imprisoned at Dachau, died in 2013.
Mass was celebrated in the Chapel of Martyrdom and Gratitude at noon local time April 29, marking both the 75th anniversary of Dachau's liberation and the 50th anniversary of the chapel's foundation.
In the decades following the war, the Polish and German bishops emphasized healing and forgiveness. In 1965, Poland's bishops sent a historic pastoral letter to their German counterparts calling for reconciliation between Poles and Germans. The letter was strongly supported by Karol Wojtyła, then archbishop of Kraków and the future Pope John Paul II.
Celebrating Mass at Dachau in 1995, German Cardinal Friedrich Wetter said: "Even when we see no grave around us, we are standing on the largest priest cemetery in the world."
He paid tribute to Polish clergy killed in the camp, saying that "Poles made the biggest sacrifice."
Germany's bishops issued a 23-page document April 29, examining their predecessors' actions during the war. They argued the wartime German bishops were complicit in the conflict because "they did not offer a clear 'no' to the war."
In a statement April 29 marking the 75th anniversary of Dachau's liberation and the Day of Martyrdom of the Polish Clergy, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki called for prayers for those who had experienced suffering.
"May it be an expression of our memory, honor and solidarity towards the martyrs and a prayer to God for peace and reconciliation for all," the president of the Polish bishops' conference said.
This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Fr. Leon Stepniak was not the last surviving Dachau prisoner, but rather the last surviving Polish priest imprisoned in the camp. The last surviving priest was the German Fr. Hermann Scheipers, who died in 2016.
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