Karl Leisner was a Roman Catholic priest interned in the Dachau concentration camp. He died of tuberculosis shortly after being liberated by the Allied forces. He has been declared a martyr and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 23 June 1996, writes PETER SMITH.


Dachau, the first Nazi Concentration Camp, was opened in 1933 as a place for ‘enemies of the state’. By 1940 it was the main Camp for ‘religious’ prisoners, eventually having a population of over 3,000 priests, 2,597 of them being Roman Catholic. In 1940 a new prisoner arrived, Karl Leisner.

Born to a deeply religious family in 1915, he became an altar boy and, later, leader of the church’s Youth Group whose regular excursions always began with Mass. The Secret Police took a close interest in such organisations and, to avoid trouble, Karl regularly took the group to ‘safer’ places, such as Holland and Belgium.

After declaring “We love Christ and we will die for Christ” in 1937, Karl became a target of the Gestapo whose agents visited the Leisner house, confiscating many books and documents.

Having decided on a religious life, Karl went first to the Borromaun in Münster where Bishop von Galen immediately recognised his talents. His studies continued at Freiburg where he stayed with the Ruby family, overseeing the education of their sons.

His feelings for their daughter Elizabeth, however, caused him to have doubts about his future but once having gained entry to the Seminary, Elizabeth herself told him “not to abandon the priestly vocation” and in 1933 he became a Deacon.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own