Two Masses in Belsen Concentration Camp, liberated on 15 April 1945
I'm updating this post on 15 April 2010, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen. I'm also adding some photos.
James Molyneaux, who later became a politician in Northern Ireland, was a young officer in the British Forces that liberated Belsen Concentration Camp in April 1945 at the end of World War II. Here is his description of what can truly be called a celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It’s from an article published in The Daily Telegraph, England, five years ago.
'The most moving experience came on the second morning as I was walking from what had been the luxury SS barracks which our troops had transformed into a hospital. My attention was drawn to two packing cases covered by a worn red curtain. A young Polish priest was clinging to this makeshift altar with one hand, while celebrating Mass. Between his feet lay the body of another priest who probably died during the night. No one had had the energy to move the body. 'I had no difficulty in following the old Latin Mass, having been educated at St James's Roman Catholic School in County Antrim, and, although an Anglican, I had gained a working knowledge of all the rituals. Still supporting himself against the altar, the young priest did his best to distribute the consecrated elements(editor's note: the Body of Christ). Some recipients were able to stumble over the rough, scrubby heathland. Others crawled forward to receive the tokens (editor's note: to receive the Body of Christ) and then crawled back to share them with others unable to move. Some almost certainly passed on to another - probably better - world before sunset. Whatever one's race or religion one can only be uplifted and impressed by that truly remarkable proof of the ultimate triumph of good over evil.'
The other account of a Mass in Belsen (from the BBC) after liberation was by an Irish Jesuit, Fr Michael Morrison, who was a chaplain with the group that liberated Belsen. 'During his time in Belsen, Morrison witnessed many horrors but he also had times of great joy. After the first few days of total chaos, Morrison began to set himself up properly. When his work of anointing the sick and the dead began to lessen, Morrison decided to hold the first Mass to be said in the camp. However on the day he was supposed to hold the Mass, it poured rain. The rain was so bad that Morrison thought of canceling the Mass as he felt that no one would come. When he walked out on the makeshift altar he was stunned to see hundreds of people of many different religions waiting. He felt this to be one of the greatest moments of his life and so began to say Mass every day.'
Father Morrison clearly wasn’t aware of the Mass offered by the Polish prisoner-priest but both accounts surely are a testimony to the power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to the presence of faith and hope in God and of the presence of God’s love in the midst of evil.
Symbolic grave of Anne Frank in Belsen