Saturday, 6 November 2010

Br Raphael

As things go this has been a very good week. I've got quite a bit of work done, made progess in some other areas of my work and generally things seem to be taking shape quite nicely.

One of the bext things to move forward this week was my work on a Biography for the 'Memory Book', a collection of detailed histories of over 120 former inmates of Dachau Concentration Camp. This is a project with which the Versöhnungskirche is closely aligned and as such we spend one day a week at the office in Münchnerstraße, Central Dachau, helping with things from translation work to administering the accompanying travelling exhibition "Names Instead of Numbers".

However, it is often considered important for volunteers to get involved with the production of a biography of their own, so as to understand better the personal nature of the work we do. I think I have mentioned the Carmelite friar Br. Raphael Tijhuis in a previous post (later pilfered by the website of the Biritsh Province of Carmelites!). His Dachau diary, Nothing Can Stop God From Reaching Us is a moving account of his experiences as a prisoner of the Nazis from his arrest in Mainz in 1940, to his incarceration in the camp at Dachau in 1942, right up to his liberation in 1945. I would recommend you read it yourselves rather than me bother to try and sum it up in a couple of paragraphs here.

However, my only complaint about the Edizioni Camelitani edition is that there is very little on his life after Dachau. This information is of vital scholarly importance, not only to a biography of his life but to an understanding of the post war lives of religious prisoners in general who were interned in Dachau. I have learned from various sources, not least friars who lived in Rome with Raphael in the 1960s and 1970s, that he was a deeply traumatised man with mental scars from the horrors he once saw.

What is less well known, and not remarked to in the book at all, is that he did come back to Dachau in the 1960s. I have seen photos in the Memorial Site Library of Raphael with other former prisoners at the opening of the memorials in around 1965. There is also a picture of him in audience with Pope Paul VI and a number of other survivors, suggesting that however painful the memories were he was involved in the remembrance culture of the day.

These are all preliminary thoughts, very broad brush strokes of his life. In December I will hopefully visit the Carmel in Mainz where he was arrested and begin to piece together something of his pre and post war life. If you have any information on Br. Raphael that may be relevant to a short biography of his life, or indeed have any queries pertaining to this work, please do not hesitiate to contact me at

The image is of the Camp Chapel, attributed to Raphael, and was drawn as a gift for Bl. Karl Leisner on his ordination. Photo courtesy of

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