By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.
Over the centuries, rosaries have been made of everything from precious stones to rustic beads. Few have sacrificed more to make a rosary, however, than prisoners of concentration camps or gulags.
At Auschwitz, prisoners were stripped of every material possession, even their names, left simply with striped uniforms and identifying numbers on their arms. What could they possibly make a rosary from? Their lifeline - bread. Every bead represented a sacrifice of the meager rations to make the blessed beaded chain. Not only did they risk their lives physically by offering up their rations, the prisoners knew that if they were caught with a rosary, they would be severely punished or face death.
One of these treasured rosaries survived the war and today is featured in Poland at the monastery of Jasna Gora, where the treasured icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is housed (photo above).
Catholics in Siberia, suffering slave labor and imprisonment as political enemies of the Soviet State, also resorted to bread rosaries. Fr. Alfonsas Svarinskas, a Lithuanian priest who endured the 21 years in the camps, handed his rosary of bread to Pope John Paul II during Mass in at St. Peter's in 1988.