I stumbled upon this history today and - quite surprised by the origins of the modern permanent diaconate - thought I would share. This passage comes from the website of the Archdiocese of Washington:
The Permanent Diaconate did not surface again for more than a thousand years. At the height of World War II, a group of Catholic men imprisoned at the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau buried the remains of hundreds of people who were murdered in the infamous gas chambers. In the midst of this dehumanizing environment of pain and cruelty, these men prayed for the courage to believe. They offered support and encouragement to all the nameless and voiceless ones around them. Somehow they kept faith alive, sustained hope, and witnessed to God's unconditional love.
Through not ordained and, totally unaware that what they were accomplishing would have worldwide significance, these men in Dachau became the restorers of the modern permanent diaconate. They were true "servants in the image of Jesus." After the war ended, these men continued to meet and work for the awakening in every Christian of a commitment to justice through service and stewardship. They were called, "the Deacon Circle."
In the years that followed, additional groups emerged throughout Germany, France, and Eastern European countries. These "Deacon Circles" were the first role models for an emerging lay apostolate which Pope Pius XII urged each diocesan church to nurture as a way of transforming every aspect of society.
In 1959, an International Diaconate Circle was organized. This organization prepared the way for the eventual restoration of the diaconate by drafting a petition asking that the diaconate be restored and, that it be opened to both married and single men. The Vatican received the final petition from the International Diaconate Circle in 1962. From there several of the Council Fathers, mostly from Germany, went on to develop a compilation of thirty-nine essays, called Diakonia in Christo, which addressed various aspects of ministry which could be carried out by a modernized permanent diaconate as well as the enormous value of such an ordained ministry to the Church.
In the course of the Vatican II discussions that followed, the permanent diaconate was restored by a majority vote of the Council on October 30, 1963. The restoration of the diaconate was promulgated as part of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church which was released on November 21, 1964.