Posted by: fvbcdm | August 3, 2016

Feast of Saint Lydia (3 August 2016)

It never ceases to amaze me to learn the kinds of information that are available on line. Last night, for example, I was looking up some biographical information, and the entry referred me to the year of death category. So I looked there, and found that you can look up any year and it will list the hundreds of people of any note who died that year.

That in turn led me to a French priest during World War II who became one of the most effective rescuers of the Jews being persecuted by the Nazis. He was called Pere Benoit—Father Benedict—and he was able to keep some four thousand Jews from falling into the hands of Hitler and his henchmen. He operated a very efficient printing establishment in the southern French port city of Marseilles, where thousands of passports and other official papers were forged to help the Jews cross international borders into Spain and Switzerland where they would not be in danger of extermination. That, in turn, led me to another category called “Catholic Heroes of the Holocaust.” A fascinating compilation of facts about Catholics who, during the horrible years of the Third Reich, did remarkable things to protect and save Jews. Thanks to the activities of the Catholics in Rome, for example, most Roman Jews were saved because every convent, monastery, seminary, and other religious house in Rome was a hiding place for the city’s Jews. And then we know that the family of Anne Franck, the teenage Jewish girl of Amsterdam, was hidden and provided with what they needed in hiding by a Catholic Dutch woman by the name of Miep Goes. Since the food rationing was so inadequate in Nazi-occupied Holland, those who gave of what little they had to the Jews in hiding were making a very generous sacrifice, a real act of love. During that last terrible winter of 1944-1945, many in Holland died of starvation and malnutrition.

I remember a very moving conversation I once had with an elderly Dutch woman on a train in Europe. We were total strangers to each other, but were seatmates, and she spoke some English. I asked her, as I always do, to tell me of her experiences during the war. She recalled life in her native Holland, and how it used to happen with some frequency that in the middle of the night, there would be a knock at the door. It was either a Jew or a downed British, Canadian, or American pilot, trying to get back to the coast where boats would take them in secret back across the English Channel to Britain to continue their struggle against Naziism. She said that her family dreaded those knocks at the door during the night. Each of them presented those inside with a terrible decision and a moral dilemma. Did you let the refugee come in, and then endanger your own family, since harboring political enemies of Hitler was punished by death if caught, or did you refuse them shelter, and then possibly condemn them to death if they were caught by the Germans?

Whenever I am in Europe and see or meet people as old as I am, I wonder about their experiences during the war. Each of them has memories; each has a story to tell. How I wish that each of them would write down those stories for posterity! But usually the memories are so painful that they want only to forget and to enjoy life now. One last fact: a German army officer named Keppler was in charge of the Nazi occupying troops in Rome during the war; on his deathbed years later, he called for an American priest named Monsignor O’Flaherty who had also spent the war years in Rome and was constantly hunted by the Nazis for his pro-Jewish activities. Keppler wanted to make his peace with God and with Monsignor O’Flaherty, and in the few days left to him, he became a Catholic, received the Sacraments from his former nemesis, and, I hope was then welcomed into eternal life by our Jewish Savior, Jesus Christ, and his Jewish mother, Mary. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.


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