“Today it is the Old Testament who suffers for the New one.” Sœur Mirjam Else Michaelis (1899 – 1942, Auschwitz)
Can you imagine what might become of your life if you discovered you were Jewish? This happened to me at the age of seven when two Russian boys of my age were laughing at their companion calling him repeatedly ”Jew”, with the boy looking upset. I came home and asked my Mother what might it mean. She told me that I’m was a Jew, too, as she and as was my Father were. My father was an officer in the Red Army, who died with his battalion during the first two months of the war against the invading Nazi Germany (in that summer of 1941, I was just one year old).
The only thing I learned from this was that I’m also might be ridiculed one day as a Jew – and I decided that, if it would happen, I would fight with the scoffers for the dignity of my family. No explanations were given to me about who were Jews, what they did – good or bad or what might be the reasons of universal mockeries.
I didn’t learn the answers to these natural questions for other fifteen to sixty years, with many of them being very difficult to bear. Thus, for example, a capable Polish Catholic Priest, elevated to Monseigneur by Saint John-Paul II, couldn’t stand the relatively recent discovery that his parents were noble Polish persons who accepted the Jewish child from his Mother, she was arrested by the Nazis.
Edit Stein and Her Companions to the Auschwitz
But let us restrict ourselves here to the only one of Jewish paradoxes – the personal and eventually collective paradox of being both Jewish and Catholic.
Lifelong and cradle Catholic – the “adjectives” which are proper for very rare modern Jewish Catholics. Look, for example, at the biography of Edith Stein, the Jewish-Catholic martyr. Another modern Jewish-Christian martyr, Father Alexander Men of Russia, was happier: his Mother and her kind sister became Christians before he was born. Happier? At least he had no idea of hiding from Russian religious antisemites with axes who killed him, a 55 years old Russian Orthodox Priest, on September 9, 1990.
As to Edith Stein – Saint Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce – she escaped from German Nazis to a Covent in neutral Holland. Then Germany has invaded Holland, and when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all 244 Holland Catholics (some of them German, hiding here) of Jewish extraction. Edith Stein, a 50 years old Catholic Sister, was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she and others were murdered in gas chambers either a week later, or before the end of September 1942.
Among the fellow travelers of Edith Stein on her root to Auschwitz were sisters and brothers from the Jewish Löb family. Of eight kids Löb seven died as martyrs: three Trappistin Sisters – Hedwige (born 1908) and the twins Maria-Theresia and Veronica (1911), Trappist Fathers – Ignatius (1909) and Nivardus (1913), Trappist Brother Linus (1910), and layman Hans (1916).
The Christian Dignity of the Jew
The parents of the eight Löb children (the youngest, Paula, was the only survivor of the Nazi persecution), Ludwig Löb and Jansje van Gelder, Dutch Jews, embraced the Catholic faith together on October 10, 1906, just before their marriage. They died in peace, long before their children, in 1935 and 1938, aged 53 and 59.
Jansje Löb has always been committed to the ethical values of Jewry, and she suffered greatly when the Christians around her talked badly about Jews. Before the Holocaust, living peacefully in very tolerant Holland, she wrote:
If I had not been so convinced that I had found true faith, I would surely turn my back on the people who would have uttered such contemptuous words. These people who speak of the Jews know little about the Jewish people, their fidelity, their goodness, their common life and their cordial family relations. Since my time in the Catholic Church, I have missed all this – the overflowing humour and admirable hospitality. I have been so proud of all these qualities of Jewry, and here is how they are judged. Even though I belong to Jesus with all my heart and soul, I sympathise with my Jewish people. I remain in communion with my people, I would never betray my Jewish blood.
The Gift of Christian Solidarity
My respected German colleague, Carl Ludwig Siegel (1896-1981), not a Jew, has also “remained in communion with the Jewish people and never betrayed the Jewish blood”. Siegel left definitely Nazi Germany for the USA in 1940: “I saw what the organised mob had done”. After the German defeat, one of the greatest mathematicians of our time had been insistently invited to come back to his homeland.
Siegel returned in 1951, and in 1964 on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-University of Frankfurt where he gave a public talk about the history of the University. According to Siegel, it was his Jewish colleagues, outstanding German professionals, who made Mathematics great in Frankfurt and contributed do Siegel’s human and professional development: Arthur Schoenflies, Max Dehn, Paul Epstein, Ernst Hellinger, Otto Szász. As to decent “arian” scientists helping their Jewish colleagues, as he himself persistently did, Siegel reminds us that “in those days people who were considered decent were in the minority, and it took courage to defy the national socialist despots”.
Christian Dignity of the Founders of our Faith
Feelings of solidarity with one’s family, with one’s friends and colleagues, with one’s people, with humanity, are the noble motives of human life. But to belong to Jesus with all heart and soul is the bond of supreme importance, which not only enlightens and elevates one’s solidarity feelings and actions, but sometimes radically demands to abandon the real-life links with one’s family, one’s people, one’s humanity – to follow and serve our Lord.
Carl Ludwig Siegel didn’t abandon his homeland because of a few excellent Jewish colleagues, he faced an apparently more significant and profound appeal. Still, he cared about them and on an important occasion – the celebration of the “glory” of German sciences – he recounted the stories of its victims.
Not so obedient to his appeal, the Jewish prophet Jonah; he “made ready to flee to Tarshish, away from the Lord”. As to Abraham, he left his grand family, his homeland, the total sphere of his human experience – to wander in foreign deserts, full of dangers and powerful predators, and to spread “the overflowing humour and admirable hospitality” which Jansje van Gelder Löb “had so missed” – only because our Lord demanded it :
Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.
In 1938, facing the Italian collection of Fascist Decrees connected with the racial laws, our Pope Pius XI received members of the Catholic Radio of Belgium on a pilgrimage to tell them:
Listen carefully. Abraham is definitely our Patriarch, our forbearer. Spiritually we are all Semites.
The Jewish and the Catholic Faith
Personally, I have never suffered from antisemitism more than I have suffered as a paternal orphan and dissident in Russia, or as an immigrant in Europe, or as a father of a family in danger.
I discovered the historical gravity on the anti-Jewish intimidation first in Israel, whose very existence became the monument to the Jewish obliteration in Europe, and later in France, where the Jewish Ashkenazi community was manifesting its WWII sufferings (Sephardic Jews appeared in France after the WWII invited honourably by the French government to escape the troubles of North-African revolutions).
And I have started to personally approach the Catholic Church during my secret pilgrimages in honour of my beloved Virgin Mary only because of the sincere, intelligent and profound ecclesial contritions – Saint John-Paul’s II in the first place – for the historical errors of the treatment of Jews.
I love the Jews; they are my family. I deeply love Russia; my father died defending our homeland. I feel myself at home in France; the guest of Our Lady. I admire Canada; modest, courageous, hospitable. I believe in the high and noble world vocation of America. But my religion, first and foremost, is not about solidarity, it is about my origination from, my loving relationships with, and my service to the Almighty – to the Trinity of the Catholic Church and, in my particularly chivalrous case – to the Theotocos, the Mother of God.
As to the Church, it shares with me in the first place the gifts of Temple, Catholic Priesthood, Confessions, and Eucharist – coming from the Jewish tradition of direct communications with Almighty, the lost tradition which the today Jewry is praying about. Still, the solidarity comes next – the crucial part of our Catholic service.
Saint Joseph, our Heavenly Adoptive Jewish Father
“L’homme juste, qui portait en lui tout le patrimoine de l’Ancienne Alliance, a été aussi introduit dans le “commencement” de l’Alliance nouvelle et éternelle en Jésus Christ.” Jean-Paul II Exhortation Apostolique Redemptoris Custos – Guadian of the Redeemer
The Patriarchal lineage of founders of our faith, from Abraham to Saint Joseph, is presented intentionally – “spiritually we are all Semites” – even if not very precisely, in the beginning of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
With Saint Joseph, we find ourselves outside the assumed understanding of the Jewish father of family – the intention and the idea of the divine blessing given to Abraham. Accompanying Mary-Theotokos, the Mother of God, Joseph shares with her the inexpressible and, in common life, extremely dangerous Miracle of the Immaculate Conception. He carries thus, successfully, all responsibility for the life and well-being of Mary and, later, her Son.
In that, Saint Joseph reverses Adam’s sin, which was to share with Eve her sin, forgetting the forbidding Word our Lord and founding his family life on their mortal human “love”. Saint Joseph shares with Mary the Blessing of Our Lord, following her step by step – she who has reversed the fault of Eve. Mary has accepted immediately this blessing after its short but precise and resolute “examination”. This is why the Holy Family, penetrated by all human and divine love, is not based on what the world calls “amour” but on the loving, conceiving Word of our almighty Lord.
The evangelical silence of Saint Joseph is similar to the silence of our Father and His Servants, Angels: his service to our Lord – to happily bring to life and action the Redeemer – is absolute and thus hidden. Accepting to become a perfect father and husband, he accepted also to become the heavenly adoptive Jewish father of all of us, Catholics, whatever might be our origins or public state.
Saint Joseph should and will be the hero and pride of the Jewish people, too. Today he is my hero, my pride, and my guide and father.
Cuzco School, Escuela Cuzque ̃na, of Religious Art
The Spanish, after conquering in 1534 the Inca Empire, aspired to convert the Incas to Catholicism and sent a group of religious artists to Cusco, Peru. During 16th-18th centuries, the Escuela Cuzque ̃na produced many extraordinary religious images. Among them, the painting – for me, the icon – of Saint Joseph and the Christ Child.
The icon manifests Saint Joseph as a happy, intrepid young warrior and brilliant religious Master who guides his little Son toward a dignified, honest life of the Lord. Surprisingly for me, it is the first holy image, coming from the end of known to me world, which fully corresponds to my perception of the noble role of Saint Joseph – from the very beginning of the Gospel story to today.
Photography: See our Photographers page.