Page 3, 22nd October 1948

22nd October 1948
Page 3
Page 3, 22nd October 1948 — WHEN EVERYTHING PERISHES

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Conclusion of GERTRUD VON LE FORT'S account of the Germans' "Journey Through The Night."

GERTRUD von Le Fort coneluded the first part of her article last week with the words:

With this I have reached the lowest depth of our journey through the night. It was just this horror of darkness, the discovery of the dreadful corruptibility of man, which was the pre-condition of an entirely new ,comprehension of the Light.

She continues:

I entreat you please, to understand this literally. You know that in those days Christianity in Germany was to be rooted out. We found ourselves put back into preChristian days. Can you understand that when in the darkness of that time we kept the Festivals of Advent and Christmas, we really understood what Christ had brought to the world by His grace and love and mercy ? Our innermost hearts had been prepared to receive the meaning of the Christmas miracle in a deep sense hitherto unknown to us. Never shall I forget the Christmas Midnight Mass in the crowded blacked-out church when the shrieking sirens suddenly sounded the warning, Which at any moment might become a full alert. No one moved to escape to safety. All were determined that the imminent danger should not rob them of the celebration of the Holy Night. So great was the desire for Christ that it was felt even by those who had been far from Him. Several times I heard surprising confessions made by non-Christians. We saw people join in the Corpus Christi processions who had in no way ever belonged to the Church. " It gives me a sense of satisfaction in these crazy days to show somewhere my reverence for a supernatural world," one of these strangers said to me once. Our churches were always full to overflowing. During the air-raids, down below in the shelters, Catholics were frequently begged by such strangers' to pray aloud. Because of the imminent danger of death, the Church authorised its priests to give General Absolution and Blessing to all baptised Christians, and these were asked for and received by many non-Catholics. Sometimes one is inclined to discount the significance of such happenings with the sceptical remark: "Oh well, that is just an expression of fear; misery teaches one to pray." In this case, I prefer to recall the fine explanation given to Bremond, saying that danger opens the door to the deeper and more essential fundamentals of the soul.

Relations with Protestants

Another thing which changed in those days was our relation to the Protestants. In the common menace to our religious treasures. our separated brethren found their way back, if not to a common creed, yet to a common love; and I do not believe that this attitude will change again. We have been through too much together for that. In present day Germany there are unfortunately many political and other controversies, but there is no longer any Confessional controversy. In many of the larger cities "Una Sancta " is working with an ever increasing success. There were also many among us who, by prayer and sacrifices. tried to aid those who were suffering under the Germans in other lands. We had a very lively compassion for them.

When, after the war, a foreign poetess 14w had been very popular in our country. wrote in our newspapers that for the time being she could not pardon us, since she believed neither in our sense of guilt nor in our repentance I often had to remember those prayers. Many times they had been offered also for this purpose and for her people. When .she wrote her article, many people in Germany urged nte to write a public reply to her. I have not done so. It did not seem to inc necessary that she should know abatis our prayers; it sufficed that God had accepted them and had protected her.

You will probably be surprised by this, but let me assure you that many accusations whichwere directed against us indiscriminately scarcely touched us-not because we were proud or impenitent, as is often maintained-but because the judgment of the Lord had passed over our nation. He who has stood before the Judgment seat of God no longer feels crushed by the judgments of men. Truly in His judgment we felt also pardoned, for the Lord's judgments always consist of punishment and forgiveness simultaneously, which is not always the case with human judgments.

Much more than formerly we learned to rely exclusively on God. This was the extraordinary, nay the simply invaluable benefit of a period

in which all our earthly supports were taken away from us. It is true we believed that heretofore also we had trusted in God; but what meaning has trusting in God so long PS one can depend upon a well-ordered State, upon security maintained by police. upon money, property, and a good reputation 7

When We Learn to Trust in God

I assure you that trusting in God means something entirely different when you are really dependent upon God alone-when all, yes all human security fails; when you must say to yourself, not only figuratively, but literally, that at any moment the roof over your head may collapse: at any moment everything may be gone-everything which you care for and value and which you even think indispensable. If you should fall sick to-morrow there will be no hospital for you. At any time you may be evicted from your home, and be put out on the street. For days and weeks you may be driven in an ox-cart, lying on straw, without finding a shelter: if you freeze to death, you freeze to death: if you starve, you will starve. At any time you may be put in prison and you may be killed in the most cruel and painful way without being in the least guilty and without the possibility of defending yourself. At any moment you may be informed that your relatives, your friends, have been buried under the rubble of their homes, or that they have perished in the gas chambers of concentration camps. At any moment this may be your fate also. And if you actually survive all these dangers, then the rest of your life will be overshadowed by the guilt of your nation. Never again will you be the child of a respected and honoured nationalthough you personally did not share in the crimes committed by your people and although you probably did your best to counteract them, I do not know whether you can have the slightest idea of such a situation.* I personally could not have had it before I myself had lived through it. It means nothing more, and nothing less, than the question: " What will remain when everything perishes ? '' And finally this dreadful question came to be asked about the last precious possessions of man, his religious possessions. Even these became precarious-there were few Catholic periodicals. lectures and books. Only at its very centre did the Church remain standing erect, in its innermost mystery of the Holy Mass and the Sacraments. But we were driven to ask: " How long will this last ? "Here too the same question arose. What will remain when everything else is gone ? When some day the doors of the church are shut. when the reception of the Sacraments becomes impossible, when the liturgy and the sermon are no longer heard. and when all churches are reduced to rubble and ashes ? The answer to all these questions could only be: "God will remain. Christ, the Lord of the Church. will stay with us, even if all visible signs of the Lord's Grace, all external signs of His Kingdom, disappear." I cannot tell you the great comfort given by this certainty when we faced the end of the world.

A New Love for Love

From this last experience I should like once again to return to the beginning of my story. As amid all the ruin, so also amid the collapse of our faith in humanity, nothing survived but the certainty of a never-failing Divine Love, so the last change we underwent concerns our relation, not towards the sin, but towards the sinner. You will always find that those who are most ready to forgive and he merciful are just the ones who have themselves been through the same hitter experience; whereas persons not directly concerned with the matter are frequently more severe. Just as the darkness opens our eyes to receive the light. just as the experiences iii de-Christianised nations has taught us to recognise the full glory of Christ, so the experience of relentless malice gave us a new attitude towards love: I might almost say a wholly new love for Love. To this I must add another thing. The closer we got to the horrifying events, the more we understood about their temptations-I am not here thinking of the perpetrators and those who took part in the crimes, but of those numerous weak persons who helped to make those crimes possible. by keeping silent and by not resisting, although they did not participate in or approve them. At the risk of being misunderstood I should like to tell you that to a certain extent I understand those weak ones. For the new relation towards man means also a new relation towards one's own self. I remember, for instance, those poets who were ordered to write the wellknown panegyric of Hitler. Some did write it. and they are now despised, but those who did not write it judge them less hardly, for they know what agony it cost to refuse. I am convinced that fundamentally we all passed through this period just like little frightened Blanche in my novel Die Letste am Scharfott, about whom you read," they waited to see the triumph of a heroine, but what they saw was the miracle of the weak.' Not otherwise have even the strong come through this peried, and if they are honest they will admit this. For under torture, heroism gives way and there remains only the power given to us from above. We who have faced the dreadful possibilities in man cannot allow any palliation of human frailty, but neither can we permit the utter condemnation of that frailty.

To Love, In Spite Of . . .

And now I come to my last point. Our new and profoundly sceptical attitude towards man naturally includes also our own nation. Our illusions about our people, our pride in them, have gone-so far as their present day appearance is concerned. Our love for them has not perished. On the contrary, it is deeper and stronger than ever. It must largely be the love of Him who sat together with publicans and sinners and Who, according to His own words. has come on purpose to seek the lost. One of the greatest benefits which these past days brought to us I reckon to be the understanding of the true meaning of Christian love. Most Christians -I include myself among themgive their love to the good and honourable, to people who are gentle and agreeable. That is good and right, as the natural love of a noble character for a noble character, but that is not yet true Christian love. Christian love-this means to know the worthlessness and utter hollowness of man's character, and yet to love him.

• Gerund von Le Fort was addressing in the first instance the people of Switzerland, a neutral country.-EDITOR'S NOTE.


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