Monday, January 27, 2014

The Righteous Among the Nations - Mother Maria Skobstova (Yelizaveta Pilenko)

Yad Vashem recognizes the Skobstova family in its Righteous Among the Nations.

Mother Maria Skobtsova (Yelizaveta Skobtsova, née Pilenko), also known as "the rebel nun," was one of my inspirations as a young person, and continues to inspire to this day.  Born to an aristocratic Russian family in Riga, Latvia, she was variously an atheist, a Bolshevik (she even planned Trotsky's assassination once), a Catholic, and a poet--she was married twice, but took monastic vows as an Orthodox nun at age 40 and devoted herself to serving others, especially immigrants. She created a home in Paris for those in need, feeding and clothing as many as she could. In July 1942, when the Jews of Paris were ordered to wear yellow stars, she wrote this poem:


Two triangles, a star,
The shield of King David, our forefather.
This is election, not offense.
The great path and not an evil.
Once more in a term fulfilled,
Once more roars the trumpet of the end;
And the fate of a great people
Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.
Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,
But what can human malice mean to thee,
who have heard the thunder from Sinai?

Mother Maria thought everyone in Paris should be wearing the yellow star. "If we were true Christians we would all wear the Star," she was quoted as saying. She and her associate Fr. Klepenin used their status as members of the clergy to enter a stadium where detainees were held, issue many false baptism certificates, to smuggle children out of Paris in refuse bins, and feed the detainees.

Yad Vashem states, "the parcels saved them from starvation between December 1941 and March 1942. One of the hostages, Georges Wellers, testified to this operation. On March 26, 1942, Father Klepinin gave Wellers’ wife, Anne, a false baptismal certificate. As a consequence,” wrote the historian Wellers, “I was not deported [before June 30, 1944], nor was my wife nor our children.” Mother Maria, together with her son Yuri, and Father Dimitri, were arrested and interrogated in February 1943. Dimitri Klepinin and Yuri Skobtsov were transferred to Buchenwald camp and then to Dora, where they died in February 1944. Mother Maria was deported to the Ravensbrück camp, where she perished on March 31, 1945."

"However hard I try, I find it impossible to construct anything greater than these three words, 'Love one another' —only to the end, and without exceptions: then all is justified and life is illumined, whereas otherwise it is an abomination and a burden."

--Mother Maria Skobtsova

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