Friday, June 30, 2006

She offered herself consciously to the holocaust (Maria Skobtsova)

When Paris fell to the Nazis, Maria Skobtsova, an Orthodox nun from Russia, joined some colleagues in preparing and dispatching food parcels and funds to families of more than a thousand Russian émigrés who were imprisoned by the Nazis. She also hid Jews and forged documents for them. Although the danger to her personal safety increased daily, she never stopped helping those who needed it most, including many Jews. As the persecution and imprisonment of the Jews in Paris grew, Mother Maria helped to smuggle in food to those already in the camps. Eventually, she became involved with the Jewish Resistance in Paris.

In 1942, 6,900 Jews were rounded up and kept for five days in Paris’ sports stadium. Mother Maria managed to enter the stadium and, with the help of some garbage collectors, smuggled out several Jewish children out in garbage bins.

Because she was so well known in Paris as a defender of the poor and persecuted, and because of her defiant attitude toward the Nazis, it was perhaps inevitable that Mother Maria herself was finally arrested and later imprisoned. In response to the accusation that Mother Maria was helping Jews, her mother, Sophia, told the Gestapo, “My daughter is a genuine Christian, and for her there is neither Greek nor Jew, only individuals in distress. If you were threatened by some disaster, she would help you too.” Arrested with her were Iura, her son from a previous marriage, and Father Klepinin, an Orthodox priest who was Mother Maria’s chaplain.

Mother Maria was brought to Ravensbruck concentration camp, a camp for women. Working alongside other inmates she endured great physical hardship that took its toll on her health, and eventually resulted in her death. Yet throughout it all, she remained steadfast, true to her calling, and uncompromising in her love for God and her fellow human beings.

Finally, Maria, her health broken, could no longer pass the roll call on Good Friday in 1945. She was killed in the gas chamber on the next day, Holy Saturday. She voluntarily went to the gas chambers in order to prepare her companions for death. On Easter Sunday, the day after her death, Ravensbruck was liberated by the International Red Cross.
A witness said about Mother Maria, “She offered herself consciously to the holocaust . . . Thus assisting each one of us to accept the cross . . . She radiated the peace of God and communicated it to us.”


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