Meeting of the Edith Stein Guild, St. Patrick's Cathedral, early 90's.
Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure.
Edith Foss, nee Wallner, was a Viennese Jewish convert to the Catholic faith. Her name was Fössl, but she thought it best to change it to Foss, because, she said, Americans would pronounce the Germanic form as "fossil."
Having had the good fortune to have visited Vienna during the time that I knew Edith, I showed her the photos I took, notably those of St. Stephen's Cathedral. She used to attend St. Stephen's after her conversion in the late 30's. One day, an Austrian girl approached her in the church and asked, "Was machst du hier, du Judin?!" "What are you doing here, you Jew?!" That's a nice attitude. Edith replied, that if the girl had a problem, she should tell the pastor about it, who would have doubtless told her to get lost. Edith used to say that the Austrians were even worse anti-semites than the Germans. She recalled an incident in which some Austrian punks threw rocks at Edith and her mother, shouting, "Jump, Jew, jump!"
Edith at that time worked at the Archbishop's Relief Center for Non-Aryan Catholics. "Non-Aryan Catholics" were Jewish converts to Catholicism -- the Nazis forced the church authorities to designate their center in that fashion. There were a lot of children at the center, and one day a Nazi truck pulled up and took away one of the little girls. She was never seen again. Edith showed me a little rosary that the girl had given her as a souvenir.
In 1942, her director, Rev. Ludger Born, S.J., advised her to flee the country because the Gestapo had discovered that she was engaged in subversive activities -- namely, bringing food to Jewish children at the Relief Center. Thus began an adventure that would have been worthy of the attention of Alfred Hitchcock. A Catholic friend, who had blond hair like Edith, gave Edith her passport. Of course this was a very dangerous act, because the Gestapo were all hell on people who "lost their passports." If there were low-life Austrians as described above, there were also heroic ones who put their life on the line for others. Edith took passage on a train bound for the Italian border. When she saw the Gestapo entering the car in order to check passports, thinking quickly, she reasoned that it would go better for her if she managed to be the first to have her papers reviewed. She stood up, handed over her passport, and asked to be vetted right away, because, she said, she had to go to the bathroom. When the agent showed signs of doubt as he compared the passport with the person, Edith blew her stack and said, capitalizing on her blond hair, "How dare you inconvenience an Aryan woman in this manner?!" It worked. The agent handed the passport back and Edith went off.
After detraining, she began walking toward the border. She carried nothing with her, because obviously, a suitcase would have been blatantly incriminating. She was approached by a man whom she took to be a quisling or a Nazi agent, who, feigning innocence, asked whether the border were anywhere in the vicinity. Edith, parrying the thrust, replied that she was only visiting and was out for a walk and knew nothing about any borders. Again, she pulled it off. She continued hiking up the mountains, eventually descending the slopes on the Italian side. She'd made it to safety. In contrast, a Jewish acquaintance of hers, forbearing to abandon his apartment in Vienna in which he had a superb library, ended by dying in Auschwitz.
In Rome, Edith made the acquaintance of a priest named Anton Weber, who assisted her during what was to be a long sojourn. She also made the acquaintance of a Nazi agent who was on his way to North Africa in order to spy out the land for the planned invasion. To gain his repentance and salvation, Edith offered the Communions of the Nine First Fridays for his soul. Now it seems that the North African desert is home to some nasty pathogens that induce tuberculosis of the nose. Rommel was to be hit with this infection, and our agent did not dodge it, returning to Rome to enter a hospital. Before dying, he called for a priest, confessed himself, and passed away in the grace of Our Lord, who withholds nothing from anyone who asks.
In the late 90's, Edith asked a local Ridgewood (Queens) pastor, Msgr. Schaffenberger, if he could somehow make contact with her sometime benefactor, Fr. Anton Weber. Believe it or not, Msgr. Schaffenberger succeeded in locating Fr. Weber in Rome, who was by then a prelate in the Church. Edith was delighted to be able to correspond with her friend. Fr. Anton Weber passed away only a few months later, and Edith herself also passed away a short time after that.
Thus an age was ended. When it's my turn, I hope to see Edith (and many others, and pets too!) waiting for me.
O Lord, Thy mercy is in heaven, and Thy truth reacheth even to the clouds. Thy justice is as the mountains of God, Thy judgments are a great deep. Men and beasts Thou wilt preserve, O Lord. O how hast Thou multiplied Thy mercy, O God! But the children of men shall put their trust under the covert of Thy wings. They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house; and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure. For with thee is the fountain of life; and in thy light we shall see light. -- Ps. 35:6-10.
P.S. After living in New York for years, she found herself in Booth Memorial Hospital with a tumor in her head, around the forehead. The doctor said it was cancer. A friend of hers traveled to San Giovsanni Rotondo in Italy to visit Padre Pio. As Edith told it to me, Padre Pio said "Pregherò che non sia niente di grave," that is, "I will pray that it should be nothing serious." At that moment in Booth Memorial, the doctor came into Edith's room and said, "Edith, it's nothing serious!" [To be continued.]