WOMEN AND COURAGE: Saving All Beings

June 29, 2009

In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.- Anne Frank

When I met non-Jews who had risked their lives to save Jews in the Holocaust, every story astonished me, yet the stories that the women told me were the most remarkable. We met a gentle Dutch psychoanalyst who described how she had to shoot a Nazi sympathizer who found her hiding three orphaned children. A Belgian woman was teaching school when one day all the Jewish students were missing. She went to work for the Resistance that day, taking children from their families to non-Jewish families for hiding. Perhaps the most remarkable woman we met was Grafin Maria Von Maltzan. A veterinarian living in Berlin and whose father was the Duke of Silesia, she defied her family by marrying a Jew and escorting hundreds of Jews into Switzerland.

When we think of the courage of war heroes, women don’t come to mind, yet most of the over one hundred rescuers I met in the late eighties were women. They grew up in a world where women didn’t pack pistols, lied easily to Nazi soldiers, and in the case of Germans, resist their government. And let’s not forget that saving Jews wasn’t going to be something you would brag about to your friends.

Yet something in them called beyond narrow definitions of a woman’s life. The heart of a woman warrior is a heart of love, a heart that cannot bear injustice and cruelty, and will do whatever necessary to preserve life. A woman’s body speaks creation and nurturance. In a world that regularly allows the strong to dominate the weak, it takes courage to be a woman.