Friday, September 19, 2008

Our Lady and the Jewish Author

So the pope was recently in Lourdes, France, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes and the message delivered through St. Bernadette Soubirous. I thought I would recall the "personal preface" to the best-selling historical novel, The Song of Bernadette, written by Jewish author Franz Werfel:
In the last days of June 1940, in flight from our mortal enemies after the collapse of France, we reached the city of Lourdes. The two of us, my wife and I, had hoped to be able to elude them in time to cross the Spanish frontier to Portugal. But since the consuls unanimously refused the requisite visas, we had no alternative but to flee back with great difficulty to the interior of France on the very night on which the National Socialist troops occupied the border town of Hendaye. The Pyrenean départements had turned into a phantasmagoria -- a very camp of chaos. The millions of this strange migration of peoples wandered about on the roads and obstructed the towns and villages: Frenchmen, Belgians, Dutchmen, Poles, Czechs, Austrians, exiled Germans, and, mingled with these, soldiers of the defeated armies. There was barely food enough to still the extreme pangs of hunger. There was no shelter to be had at all. Anyone who had obtained possession of an upholstered chair for his night's rest was an object of envy. In endless lines stood the cars of the fugitives, piled mountain-high with household gear, with mattresses and beds; there was no gasoline to be had. In Pau a family settled there told us that Lourdes was the one place where, if luck were kind, one might still find a roof. Since the famous city was but thirty kilometres distant, we were advised to make the attempt and knock at its gates. We followed this advice and were sheltered at last.

It was in this manner that Providence brought me to Lourdes, of the miraculous history of which I had hitherto had but the most superficial knowledge. We hid for several weeks in the Pyrenean city. It was a time of great dread. The British radio announced that I had been murdered by the National Socialists. Nor did I doubt that such would be my fate were I to fall into the hands of the enemy. An article of the Armistice provided that France turn over certain civilians to the National Socialists. Who could these civilians be but those who had fought the modern pestilence in the days of its modest beginnings? In my friends' eyes I read the same conviction, although their words sought to calm me. A few of the initiated pretended to know the number of those who were to be turned over and the very order of their documented names. At such moments the boundary between rumour and fact is obliterated. The most sublime stubborn reports predicted again and again the conqueror's occupation of the Pyrenees on the following day. Each morning when I woke up it was in ignorance as to whether I was still a free man or a prisoner condemned to death.

It was, I repeat, a time of great dread. But it was also a time of great significance for me, for I became acquainted with the wondrous history of the girl Bernadette Soubirous and also with the wondrous facts concerning the healings of Lourdes. One day in my great distress I made a vow. I vowed that if I escaped from this desperate situation and reached the saving shores of America, I would put off all other tasks and sing, as best I could, the song of Bernadette.

This book is the fulfilment of my vow...

I have dared to sing the song of Bernadette, although I am not a Catholic but a Jew; and I drew courage from this undertaking from a far older and far more unconscious vow of mine. Even in the days when I wrote my first verses I vowed that I would evermore and everywhere in all I wrote magnify the divine mystery and the holiness of man -- careless of a period which has turned away with scorn and rage and indifference from these ultimate values of our mortal lot.

Franz Werfel, Los Angeles, May 1941

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails