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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Heroic midwife of Auschwitz

At Seattle Catholic, you can read the story by Matthew Anger of the heroic midwife of Auschwitz, Stanislawa Leszczynska. The conditions under which mothers had to give birth were quite horrific and babies were routinely drowned in a barrel after being born:
These operations were performed by Schwester [sister] Klara, a German midwife who was imprisoned for infanticide. "As a Berufsverbrecherin (one guilty of occupational crime), and thus forbidden to practice her profession," says Stanislawa, "she was entrusted with a function to which she was more suited."
The heroic midwife, at the risk of her life, refused to participate in the infanticide. Instead, she offered care for the women as far as she could in the appalling conditions in which she worked, and made sure that the children were baptised. Few of them survived very long. On one occasion, she faced down the infamou Dr Mengele who shouted at her that "Orders are orders!"

The words of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae have a striking relevance to the story of Stanislawa Leszczynska:
Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".
The cause for the canonisation of Stanislawa Leszczynska has been introduced by the diocese of Łódź in Poland. She is very much a pro-life heroine and I hope that she will become widely known in the pro-life movement.
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