October 7, 2001

The gratitude of Pope John Paul II


John Paul II looked her directly into her eyes and said: ”I know very well who you are and I thank you for everything you did. In my country, Poland, specially in the region of Cracovia, thanks to you and your husband many Polish Jewish were saved, but your actions also saved the lives of numerous Catholic Polish”.

It was a cold midday of March 22, 1995. Saint Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, was crowded with faithful. But at that moment the clock stopped ticking just for her.

Those accompanying her could see the way in which her face, usually strong, transformed almost instantaneously due to the emotion. She could not almost say a word. Her lifetime dream of meeting the Pope finally was coming true.

”I was raised in a Catholic family where I was taught two things: one, that a human being never has less rights than another one. Two, that you have to help whoever is in trouble”, she used to say.

She wore on her chest the medal that the Argentine government gave to her on January 25 the same year: the Order of May to the Merit in the Degree of Commander. This award had been granted due to a proposal made by Casa Argentina en Jerusalem, an organization which promotes the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and the Commemorative Mural dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust placed in the Metropolitan Cathedral of the city of Buenos Aires. Likewise, this landmark is the only memorial in the whole world installed within a Christian temple that pays tribute to the millions of people exterminated by the Nazi regime.

Emilie Schindler lived in Argentina since 1948 until July 8 of this year, when she returned to Germany, the country where she lived the most important years of her life and where she finally died.

Her case was discovered and made public by the journalist Pedro Gorlinsky, of the newspaper Argentinisches Tageblatt. At the beginning of the sixties Helmut Heinemann, president of the Tradition branch of the Philanthropic society B’nai B’rith, started to help Emilie. Years later Leonor and José Matzner continued with that privilege.

* Baruch Tenembaum is founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation – Translation: IRWF