July 2008 - St. Maria
20 JULY - Martyrs Maria (Skobtsova), Dmitry (Klepenin) and companions, who perished in the Nazi concentration camps (1944-1945).
St. Maria was born in Latvia in 1891. Like many of the pre-Revolutionary Russian intelligentsia, she was an atheist and a political radical. Gradually she rediscovered the Faith of her childhood. After the Russian Revolution, she became part of the large émigré population of Paris. There she became a nun, and devoted her life to the service of the poor. With a small community of fellow-believers, she established 'houses of hospitality' for the poor, the homeless, the alcoholics, and the mentally ill. In 1939 the young priest Fr Dmitry was sent to serve Mother Maria's community; he proved to be an able partner in the community's work among the poor.
When the Nazis entered Paris in 1940, Mother Maria, Fr Dmitry, and the community chose to remain in the city to care for those who depended on them. As Nazi persecution of Jews in France increased, Mother Maria's work expanded to include protection and care of the Jews. Mother Maria and Father Dmitry provided forged baptism certificates to Jews in order to preserve their lives. Eventually, this work led to their arrest by the Gestapo.
survives of the interrogation of Fr Dmitry by the Gestapo agent Hoffman:
Hoffman: If we release you, will you give your word never again to aid Jews?
Fr Dmitry: I can say no such thing. I am a Christian and must act as I must. (Hoffman struck Fr Dmitry across the face.)
Hoffman: Jew lover! How dare you talk of helping those swine as being a Christian duty! (Fr Dmitry, recovering his balance, held up the cross from his cassock.)
Fr Dmitry: Do you know this Jew? (For this, Fr Dmitry was knocked to the floor.)
"Your priest did himself in," Hoffman said afterward. "He insists that if he were to be freed, he would act exactly as before."
Mother Maria, Fr. Dmitry, and several of their colleagues, were sent to Nazi concentration camps (Mother Maria to Ravensbruck, Fr Dmitry to Buchenwald) where, after great sufferings, they perished. Mother Maria's last act was to take the place of a Jew being sent to death, voluntarily dying in his place.
Mother Maria and her companions were glorified as saints in 2004.