Speroforum reprints an article I had read many years ago, which is an excellent backdrop for our tiny mortifications offered in the coming weeks. It concerns a midwife taken prisoner at Auschwitz who tended to the sick in horrific conditions.
Stanislawa spent two years in the women's facility at Auschwitz, working as a midwife in three different blocks. The "sick-ward" in all of these was the same: 40-meter long bare wooden barracks heated by single brick stove. Because the camp was situated in a low-lying area, the barracks were frequently flooded with 2-3 inches of water. Within the sick-ward were three layers of bunks, lining both sides of the building. Up to three or four women would sleep on the filth-covered bunks at a time. The straw "mattresses", ridden with vermin, had long ago been ground nearly to dust and thus provided little comfort. Most women were left to lie on nothing more than wooden planks.
She worked diligently to help in whatever way she could. Imagine what labour and delivery is like in the best of conditions, and then move it to that place, and wonder what immeasurable suffering took place.
"In these conditions," explains Stanislawa, "the fate of the women in labor was tragic, and the role of the midwife extremely difficult. There were no antiseptics, no dressings, and no medicine, other than a small quota of aspirin." The food, such as it was, consisted mainly of "decayed, boiled greens." Initially, Stanislawa had to manage on her own, with occasional help from her young daughter. ... Later, she was aided by female physicians who were themselves prisoners. As evidence of Stanislawa's deep humility, she placed very little emphasis on her own remarkable work. Rather, she spoke of the "greatness of the doctors, their devotion, [which] is frozen in the eyes of those who, tormented with the bondage of suffering, will never speak again. . . . The physicians did not work there for fame, approval, nor for the fulfillment of professional ambitions. All these motives were put aside. There remained only the medical duty of saving life in every case and in every situation, compounded with compassion for human suffering."
What graces must have flowed as God's gift to the children held bound by torment.
When time for delivery approached, the already famished mother had to give up her bread ration for a time in order obtain a sheet which would be used to make diapers and clothing for the child. Needless to say, the Nazis did not provide such things. To make things worse, there was no running water in the barracks which made cleaning diapers a risky experience, since inmates were not permitted to move freely in the block. Any cleaning had to be done surreptitiously. Finally, there was no extra food or milk allocated for the infants. But simple neglect apparently did not satisfy the camp administrators. Thus, criminal inmates were employed to dispose of the troublesome infants.
Until May 1943, all the children born in Auschwitz were drowned in a barrel. 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." Later, Klara was aided by a German prostitute, the redheaded Schwester Pfani. "After each delivery, the mothers were able to hear the characteristic gurgle and splashing water" as their babies were disposed of.
The situation changed somewhat in May 1943. "Aryan-looking" children, with blue eyes and fair hair, were spared Schwester Klara's treatment and sent to a center in the town of Naklo to be "de-nationalized." There they would end up in orphanages or were placed with German parents.
"Hoping that in the future it would be possible to recover these children, to bring them back to their mothers," Stanislawa explains, "I organized a method of marking the children with a 'tatoo' that would not be recognized by the SS guards. Many a mother was comforted by the thought that some day she would be able to find her lost happiness." Meanwhile, the fate of those left behind was hardly improved. The infants slowly died from malnutrition. Among the countless tragedies witnessed by Stanislawa, one in particular, stands out.
"I vividly recall a woman from Vilno, sent to Auschwitz for giving help to the partisans. Immediately after giving birth to a child her number was called out. . . I went to excuse her. This did not help but merely intensified anger. I realized she was being called out to the crematorium. She wrapped the child in a dirty piece of paper, pressed it to her breasts. . . Her lips moved noiselessly. She tried to sing her baby a song, as mothers often did there, murmuring to their infants various lullabies with which they tried to compensate them for the piercing cold and hunger, for their misery. However, she did not have the strength. . . she was unable to emit a sound . . . only large copious tears came from under her eyelids, flowing over her unusually pale cheeks and falling onto the head of the tiny child condemned to death."
And this continues today, in various places around the world -- in parts of Africa, in North Korea, in totalitarian gulags, and where even natural disasters have struck. Let's remember mothers everywhere and those who are the most vulnerable. Jesus, mercy!