Friday, May 25, 2007

Paul Stern

Paul Stern did not manage to emigrate. Perhaps he did not even try. In the summer of 1942 I was in Leipzig for a few days, and one evening I again visited my friends at the Oratory. They asked me if I would object to meeting Paul Stern. People used to ask such questions in those days, by way of precaution. Then I was told that for some time Paul Stern had been living in the Ghetto; but because he married a non-Jewess he did not have to wear the yellow star. This meant that he could go freely about the town, at least when his work was over. However, he had to report back at ten o’clock at night; prior to this he would often come to the Oratory, mostly to play the organ. I also learned that some time before, in the wake of a more intensive study of Saint Thomas, he had become a Catholic. His present work, eight hours a day, and under supervision, was picking out bits of metal from the refuse dumps of Leipzig. On my way to his remote room I wondered what words to use, meeting him again under these circumstances. But straight away it was obvious that, if anyone needed words of comfort, he, at least, did not. The man who sat opposite me was calm and cheerful; he knew no bitterness, not even, it seemed, sadness. Then I understood what my friends had told me: if they had ever met a saint, it was Paul Stern. We spoke about Thomas Aquinas and about that evening in Hegner’s house [when there was a discussion — “disputation” — about Stern and Hans Nachod’s manner of translating Summa contra gentiles into German]. He complimented me on my output since then. He was a little sorry to be without my small book on hope, which he had somehow mislaid. But when, somewhat ashamed, I promised to send him a new copy here, to the Oratory, he made a friendly gesture of refusal, as if something had suddenly occurred to him: I don’t need it any more—. In a 1959 posthumous edition of John Henry Newman’s Dream of Gerontius [Traum des Gerontius] the last translation, apparently, on which the two friends [Stern and Nachod] collaborated, one reads that Paul Stern was deported to Theresienstadt in 1943 and probably died in Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of fifty-four.

— Josef Pieper, No One Could Have Known



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