Thought for the Day – 20 February – The Memorial of Blessed Julia Rodzinska OP (1899-1945) Martyr
Excerpt from the account of the Works of Mercy, Spirituality, Love of God and the Church and the Martyrdom of Blessed Julia Rodzinska, by Eva Hoff, a prisoner of KL Stutthof, a German Jewess, who survived and after the war settled in Sweden
In her presence, you felt the need and urge to pray.
Everything she had, she shared with others, even the last piece of bread. Though devastated by starvation, she saw others to be in greater need and offered them her meagre ration of bread.
When other prisoners did everything to avoid contact with those who were sick and dying of typhus, she, instead, rushed to assist them.
Her sacrificial love of neighbour was stronger than fear of exposing herself to a deadly disease. She cared more for others than herself. The person in need was her key concern.
She assisted anyone in need with no difference. Her heart’s desire was to be wherever she was of help. She never thought about herself, yet always about others.
She was very devout. Her piety was contagious and inspired others to pray.
She sought the brokenhearted and downcast to console and uplift their spirits.
Strikingly noticeable was tranquillity, her face radiated with. Every time I had been with her, I could sense how calm and recollected she was.
She died of exhaustion and commitment to her sacrificial ministry, so we, whom she served, could survive.
She performed works of mercy where there was no mercy!
I got to know sister Julia in that ghastly concentration camp of Stutthof near Gdańsk (Poland), where we suffered humiliation at every turn. The initial selection after arrival at the camp was already horrible. People were sent to the gas, based on external appearance.
I accompanied Sister Julia until her last days. She never concealed that she was a religious. She showed unwavering faith and hope in God. She consoled all of us, entrusted us to God and encouraged us to pray. She organised and led common prayers. We always prayed the rosary, the litany of Our Lady, hymns and any number of prayers she composed according to our needs and situation. Prisoners of different nationalities came to pray. People spread the word – let’s pray the rosary with sister Julia. The image will always stay with me – the small, poorly lit room overflowing with people on bunk beds, three or even four levels high; here and there, rags drying in the air. Kneeling on a wooden plank, straight, with her head lifted up and eyes aimed at the Infinite is our Sister Julia. She holds a rosary in her strong, shapely hands. Her face is focused… She was very pious. Her piety influenced others. In her presence, one felt the need to pray.
She was outstanding in her love of God and the Church. She made arrangements secretly to meet with a priest—also a prisoner—to go to confession and to give others an opportunity for reconciliation. On many a Sunday morning, when the circumstances allowed, we walked in silence around the barrack taking part spiritually in the Mass.
When I encouraged her to talk about the convent, she spoke about the noble customs and lofty ceremonies of religious life. At those time, she became absorbed by what was highest and dearest to her. She thanked me at the end of such conversations, whereas it was I who should have thanked her, for what those conversations meant to me.
Sister Julia performed works of mercy in the camp, where people had nearly forgotten that mercy even exists. She was cheerful, prayerful, obliging and self-sacrificing. She risked her life to help others. She cared for those who despaired. She showed the same attitude toward every person, regardless of nationality or religion. She knew how to offer consolation because of her profound hope in God. She literally shared everything—to the last piece of bread—with those who suffered hunger more than she did.
She reminded us frequently that God guides everything. She said that we needed to obey God’s will, even if we had to suffer everything in such humiliation or die in the camp, that everything was in God’s hands. She accepted her fate in the spirit of faith in Divine Providence, even as she sensed that she would not survive. She prayed constantly and served her neighbour until the very end.
She visited the victims of typhus—so terribly contagious—when others did everything to avoid them. She wouldn’t lie down herself, despite her own illness, in order to help others. Led by love, by sacrificial love, she succumbed to the disease. Despite everything, she couldn’t imagine abandoning those who needed her help. Her sacrificial love was stronger.
Sensing imminent death, she missed her Community and those she would not see again. She cried in her helplessness but she didn’t despair. She overcame her weakness by prayer, serving the sick until the end. Sister Julia died from typhus. She gave her life for others. The survivors spoke of her, as a great and holy person.