Maria Rimkus, a young German in the 1940s, couldn't reconcile with her Christian faith the treatment that the Jews were receiving in Nazi Germany, and she decided to act. She brought food to the forced laborers working for a pharmaceutical factory in her neighborhood and, upon seeing Ruth, a pregnant Jewish woman, decided to help her.
Although contact with the Jews was forbidden, Maria wrote letters to Ruth, offering her help. Suspecting a trap, Ruth didn't answer for several weeks. But Maria was persistent. It was clear that the only solution for this young family was escape. After earning their trust, she hid Ruth and her husband for several months, brought them clothing and food, and provided them with passports. She managed to get a passport with Ruth's photo and Maria's name, so that the Jewish woman could present herself as "Maria Rimkus."
Within the secret hiding place, under extremely difficult circumstances, Ruth gave birth to her daughter, Reha.
A few months later, the secret police discovered the hiding place and asked for their papers. While their documents were being checked, the Jewish family fled to New York. When the secret police showed up at Maria's house, wanting to arrest her, she told an adventurous story she'd prepared for the police. They believed her, and she was free.
She didn't tell anybody about having risked her life in order to save the family, but she was in constant contact with Ruth, now an American. In the 1950s Germans had little to spare. The "hunger years" were difficult years for everyone. And now Maria was the one to be cared for. Ruth sent care packages to Maria and continued to shower her friendship and gratitude on Maria's children as well. "I don't know whether I would have had the courage to do something like this," Reha observed recently (Der Tagesspiegel, Feb. 9, 2001).
The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote about this kind of courage and love. Under the marginal heading "Assistance in brotherhood," she wrote: "The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 518).
It has long struck me that the one seeing and supplying his brother's need is blessed foremost. While blessing is traditionally thought of as passive reception of good, seeing another's need and acting to help brings wonderful blessing.
The concept that the helper is blessed is rooted in Jesus' teachings, particularly in his parable of the good Samaritan. In a discussion with a lawyer on what is required to inherit eternal life, Jesus said: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:27).
The lawyer asks whom to regard as his neighbor, and Jesus answers with a parable and a counter-question. He tells the story of a man who was robbed and was left half dead along the roadside and who was ignored by a priest and a Levite, but was unselfishly helped by a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked which one was the man's neighbor. This question is the reformulated question the lawyer had asked Jesus in the first place, and the question turns the subject toward the care-giver: It is not as important to have a neighbor as it is to be one.
The renewing power and unequaled force as powerful and predictable as gravity on earth of the truth behind this kind of teaching lies in the fact that the man is God's child, Love's spiritual reflection. And Love is fully expressed much more in giving than in receiving. Love travels a long way and real love starts when a price is paid for it.
Courage and unselfishness blessed Maria, who had been a neighbor to Ruth before they even knew each other's names. I wonder what it would take to express the same kind of love under easier circumstances. It should be worth trying.