War Diaries, July 4, 2022

“I give up my desire for security.  I give up my desire for inordinate affection and approval.  I give up my desire for power and control. There’s also a saying that sums up all three but doesn’t identify them (individually)…I give up my desire to change the situation…I think as the spiritual journey advances, there are more intense moments than the dark nights even, but they’re very brief…those experiences of being emotionally thrust into a kind of pit where you can’t rid of the feeling or the misery or the grief or the hatred or the resentment, the bitterness…it’s still based on a feeling however justified in itself…you have the feeling of sheer helplessness in the face of the conditions that are overwhelming…the happy ending is to just forget about yourself (He is referencing the ego, of course, not the Self).” 
– Fr. Thomas Keating


I listen to Father Keating a lot these days as my faith is tested.  I look for ways to practice trust.  The spiritual journey is always a journey into the unknown and this fact, one must accept.  To remind myself that I cannot change the circumstance of war and the suffering of others, nor can I change the mounting discontent among those who are not in exile, what I can do is give up my desire for control, which is a battle I know I cannot win.


Normally, I send out these war diaries every eight to ten days but this one comes as a response to an email I received from my friend, Marla, in Los Angeles who was planning to come to Kraków to help with the Ukrainian crisis.  She learned through a friend already here that the church has taken down the tents that served as a hub for those in need of shelter and food.  Her friend goes on to say that she is in an indoor shelter but without an operational distribution center, and not much seems to be happening.  Her observation was that most of the refugees have dispersed as well, noting that the international response seems to have died down though there were a few Polish volunteers still around.  I haven’t kept up with what’s happening in the cities, though I do hear stories that there is a struggle.  I decided to write to my point person at Sichów, a resident who speaks English and maintains a chat room for all our other guests.  She replied:


“It is very sad.  I know many Ukrainians who are returning home because they have run out of money or because they cannot find affordable housing.  I heard a story from friends about a woman with a six year old child who recently returned to Kharkiv and died the next day.  Her husband does not know how to live on.  And I understand that the Poles will not always be so kind to us, though for four months they have helped in every possible way.”


She is right.  Charity runs its course.  Even worse, I think about the victims of the concentration camps as they were on no one’s radar except for the few and those few could do nothing.


The Poles are already tired.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that but I’m beginning to see the subtle signs of vexation.  The first sign is the identification of ‘the other.’  But I am too tired today and my back has gone out (which is no great surprise) so with the energy I do have, I’d like to express what these times and circumstances mean to me in a way that has been influenced by one of my heroines: Alma Rose, the niece of Gustav Mahler.


Alma Rose was the orchestra leader of the ‘Girls in the Band’ or women’s orchestra at Birkenau.  Among these courageous and talented women, was the famous cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch.


Alma Rose did not survive the war but until the day she succumbed, she resisted through music.  They say she was tough on the women and wouldn’t put up with laziness or bad performances.  I believe she was like this because she was protecting them.  One story I remember from my many visits to Birkenau is about a young musician who had to perform as she watched through the window her brother being marched to the gas chamber. Rose was especially brutal with these tears as she knew that this dear girl would be right behind him if she didn’t control herself and get her emotions in check.  The hierarchy at Bierkenau was not lost on Alma. She knew exactly who to please in order to safeguard her orchestra which is a fascinating story and if anyone is interested I have posted a link.





None of us here are in harm’s way.  We are playing outside with the children, enjoying the summer sun, staying up late, watching movies, all the things you are doing at home, so are we.  The only difference is: you are at home but none of our guests are.  Everyday, they have to decide how they will survive another day without loved ones, without a home, with a country under attack, living under the weight of their whole lives in question as to the next step.


Everyday, without exception, I sit in my chair and I imagine: what if I couldn’t go anywhere? What if there was no place to go?


The end of the text from Anastasia (the woman who oversees our chat group) is:


“Life stopped on February 24th.  And I can’t imagine how people like in the Ukraine now.  They hear sirens every day, bomb explosions, see the terrible consequences of the use of weapons and must accept that they have no where to go.”


As difficult a practice as this is, to practice ‘what if there were no place to go’, because there is naturally no way to answer this question, however it does humble me to such a degree that it quickens me; it strengthens my will and my commitment to stay the course alongside each and every one in exile.


I have included a link to Alma Rose’s song of resistance.  As haunting as it is, it is as beautiful. Dear Alma, one of my angels.  You never made it home again to Vienna…