“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted I should ever come back. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
Albert Schweitzer is a name known to many of us. He was a scholar, theologian, and musician, but his ultimate recognition came from his establishment of the hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa. It is a much younger Albert, however, who figures in our story.
Albert was from Alsace, now in France, and as the 20th century dawned, he was a brilliant 24-year-old preacher at St. Nicholas Church. His personal philosophy centered around “reverence for life,” the idea that no one must ever harm or destroy life unless absolutely necessary. His devotion to his ideals would go on to impact generations of young people and earn him the Nobel Peace Prize.
And that brings us to Elisabeth Abegg, a young girl who grew up in Alsace, heavily influenced by the sermons and teaching of the young Schweitzer. She became a teacher, and moved to Berlin to teach at a fashionable school for girls, taking with her the deep and abiding belief in the sanctity of human life. It will come as no surprise that her beliefs were in total opposition to those of the Nazis. After many years of teaching, she was denounced in 1940 as politically unreliable and forced to retire.
It was then, however, that her light shone the brightest. While caring for her elderly mother and ill sister, she turned their apartment into a gathering point and shelter for Jews. This despite the fact that many of her neighbors were active Nazis! She forged papers, arranged transport, and took in everyone who showed up at her door. She fed; she hid; she risked everything to save. “Their fate will be my fate.”
In life “way leads to way” by unpredictable paths, as though moved by an unseen hand. It is unlikely that Albert Schweitzer ever knew of Elizabeth Abegg, but his words had inserted themselves deep in her soul, and she built a life upon them. Elisabeth Abegg was honored as Righteous Among the Nations in 1967 for saving the lives of 80 Jews.