The plan was that our American cousin would meet us in New York at JFK and help us figure out how to stay. When our cousin did not meet us at JFK airport, and we were in danger of being sent back to Romania, Sister Judith promised INS that she would guarantee for us, thus allowing us to stay. That is how we became acquainted the Sisters of Social Service and Judith Fenvyesi. We had gotten her name from a neighbour of ours from Romania who had become friends with Sister Judith in Romania's prisons. Our neighbour had been arrested for political activity, Sister Judith for her religious work.
I was born in Salonta, Romania, the second of three daughters in a loving Jewish family. My parents lived in mutual love and respect and cared deeply about us children.
At the public school, I had religious instruction from a rabbi. For high school, my parents sent my sisters and me to a school conducted by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion. They hoped to shelter us from the anti-Semitism that was already prevalent in the public schools.
At Notre Dame I had my first contact with Catholicism. God touched me in a very deep way, opening up a whole new world for me. My heart was burning with the desire to follow Christ. I wanted to be transformed so that I would be a sign of God's love for this world.
I became a Christian and subsequently determined to commit myself totally to the service of God and to the human family by embracing the evangelical councils.
During 1941-42, I tried to enter medical school, but my application was denied because I was Jewish. Later, I was filled with joy when I was accepted at the school of Social Work conducted by the Sisters of Social Service in Kolozsvar (Cluj). I saw this step as full of promise and possibility for living out my call to be a sign of God's love among people.
That same year my father died. He had been trying for five years to get his family out of the path of the advancing Nazi persecution. He died of a broken heart when he realized that his attempts at saving his loved ones had failed.
On March 19, 1944, the Nazi armies entered Hungary. Ghettoes for the Jews were set up in most cities. My grief was great and I prepared to join my mother and sisters in Salonta. Above all, we must be together no matter what our fate would be.
It was at this point that Sister Augusta, the provincial head of the Transylvanian District, offered to receive me into the community of the Sisters of Social Service. She knew of my call to religious life; she knew of my great love for my mother; she knew of my mother's resistance to my plans. In her great-hearted concern for my physical survival and inner peace, Sister Augusta had only one desire - to help me through these tragic times so that in the end I would be free to return to my beloved mother and/or join the community of my choice. Sister Augusta stood as a tower of strength. She was a person who gave all this love, concern and care as something very natural.
My mother, in her great distress, wholeheartedly welcomed the offer of the Sisters of Social Service. She wished there were some salvation for all three of her daughters. The hope for my survival was her sole consolation in that tragic moment. Her only request was that, if she survived, I would spend another whole year with her, so that I would have another chance to freely decide about my future.
I now was faced with the most difficult decision I had ever to make. By humbly accepting the invitation of God to enter religious life, I had to give up the possibility of actually sharing the distress, the agony, and ultimately, the complete victimization of my beloved ones. (My family members later perished at Auschwitz.) The question in my heart was: What is the greater love: to be where my mother and sisters are, to share their common destiny, or to accept the invitation for life, and respond to the call of God?
In the midst of all this inner struggle and torment, I heard Christ speaking to me:No one has greater love than this - to lay down one's life for one's friends(John 11:13). From that moment, I knew without doubt that my surrender to God and my whole life were intimately bound with another call: that of offering my life for my beloved ones.
The tragic loss of my family, as well as the agonizing fate of millions of people, affected me deeply. Yet, in the midst of horror and affliction, God was present to me as Infinite Love, the Source of Goodness. In my heart, I felt compassion of God for all suffering people. The vision of a better world became central for my consciousness. There seemed to be no greater goal for one's life than participating in the transformation of the world so that evil and inhumanity be eliminated and justice prevail.
In those tragic days, the Sisters of Social Service witnessed with their lives to the same vision. Their convents became hiding places for approximately one thousand men, women, and children. I myself was one of those saved.
I was profoundly inspired to see our foundress, Sister Margret, speaking out against the inhumanities inflicted upon the Jews. Fearlessly and untiringly, she engaged in life-saving work that entailed a great deal of risk. Her courage, her unwavering commitment live out the Gospel mandate of love, even at the cost of her life, gave me a sense of awe. Each day I came to appreciate more the fact that I was a member of this community. What a privilege to belong to a Society where members, through the power of the Spirit of Love, were ready to lay down their lives, so that others may live.
The song to my God continues to be sung. It is a song of gratitude for the blessings I have received as a member of the Sisters of Social Service. It is my fervent prayer that our Community continues to be open to the Spirit.