A Righteous Christian Schoolteacher
The Fellowship | February 9, 2021
A German Christian and schoolteacher, Elisabeth Abegg joined the Resistance against the Nazis and rescued at least 80 Jews from certain death, a true advocate and ally of the Jewish people.
The Sanctity of Human Life
Born in Strassbourg, the capital of Alsace, Elisabeth Abegg found influence in the writings of the renowned Alsatian theologian and physician, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, whose teachings stressed equality and the sanctity of human life.
Elisabeth Abegg taught history at a Berlin girls’ school, passing her beliefs on to her students, many of them Jewish. When Hitler came to power, Abegg came into conflict with the school’s Nazi director. first moved her to a lesser school, before forcing her to retire early, all because of her Christian and anti-Nazi views.
Nazi authorities classified Abegg as politically unreliable and even brought her in for interrogation. Undeterred, though, the now-retired schoolteacher kept in contact with her Jewish students and friends. When the Nazis deported a close Jewish friend of forty years, Abegg realized their true murderous intent. Too late to save her friend, Anna Hirschberg, Abegg knew she could save other Jews.
Saving Berlin’s Jews
Elisabeth Abegg shared a small three-room apartment with her 86-year-old mother and her disabled sister, but soon turned the cramped living space into a shelter for Jews hiding in the Berlin underground. Working with Quaker friends who also opposed the Nazis, she offered many Jews temporary shelter and directed more to other hiding places.
Abegg skimped on her own nourishment – and that of her family – in order to provide food ration cards to Jews in hiding. Knowing the importance of the Sabbath, she also invited Jews to special dinners at her home on Fridays. No one who came to the Abegg home’s door – most of them complete strangers – left with empty stomachs. From hiding places to food to forged identification papers, all in need found respite in the tiny Berlin apartment. Miraculously, all of this clandestine activity took place even with many active Nazis as neighbors.
But Elisabeth Abegg took even greater risks than opening her home to endangered Jews. As the Gestapo rounded up the last remaining Jews in Berlin, Abegg helped the Jewish director of a Berlin daycare center and her nine-year-old niece go underground, saving their lives. In another instance, she sold her jewelry in order to smuggle another Jew to safety in neutral Switzerland.
When One Light Pierced the Darkness
After the war, many of the survivors saved by Elisabeth Abegg celebrated the brave woman’s 75th birthday by giving her a collection of their memoirs, titled When One Light Pierced the Darkness.
Her light having pierced the darkness – and saved scores of Jewish lives – Elisabeth Abegg was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1967.