Friday, September 5, 2008
Auf Wiederschauen, Pater Kurt Hruby
Fr. Kurt Hruby passed away on September 5th, 1992 - 16 years ago. He was born on May 27, 1921 into an Austrian mixed family. His mother, Rosa Kohn, was Jewish, of Slovak background and a famous rabbinical family. His father was a Roman Catholic of Viennese descent and a violonist. Kurt Hruby lived in the town of Krems an der Donau (Niederösterreich) where he went to school till his Matura (Baccalaureat).
When the Nazis came to power by the time of the Anschluß, the young man firstly tried to flee through Switzerland. The Swiss police brought him back to Austria. He succeeded to leave with some friends on board one of those then-along the Donau "Kohlenschiffe/coal ships" and finally reached Palestine. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and continued his training into Jewish tradition that he had received from his maternal grandparents. He got, from his early childhood, a perfect and real daily practice of Jewish praying and ways of living, habits, customs.
He was eager to get further into Judaism and made an attempt to work in a pionneering orthodox Jewish kibbutz (Sde Elijahu\שדה אליהו) located in the Jordan Valley.His path is remarkable in many aspects. He had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Latin Church and still lived among the religious newcomers of the kibbutz without being a bar mitzvah. Then, his excellent knowledge of French and other tongues allowed him to work for the France Presse News agency, then to switch to make his living as a cook in a restaurant. He remained a remarkable "Feinkoch", a real chef cooking delicious dishes and cakes. My children loved him not only because of his cooking competences. He loved children and we can feel that on the few photographs that we took by that time.
After the war, he decided after a lot of reflection and with much dedication to this sort of "impossible task" to become a priest in order to "repair" the frightful and weird estrangement that had led the Christian baptized European world to such a catastrophe as the Holocaust, the Shoah that is a "churban\חורבן" for the pious Jews. He could study at Leuven/Louvain in Belgium. He was ordained a priest by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Liege/Luik (1953). He then started to teach in different places, mainly in France (Sisters of Zion, the Institut Catholique and the Institut Oecumenique in Paris) and in Basel/Zurich.
We used to speak Yiddish. We met on a very Yiddish occasion: I was sent to him because I had translated the Divine Liturgy and Services into Yiddish and he helped me to correct the texts. He welcomed the work saying that it could be considered as a kind of "memorial"; he also underscored how close the Yiddish tongue and weltanschauung showed close connections with authentic and original Christian spirit. It was in the 70s: he gave me his Hebrew type-writer and many books in Christian prayers in Hebrew and Yiddish.
He spent his life paving the way with much and rare insights for the embetterment of the relations between Judaism and Christianity, considering that he had to be inside of the Church in order to convey this task. He was assigned (the first) representative of the French Conference of Bishops in charge of the relationship with Judaism. He also used to participate in the "Journees Liturgiques" and was lecturing at the Saint Sergius Eastern Orthodox Institute of theology. I tried to prolong these lectures for some years.
He was much appreciated for his unbelievable patience and goodness, deep sense of charity and loving-kindness. He was also pragmatic, having a profound experience of Judaism and knowing that he was just a link in a chain that would have to be set up in the long-term: "It will take centuries to repair centuries of mutual ignorance and estrangement". This is real and this is what we can see. No way and no place for fake games and theatral Jewish-Christian dreamy en vogue dialogues. This requires time, in-depth studies and teachings, knowledge of many traditions, a lot of humbleness.
L'"abbe Hruby" was exhausted by his many activities and constant trips to Zurich back and forth. He participated in some journals like "Judaica", "der Freund Israels" and wrote many articles for encyclopedies. He also translated from Yiddish into German the writings of the Breslover Rebbe that, to my knowledge, were never published. His lectures and the notes of his teachings were mostly scattered after his death. He published a lot of articles in the "Revue des Etudes Juives" and often wrote about the meaning of the synagogue for the Jewish life. He was also consulted about the non-utilization of the synagogue at Krems an der Donau. It had been used as a shelter/Logis for the refugees fleeing from the Sudetenland.The synagogue was finally destroyed.
One aspect should also be taken into consideration: he had some clue with the Slavs through his Yiddish and he was well aware of the terrible lacks of misunderstanding that had developed in the East. Still, he could appreciate the proximity of the chassidic traditions with the Oriental and Orthodox Churches. In this field everything is still like seeds sown in bloodsheds and that may come up for the coming generations.On the other hand, he was involved in helping the Arab Greek-Catholic Church and this is definitely a prophetic sign for the future of the relationships of the local Arab Church in Israel and Palestine.
He was a real "mentch\מענטש ", i.e. a good and very humane person as we say in Yiddish. He died on September 5, 1992 in Vulaines-sur-Seine in the vicinity of Troyes. He had some difficulties with sleeping and therefore used to explain that serving during the weekend in a dozen of provincial parishes in that area of France helped him cure this problem. It allowed him collecting a lot of Church information about the local beliefs and way of being Christians in post-Holocaust remote villages... not far from Rashi's vineyards.
I was present at his funeral with my children. Fr. Bernard Dupuy, then in charge of the relationships of the French Conference of Bishops with Judaism was present and Pastor T. Willi and B. Cunz of Zurich. Whatever, he was buried "incognito".
May he rest in the peace of the One God on his memorial day/yohrtzayt- יארצייט. זכרונו לברכה!
av Alexander Winogradsky Frenkel
September 5, 2008 [closure of the Feast of the Dormition] - ד באלול תשס"ח
Photograph: (Eclipse 2008): I shall not die but account the deeds of the Lord\לא אמות כי אחיה ואספר מעשי יה.