Tortured by Nazis for doing what was right, Maiti Girtanner struggled to forgive the lasting damage they had done.
It’s easy to understand that struggle and no one would blame her for withholding forgiveness for such unspeakable evil.
But God had other plans and proved yet again, His ways are greater than ours.
Born in 1922 to a Swiss father and French mother, Maiti grew up bilingual. After her father died when she was four, her family relocated to Paris where they lived with her maternal grandparents.
Paul Rougnon, Maiti’s grandfather, had taught at the Paris Conservatoire. Under his guidance she developed a love for music, realizing she had the gifts to become a concert pianist.
When the Nazis took over the village of Bonnes in 1940, Maiti’s family was living there. By obtaining passes, she could cross the bridge between the free and invaded zones.
Thanks to Maiti Girtanner, the village kept supplied with fresh produce — and messages for resistance networks. Her fluency in German proved useful.
At age eighteen, Maiti started helping French soldiers pass into the free zone by swimming across. She assisted others — soldiers, Jewish families, the English. Her faith in God gave her courage.
In 1943, Maiti relocated to Paris again. There she continued to aid the Resistance by obtaining papers and petitioning for the release of comrades arrested by the Gestapo. She played the piano in front of Nazi officers as part of her undercover work.
The fall of that same year, the Gestapo arrested Maiti as she was returning home. They loaded her on a truck with fifteen other prisoners.
After interrogation, Maiti and four others were sent to a house in a corner of Europe on the Atlantic between France and Spain. For four months she suffered systematic torture.
There were more than twenty imprisoned there. Speaking to one another was forbidden. Between periods of cross questioning there were torture sessions meant for punishment.
Supervised by young “Dr. Leo,” the physical torture consisted of methodical blows to the base of the spinal column. As the months dragged by, Maiti watched her fellow prisoners die, one even by suicide.
Assuming moral responsibility for her comrades, Maiti defied the guards by speaking to her companions. She encouraged them to speak to her too. Maintaining communication upheld their humanity.
By the grace of God, Maiti resisted. Buried in pain, she sustained herself with Christ’s example. Providence was at work even in her sufferings.
In February of 1944, Maiti lost the ability to stand. Death loomed near but a rescue mission working under the Swiss Red Cross saved her.
Despite hospitalization and treatment, the harm was permanent. Maiti suffered chronic pain the rest of her life.
Maiti’s longing for music remained intense through the years. Therapy held out some hope but it was not meant to be.
Due to nerve damage affecting her fingers, Maiti never could return to the piano. Knowing she lacked the strength to start a family, she never married.
Later Maiti wrote, “I had not to be nostalgiac for what I had been or for what I might have become. Instead I had to love what I was and to seek what I ought to be.”
Her biggest concern was to forgive.
Over the years, she battled holding onto wrong in her heart. Sadly, her body never let her forget the wrongs done.
After her grandfather moved them back to Paris, Maiti spent the rest of her life tutoring at home. Relying on her faith more than ever, Maiti became a Dominican tertiary and devoted herself to charitable works.
Then in 1984, Maiti received a phone call in her home near Paris.
It was from Dr. Leo.
The former doctor had become the mayor of a small Austrian town. Now he was dying of cancer.
He remembered how years ago, Maiti Girtanner had prayed for him and talked about the love of Christ. Dr. Leo had called to ask if she would meet him.
Maiti was upset and did not know what to do. But she agreed to meet him.
When he arrived at her apartment, he begged forgiveness from the woman he had injured. Taking his head in her hands, she kissed it. Then she embraced him, offering forgiveness.
Repenting of his sins, Leo asked Christ’s forgiveness.
After returning home from his visit, he gathered his family and villagers around to confess the truth about his life. Just two weeks later, he died.
Maiti had been set free after 40 years. Later she wrote, “Forgiving him liberated me.”
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