Saturday, 5 January 2008

In memory of Alain Blancy - Arved Bielchovsky

Today my good friend Alain Blancy would have been 81. I never got to his 73rd and last birthday party in January 2000, I was recovering from my first MS attack. But later that year I did go on a Franco-German in-service training course for pastors at Chambon sur Lignon, where Alain was a "witness", living with the group for the whole 10 days and sharing his memories and reflections of his war-time experiences.
Alain was born "Arved Bielchovsky" in Berlin in 1927. He and his older brother Edouard were both baptised as Christians despite coming from a German-Jewish family. His mother left Berlin for Paris after Hitler came to power in 1933. Though not close to the church she enrolled the children in the Protestant scouting movement. After the outbreak of war things became very difficult. Edouard was interned at Gurs (where it seems he received a Bible possibly from the Cimade) from where he and Alain attempted to escape across the Pyrennees but were captured and taken back to Germany as prisoners. In prison in Cologne the jailor allowed them to keep the Bible so long as they hid it and it was at this time that Alain remembered first reading the Bible.
When telling the story of his war years Alain would often say that there were many angels and archangels who protected him and Edouard. The jailor in Cologne was one. Somehow he never managed to find or perhaps even destroyed, evidence of the brothers' baptismal certificates - finding those Christian documents would have been proof-positive for the Nazis that they were Jewish.
Perhaps as a result of the Cimade or the Confessing Church, Edouard and Alain ended up working as prisoners in the Bethel institute for much of the war. Even there though they could be taken away as forced labourers for work elsewhere such as in the Uranium mines. When this happened one of their colleagues at Bethel set out to rescue them. First getting the Director to write official documents demanding their return for the essential war-work of the institute, he then put on his most impressive uniform (which was the one he wore for the volunteer fire service!) and set off, managing to get their release into his custody and declaring every time their papers were checked on the homeward journey "important transport of prisoners", daring someone to contradict him. He was one of the archangels, showing both courage and ingenuity.
After the war both brothers were true to their prayer and promise in the Cologne prison - "if you bring us through this you will be our God" ( from Jacob's story in Genesis 28 ) - and became pastors after finishing their studies - Alain was taught philosophy by Paul Ricoeur. In addition to various parish positions Alain was also deputy director of the ecumenical institute of Bossey for 10 years and a member and eventually Protestant co-president of the Groupe des Dombes.
I think of Alain very often. So many of the books from his library are now on my shelves and I often come across his name at work as well. His story was similar to that of my father's - both born to German-Jewish lawyers in Berlin. Yet my father always said he wasn't Jewish, saying this was an identity forced on him by a dictatorial regime. In many ways Alain was a father in faith to me, struggling, albeit differently and more eruditely, with questions about the God of the the whole Bible or the question of God after genocide.
I shall make some further posts of Alain's own writings in coming days, first in French and once I have time in English. I've also posted his funeral service and the sermon I preached. ENI published this tribute to Alain after his death.