Talking with Angels in a Time of War
From as early as I can remember, I have had an aversion to the prospect of war.
This might be due to having been a child of the 1970s, watching the death and MIA counts on the morning news before the Mighty Mouse cartoon kicked off at 7:00. I knew as a boy I didn’t want to become a soldier and leave my family. But my concern just as well might not be due to the somber statistics I saw on the newscasts. Most of my friends and contemporaries shared a similar experience, and they didn’t seem to be afflicted with this fear in the same way I was. Later, in my twenties, I wondered if maybe I had been a soldier in a past life and died young and far from home.
Whatever the case, I have had a strange fascination with World War II throughout my life. This has not been in the beaten way of the history buff. I don’t think I’ve ever read about about the War—and I’ve read thousands of books. But I have found myself attracted to some of the figures of that time, those who fought without weapons for the most part. Figures such as Edith Stein, Simone Weil, and Franz Jägerstätter (whom I’ve written about here) preoccupied my religious imagination through much of my adulthood, as have Sophie Scholl and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All of them are examples of witness, and all (with the possible—I’m not convinced hers wasn’t martyrdom—exception of my beloved Weil) paid for their witness in blood. I like to think of myself as given to the works of peace, so seeing how they confronted the evils of their time has challenged my own faith and courage for most of the past thirty years. I have so often wondered how I would respond were I to find myself in their situations. It is not an easy thought experiment.
And while I’ve never been a big one for films on World War II (it was only during the last year that I’ve seen Schindler’s List), two of my favorite films, Wim Wender’s sublime Wings of Desire and Hans Jurgen von Syberberg’s treatment of Wagner’s Parsifal have the catharsis of the German folk soul over the sins of Nazism at the center of their imagistic volcabularies. Here again: how would I have responded to the temptation of Nazism had I lived in that time? We all like to think we would be with the good guys like Bonhoeffer and Scholl, but from what I’ve seen of the world (magnified to an uncomfortable degree on social media) most people, if they didn’t just look the other way, would excoriate them and feel that their deaths were not only fitting but deserved. Just imagine what Joseph Goebbels would have done with Facebook or Twitter.
So, despite this abiding fascination with this time in history, I’m surprised that it wasn’t until the last year that I’d even heard about, much less read, Gitta Mallasz’s captivating record from World War II-era Hungary, Talking with Angels. Mallasz, who insists that she did not write the book, but merely took it down as dictation, presents a series of dialogues she and three of her friends—Joseph, Lili, and Hanna—had with what they understood to be angels as the Nazi cloud started to spread—and eventually overwhelmed—their country between 25 June 1943 and 24 November 1944. By the time the conversations ended, three of the group (all Jews) were in the hands of the Nazis. Mallasz, the one non-Jew of the group, held onto the manuscript of their dialogues which were not published until the early 1980s.
If I had to characterize the dialogues, I would probably have to call them: Lessons on How to Be. The beginning of the conversations possess a quality that is instructive, though not didactic. They are also very Christian, though the Christianity they impart is not confessional in any strict sense.
As the dialogues progress, they more and more bear a kind of witness to the truth that must be lived to live an authentic life. The life here described has very much in common with what St. Paul calls “the armor of God,” and it is very clear that the angels were preparing the friends about what was to come. When Lili, the artist, says, “Speak about life, that we might become alive!” she receives this answer:
LIFE is not yet known to you,
for it is only now that you shall be born.
You only dream of life.
COMPARED WITH THE COMING LIFE,
THE PRESENT LIFE IS DEATH.
You would not yet be able to bear it:
but prepare yourself!
Sometimes you sense it. 
On 3 March 1944, the angels deliver a message that rather struck me as pertinent to our moment:
The church in which God is worshipped
is holy and pure.
But if religion dies, it might become a warehouse, 
On Good Friday 1944, the Nazis already occupying Hungary, the angels spoke of the day and of the situation of the friends:
Greeting to the four of you!
The choir of angels brings a message;
it is your task to pass it on:
THE CROSS IS NOT THE SIGN OF DEATH.
DIE WITH HIM AND YOU LIVE ETERNALLY.
The cross does not let you go:
to fulfill its sign is your task.
At one point, the one man of the group, Joseph, is sent to a work camp. The three women carry on, their hope in the message and anxiety about their times palpable through the dialogues.
Finally, almost as a sign of comfort, in the second to last conversation, She appears:
But the immaculate, virgin matter remains: MARY.
Upon her head, the crown of stars,
at her feet, the moon;
her dress, the rays of the sun.
MARY—the smile of creation,
miracle hovering above the waters.
In matter: virginity.
In Light: matter.
The last dialogue took place on 24 November 1944. On December 2, Lili and Hanna were taken into custody and were murdered. Joseph dies at about the same time in a Hungarian prison camp.
Over the past thirty years, when discussing evil and war, I have told my students and, indeed, my own children: Don’t think it can’t happen here. I’m not sure if eternal vigilance is really the price of liberty, but I think it has something to do with paying attention to both world events and the Glory of the Lord that surrounds us from every side.
Finally, I’m not sure just what to make of Talking with Angels. Is it true? True? What does that even mean? But I don't know what to make of almost any visions or locutions--Fatima and Lourdes no less than this one. But the friends involved with the angelic dialogues were able to save at least eight-seven people from the Nazis. I trust these dialogues, even though I don’t completely understand their transmission. The message in the dialogues is one I embrace. And I do know one thing: I still have an aversion to war and the only hope is in the coming life, a life, as I have said so often, present to us now.
The catharsis of the Nazis from Wings of Desire. (Notice how he reads the book from back to front).
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at email@example.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.
1. Talking with Angels, transcribed by Gitta Mallasz, translated by Robert Hinshaw, assisted by Gitta Mallasz and Lela Fischili, revised (Daimon Verlag, 1992), 218.