Friday, March 25, 2016

Hero by Mistake

"The real hero is always a hero by mistake," Umberto Eco said. "He dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else."

Medievalist Raymond Klibansky was one of those heroes.

A German Jew, Klibansky worked as a philosophy professor at the University of Heidelberg in the early 1930s.

He was an expert in Nicholas of Cusa, another German philosopher who, 500 years before, had fathered "modernism" by arguing that science is superior to superstition.

Nazi ideologues drove Klibansky to England, where he found other teaching jobs. When England declared war on Germany in 1939, Klibansky took a government job in intelligence.

He used his intelligence job to warn every British and American air force officer he could reach that there was a target inside Germany they must not bomb: St. Nicholas Hospital, in the town of Bernkastel-Kues.

The hospital had been founded by Nicholas of Cusa, and housed his 500-year-old manuscripts—irreplaceable codebooks to the medieval mind.

Thanks to Klibansky's pleas, the Allies spared the building.

When the philosopher visited the town after the armistice in 1945, Bernkastel-Kues' citizens threw a party and gave Klibansky a hero's welcome.

The philosopher moved to Canada the following year, where he taught at McGill for the next 30 years, and lived and wrote to the venerable age of 100.
Powered by Blogger.