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Inge Elsas: 1915-2012

Having joined the Anthroposophical Society in January at age 96, Inge Elsas crossed the threshold on April 25, 2012. In the last issue of being human, you read the story of her amazing life. These last months were a fitting culmination to that life, and show us the truth of understanding our journey together as a Mystery Drama.

You will recall that I’d been awakened to the realization that Inge, having been a pupil of Ita Wegman in Arlesheim, Switzerland from 1933-37 (Wegman and scores of other members were excluded from the Society in 1935), was in a unique position to perform the earthly deed of joining the Anthroposophical Society on behalf of her teacher. This healing gesture had to be taken up in full consciousness by someone on this side of the threshold.

Something I did not share in that article was that I set the Destiny Question for Inge in rhyming verse (she loved a rhyme!) and arrived early at study group that evening, keen to make the Official Presentation. One of Inge’s endearing traits was her perpetual eagerness, upon greeting you at the door, to show you the latest award she’d won, article or picture she’d cut out, letter or gift she’d received… We always began with “show and tell”—Inge showing and telling! So here I come, mission in hand; but as I’m trying to hand my paper to her, she’s shoving a yellowed page at me, saying “Look, look at this biography I wrote when I was 17! I just found it in my papers last

night. I don’t know what it’s from—I didn’t even know I had it!” I glance at the handwritten draft entitled “Lebenslauf”, but insist that Inge look at what I brought for her. Finally, I get her to open up the poem, promising to read her C.V. simultaneously. And then I realize what it is she’s handed me—it’s the biography she submitted with her application to Nursing School in Arlesheim!

At the same time Inge is being asked to undertake an ultimate deed of healing, she is offered proof of how destiny placed her in the position to be able to take up that deed in the first place! We were both overcome, as were our study companions when all this was shared with them later that night.

That is but one elegant closure among many in Inge’s final months. Two more came within ten days of her death:

It was anthroposophy that had saved her from Nazi Germany in 1933 and it was Tulane School of Social Work that had brought her to New Orleans in 1941. On April 17 the Anthroposophical Society and Tulane School of Social Work cosponsored Transforming Culture: Rudolf Steiner’s Vision in Action, and Inge Elsas sat on the front row in the auditorium.

On April 15, Torin Finser (in town to participate in the panel at Tulane) met with Society members here. At dinner, Inge stood and read a blessing she had translated from her days at Sonnenhof. Because of her hearing loss, group discussions had become challenging for Inge. Even at study group, it was increasingly difficult for her to keep up with conversation. That night we were “12+1” in my living room, yet Inge was totally engaged. Torin had just returned from the General Secretaries’ meeting and the worldwide AGM at the Goetheanum, so we began with a report from Dornach. Imagine our amazement when Torin told us of Heidrun Scholze’s request at the AGM that “the Anthroposophical Society publically express the wish to deal with and heal the wounds inflicted by the exclusions from the 1930’s.” (Anthroposophy Worldwide 5/12, p.14). I checked in with Inge the next day to make certain that she’d heard and understood the significance of this. She had indeed.

Inge as a nursing student (second from left, standing, in white) at the Wegman Klinik in Arlesheim.

Inge as a nursing student (second from left, standing, in white) at the Wegman Klinik in Arlesheim.

Many other wonderful things filled Inge’s last days on earth, but these were the highlights. The morning of April 25, she completed and crossed off her calendar her usual Wednesday volunteer tasks. Having bathed in preparation to attend an evening program, she exited her body rather than the tub.

Inge was so proud and grateful to be a member of the Anthroposophical Society. She joined with the intention of healing the terrible damage wrought 77 years ago. That intention was echoed 10 weeks later from the floor at the Goetheanum. How do we now take up this call? How do we continue the healing work, which though blessed by the Spirit, must happen among us here on earth?

If she were still alive, Inge Elsas would no doubt be physically among us in Ann Arbor this August. As it is, she will be very much present in spirit, as will many other friends, colleagues and teachers. Let us honor all of them by acknowledging what happened in 1935 and seeking to understand the “wound” that afflicts us to this day. By healing “what ails us,” we can turn our loving compassion, strong and whole, toward healing the world.

Margaret Runyon, New Orleans