May 10, 2012

An example of how the Guardian was impelled by forces which so mysteriously animated all his decisions -- a trip to England during the Second World War: Recalled by Ruhiyyih Khanum

At the time my father was invited by the Guardian to come and live with us in the Holy Land, after my mother's unexpected death in Argentina in March 1940, Shoghi Effendi decided, for reasons of his own, to go to England. For those who were not in the Middle East-European theatre of war, it is almost impossible to convey any picture of the infinite difficulties involved in such a move at such a moment in history. In spite of the prestige and influence of the Guardian, the fact remained that no visa for England could be granted by the authorities in Palestine and our application was therefore forwarded to London. Shoghi Effendi appealed to his old friend Lord Lamington and requested him to use his good offices in ensuring a visa was granted, but by the time it became imperative for us to leave at once for England if we were ever to reach there, no answer had yet been received by the Palestine authorities and Lord Lamington's reply was long delayed in reaching us.

Impelled by the forces which so mysteriously animated all his decisions, the Guardian decided to proceed to Italy, for which country we had obtained a visa. We left Haifa on 15 May in a small and smelly Italian aquaplane, with the water sloshing around under the boards our feet rested on as if we were in an old row-boat. A few days later we arrived in Rome and I went to Genoa to meet my father who arrived on the last sailing the S.S. Rex ever made as a passenger ship. As soon as we returned, the Guardian sent my father and me to the British Consul to inquire if our visa had by any chance been transferred from Palestine. But there was no news and the Consul said he was absolutely powerless to give us a visa as all authorizations had to come from London and he was no longer in a position to contact his government! We returned with this heart-breaking news to the Guardian.

He sent us back again. Of course we obeyed him implicitly because he was the Guardian, but neither my father nor I could see what more there was we could possibly do than we had already done. Nevertheless we found ourselves again seated opposite the Consul and saying very much the same things all over again, with the exception that I said he was the Head of the Bahá'í Faith and so on. The Consul looked at me and said "I remember 'Abdu'l-Bahá..." and went on to recount some contact he had had with the Master. He was obviously deeply touched by this memory. He took our passport, stamped a visa for England in it and said he had no right whatsoever to do so and that it was not worth the paper it was stamped on, but it was all he could do; and that if we wished to try to enter England with it, that must be our own decision and we risked being refused. With this we immediately left Italy for France, passing through Menton on 25 May and proceeding to Marseilles. Within a few days Italy entered the war against the Allies.

It is hard to describe the period that followed. The whole episode was like a brilliantly lit nightmare - a personal nightmare for us and a giant nightmare in which the whole of Europe was involved. As our train made its way to Paris every station was crowded with thousands of refugees fleeing before the rapidly crumbling Allied front in the North. There was no way of getting any accurate information, chaos was descending. In Paris we discovered to our dismay that all ports to England were closed and the last hope of reaching that country - a hope diminishing hourly - was to go down to the little port of St Malo and see if we could still get a boat from there. We, and hundreds of other people trying to get home to England, had to wait a week before at last two boats succeeded in calling at St Malo.

I never saw the Guardian in the condition he was during those days. From morning to night he would mostly sit quite still, immobile as a stone image, and I had the impression he was being consumed with suffering, like a candle burning itself away. Twice a day he would send my father and me to the boat company in the port to inquire if there was any news of a ship and twice a day we had to come back and say "no news". It may seem strange to others that he should have been terribly concerned, but a mind like his was so infinitely better equipped to understand the danger to the Cause of our situation than we were - and God knows I was ill with worry too.

Both my father and I were still feeling the great shock of my mother's sudden death from a heart attack and this, combined with everything else, made him, at least, almost numb. Not so the Guardian, who realized that if he fell into the hands of the Nazis, who had already banned the Cause in their own country and were closely associated with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem - who was actively engaged in Arab politics and the avowed enemy of the Guardian - he would very likely be imprisoned, if not worse, and the Cause itself be left with no leader and no one to encourage and guide the Bahá'í world at such a time of world chaos.

It seems to me the situation was very similar to those days in 'Akká when the Master had been in danger of being taken off to a new place of exile and when He too had waited for news of a ship.

At last we embarked on the first of the two boats that came during the night of 2 June to evacuate the people stranded in St Malo and we sailed in total darkness for Southampton, where we arrived on the following morning. It was the day after we left, as I remember, that the Germans marched into St Malo. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, pp. 177-178)