From the Collections: Adrienne Vinciguerra’s testimony in A Century of Christian Science Healing

March 30, 2021

Watchtowersoverlooking STALAG Concentration camp

Image of one of the watchtowers where the soldiers overlooked the barbed wire fence around the camp. They were equipped with searchlights and machine guns to prevent escapes from the STALAG. Circa 1942. Courtesy of Documentation centre of Austrian resistance, DÖW.

In 1966, 100 years after Mary Baker Eddy’s discovery of Christian Science, The Christian Science Publishing Society issued A Century of Christian Science Healing. The book— a collection of healing accounts that took place over the decades—included one previously unpublished testimony from Adrienne Vinciguerra (1918–1995). It described her experiences in World War II.1

Vinciguerra stated that, after learning of Christian Science, she walked out of a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp and journeyed across the Third Reich, seeking to gain knowledge of the religion. The Mary Baker Eddy Library is sometimes asked if her account is true. Also if A Century of Christian Science Healing was discontinued because her testimony was not authentic.

Having investigated this in our records and other available sources, we can see why such questions have been raised over the decades. There may be more to understand as new information comes to light. Here is what we have learned so far.

Lily Adrienne Vinciguerra was born on February 9, 1918, in Vienna, Austria, to August Vinciguerra and Blanche Mabel Hobling.2 Her mother died when she was nine. In 1939, one year after Austria came under Nazi control, she married Desider Hajas de Simonyi (1914–1970), who was of Hungarian nationality. He was also known by the German name Dominik Hartmann. According to Vinciguerra, he served in the German army. They divorced after the war.3 This biographical information is based on accounts from Vinciguerra herself; more research is needed to confirm it.

A Century described Vinciguerra’s testimony as “given here in full, unedited detail.” However, the account was an edited transcript of an audio recording that Vinciguerra made in 1963, at the request of The Mother Church. Here is one example of the differences between the two accounts. The published testimony begins by stating this:

I was living in Austria, it was the year 1942. At the time I was in Stalag 17A. It was a prisoner of war camp on the Hungarian border. There were also young people there like myself whose parents were known to have worked in the underground.4

At the same time, Vinciguerra says this in the transcription of the tape recording:

“I was in Stalag 17A…which was for young people whose parents worked in the underground, people who were not of Jewish background but they were undesirable and you couldn’t do much with them so they kept us in this camp ….”5

View of STALAG camp

A general View of the camp with its barracks, seen from the north, circa 1946. Courtesy of Museums und Kulturverein Kaisersteinbruch, MuK.

 

Vinciguerra also stated on tape that “there were other Austrian young people [in Stalag 17A] for the same reason that I was there but basically it was a prisoner of war camp for French people, for French prisoners of war and Russians.” In a telephone call with an employee of The Mother Church, she elaborated:

… I was there because of the work of my father but it was a prisoner of war camp…. We were there just to — they couldn’t put us in concentration camps because we were not Jewish — they just had to put us somewhere behind barbed wire because we weren’t too reliable, from their point of view. And the treatment was atrocious but it wasn’t a concentration camp. The object was detainment; I mean no one left; I was the only one who ever walked out of that place. No one left. All the others had to wait until the Americans came in 1945. You didn’t just walk out….6

Library researchers learned more about Stalag 17A from the account of Constantin Joffé, a former French prisoner of war. In his 1943 book We Were Free, he wrote about his confinement in that camp.7 A New York Times review of the book included this explanation of the conditions there:

The prison camp in which Mr. Joffé and 90,000 others were confined was at Kaisersteinbruch in Austria, near the Hungarian border, and was known as Stalag XVII A. Conditions were appalling. Sanitation was almost non-existent. Filth, rags, cold and disease were life itself. The food consisted of a cup of ersatz acorn coffee, six and one-half ounces of bread and two cups of soup a day.

Joffé went on to describe the soup:

Potatoes, rotted black and almost liquid, tossed into water unpeeled and unwashed, with a touch of salt, a touch of margarine, and served when cooked; the mess smelled more of filth than of food; I am sure no mongrel could have stomached this delicious stew. The first time it swam into my ken I could not touch it; the odor was so violent that I vomited. After, when hunger mitigated our appreciation of such differences, my comrades and I fought to get it.

The Times reviewer summarized several points in Joffé’s memoir that may have a bearing on assessing Vinciguerra’s claims:

Men sickened and died. They toiled in salt mines and on roads. Some were tortured, all were constantly humiliated. But a few escaped and continued to escape. Some of the Austrian military guards proved to be violent anti-Nazis with Socialist or Communist convictions.8

In her recording, Vinciguerra recalled that in September 1942 she was “given two weeks of absence to seek the services of an eye specialist in Wiesbaden.” It was during the visit that the doctor gave her a copy of Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as well as an issue of The Herald of Christian Science. She obtained a Bible on the return journey to Stalag 17A.9

The plausibility of her traveling unaccompanied between the camp and Wiesbaden—a distance of about 500 miles—raised questions for B. Crandell Epps, who was involved in the preparation of A Century.10 During a telephone call, he asked Vinciguerra about this travel:

Then you had some sort of a pass and they, perhaps they just figured that without your i.d. cards or identity cards or ration cards that you would have to come back. Would that be it? When they let you go visit the doctor ….

She replied:

Oh—well no you see in Nazi Germany everything was so controlled—if you went to, if you got a pass to Wiesbaden there was nothing else you could do humanly speaking except come there. Everything was policed; everything was controlled; everyone—you always were checked on where you were….11

Vinciguerra reported in her published account that what she was reading in Science and Health had an immediate impact. When she returned to the camp from Wiesbaden, she claimed, it “was enough so that the expression on my face had changed so much that some of the people in the camp didn’t recognize me.” She remembered that she studied the Bible and Science and Health “day and night,” and that the study absorbed all her thoughts. “I sat in this one room that we had—twelve women in one room—with one light bulb on the ceiling,” she remembered. “I sat on the floor and just spent every minute studying that I possibly could.”

After several months, she had an epiphany:

… all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of what man is: the spiritual image and likeness of God. It was just as if a fog had been let open and I saw that man—as he really is—cannot be detained in a prison, he cannot be confined in a camp, but he is as unlimited and unbounded as God. It practically seemed ridiculous to think that you could keep man behind barbed wires, or confined within anything.

And according to her account, with that Vinciguerra simply walked out of Stalag 17A in January 1943 “by broad daylight,” with nothing but a few personal belongings and her books. No one stopped her.12

After walking for two hours, she caught a train for Vienna. Her motive for escape was to learn more of Christian Science by finding people who could answer her many questions. However, she first located her father, August Vinciguerra, and asked him for money. Although not part of the printed testimony, she stated in her audio recording that he was later executed for treason. Subsequently she corrected herself on that point in the June 22, 1965, phone call with Epps, saying that her father had not been executed but had committed suicide “in order to avoid being executed.”13

According to Vinciguerra, 1943 was a pivotal year for her. After a brief stay in Vienna, where she first encountered another Christian Scientist, she ventured north, to the cities of Breslau, Berlin, Rostock, and Hamburg. She stayed in the deserted Baltic Sea resort of Warnemünde, in order to be near an elderly Christian Scientist who answered her questions and “was not afraid.”

Vinciguerra testified that even without identity papers or food ration cards, she was able to travel, returning to Vienna late in 1943. She may have lived in Vienna with Maria Band, another Christian Scientist. Twenty-two years later, Band attended the 1965 Annual Meeting of The Mother Church in Boston. While she was there, Epps interviewed her about the veracity of Vinciguerra’s story. Band confirmed that Vinciguerra—whom she had then known for 22 years—had told her about her imprisonment, introduction to Christian Science, and escape from Stalag 17A, as well as other details.

Epps asked Band about Vinciguerra’s alleged visit to Wiesbaden. “I didn’t think they’d ever let people out of concentration camps,” he remarked (apparently not distinguishing concentration camps from prisoner-of-war camps), “but she said she had this two-week pass to leave the camp…to visit an eye doctor….” He then asked Band, “Now would that seem logical and acceptable to you in terms of how they run these camps that they would let her go?” Band replied: “I think that when one is sick or something you see so they did give her permission you see. They had no doctors there, I mean no specialists. It was rather primitive that camp you see. So she went ….” Epps asked, “But it was unusual that she could just walk out of the camp wasn’t it?” Band replied, “It was quite unusual.”

Band also explained to Epps that she and Vinciguerra had gone to London soon after the war, in order to have Christian Science Primary class instruction with Col. Robert Ellis Key, CSB. After the class, Vinciguerra lived in London for several years.14

At the time she spoke with Epps, Band signed a statement vouching for the claims Vinciguerra had made, declaring she had personal knowledge of those experiences and confirming “that the details are correct as stated.”15

Before Vinciguerra’s testimony could be published in A Century, it required verification by people who either knew of Vinciguerra’s experiences or could vouch for her integrity. So in addition to Band, two other individuals were contacted. Naomi Price was a practitioner of Christian Science who had met Vinciguerra in 1947, around the time she joined Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist, London. In 1965 Price wrote this:

I would like to make it quite clear that I cannot personally vouch for the facts in the account of Mrs. Vinciguerra’s experiences before she came to England. There are, of course, various incidents in it about which she has told me, but I never questioned her concerning them or encouraged her to speak of them. When the war ended there was scarcely any European who had not had extraordinary, dangerous and mentally harrowing experiences. As Christian Scientists we were concerned with the healing of mental and physical wounds. In order to do this effectively one learned to guide thought away from contemplation of war conditions. Consequently, it is not surprising that a great deal of Mrs. Vinciguerra’s story is new to me.

Price affirmed that Vinciguerra had told her about travelling to the eye specialist in Wiesbaden and receiving Science and Health from him. She also remembered hearing “how she left the Prisoner of War Camp” and some of the experiences that followed. Price added, “Mrs. Vinciguerra is an unusual, intelligent and dynamic individual and has had many experiences which are out of the ordinary.”16

Christian Science practitioner Helen Beamish was a more recent acquaintance of Vinciguerra, who by 1965 was living in California. As a verifier of the published testimony in A Century, she wrote that she had known Vinciguerra for eight years and first heard of her experiences “a few years ago and it was told almost word for word as it was written to you.” She added that “for a long time she couldn’t talk about it—it was so sacred to her. I believe I was one of the first to hear about it, out here. I feel she is most capable as well as alert to protect this wonderful demonstration of hers.”17

Verifying Vinciguerra’s account was no doubt challenging. While she supplied the names of three individuals who knew her and could vouch for her integrity, none had been eyewitnesses to most of the incidents she recounted. Only Maria Band had known her in Vienna during the tumultuous period associated with her testimony.

Vinciguerra had remained in London until 1950, when she traveled to San Francisco to train as a Christian Science nurse at the Christian Science Benevolent Association on the Pacific Coast. She stayed there for 11 months but did not complete the training course.18 She remained in the United States and became an American citizen in 1957.

In 1953 Vinciguerra attended the Annual Meeting in Boston. While there she gave a testimony about her wartime experiences at a Wednesday evening service in The Mother Church. DeWitt John, then Chief of the News & Radio Division of the Committee on Publication, approached her about recording her account, perhaps for use on the church’s soon-to-be-launched radio program How Christian Science Heals. Clayton Bion Craig, a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors, also spoke to her about her testimony and felt it was “very wonderful.”19

But it was another ten years before Vinciguerra submitted the 1963 audio recording that became the basis for her account in A Century. Her accompanying letter stated that in 1953, when asked to record her experiences, “I was leaving Boston the next morning and I didn’t really feel ready to talk about it in public—now I do.”20

Adrienne Vinciguerra’s testimony remained in A Century of Christian Science Healing until the book went out of print. It is still available in many Christian Science Reading Rooms. Many questions remain about this intriguing account and its historical context. The Library will keep you informed as we learn more.


Read a transcript of Adrienne Vinciguerra’s 1963 tape recorded account, which served as the basis for her testimony in A Century of Christian Science Healing, here (PDF).

Read E. Crandell Epps’ notes on his 1965 phone conversation with Vinciguerra here (PDF).


 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. A Century of Christian Science Healing (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1966), 136–145.
  2. “Lily Mabel Vinciguerra” in the US Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936–2007, https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/21242070:60901?tid=&pid=&queryId=5cf85acc45ad5aeaaf5e3eb37c59d3e4&_phsrc=TUO1&_phstart=successSource, retrieved 2/12/2021. Vinciguerra modified her given name, but not her surname, several times over the decades.
  3. Hartmann went on to become a well-known music critic in Vienna. See Bakk Sabine Nebenführ, “Parteimedien in Krisenzeiten. Eine kritische Diskursanalyse der ‘Arbeiter-Zeitung’, ‘Das kleine Volksblatt’ und ‘Österreichische Volksstimme’ während des Ungarischen Volksaufstandes 1956 und Prager Frühling 1968.” March 2010, Thesis, 167.
  4. A Century, 136.
  5. Transcription of November 1963 Vinciguerra audio tape, 1, Box 36743, Folder 66013. Stalag 17A was located near Kaisersteinbruch, about 30 miles from Vienna.
  6. “Telephone Conversation Crandell Epps and Mrs. L. Adrienne Vinciguerra, June 22, 1965,” 6–7, Box 36743, Folder 66013.
  7. Constantin Joffé, trans. Jacques Le Clerq, We Were Free (New York: Smith & Durrell, Inc., 1943).
  8. Orville Prescott, “Books of the Times,” The New York Times, 31 May 1943, 15. Prescott quotes from Joffé, We Were Free, 72–73.
  9. A Century, 136–137.
  10. Epps worked in the office that oversaw Christian Science military chaplains but was apparently assigned to work with Vinciguerra by the Committee on Publication—the Christian Science church’s public information office.
  11. “Telephone Conversation Crandell Epps and Mrs. L. Adrienne Vinciguerra, June 22, 1965,” 7.
  12. A Century, 137.
  13. Transcription of November 1963 Vinciguerra audio tape, 4, Box 36743, Folder 66013; “Telephone Conversation Crandell Epps and Mrs. L. Adrienne Vinciguerra, June 22, 1965,” 7–8.
  14. “Verification of Mrs. L. Adrienne Vinciguerra’s testimony: Crandell Epps and Miss Maria Band, June 11, 1965,” Box 36743, Folder 66013; When Vinciguerra joined The Mother Church in 1947, she gave her name as Mrs. Lily Vinciguerra and her address as 12 Randolph Ave., London W9, England. Her application was approved by Marjorie L. Gilmour, CS, and countersigned by Evelyn F. Heywood, CSB.
  15. Maria Band, “Verification: Testimony of Healing Submitted by Mrs. L. Adrienne Vinciguerra, June 11, 1965,” Box 36743, Folder 66013.
  16. Naomi Price to David Sleeper, letter, 23 July 1965, Box 36743, Folder 66013.
  17. Helen Beamish to David Sleeper, letter, 2, 23 July 1965, Box 36743, Folder 66013.
  18. William H. Waite to David E. Sleeper, memo, 4 August 1965, Box 36743, Folder 66013.
  19. Vinciguerra recounted the 1953 encounter in her letter to DeWitt John, 29 November 1963, Box 36743, Folder 66013. She mentioned Craig in “Telephone Conversation Crandell Epps and Mrs. L. Adrienne Vinciguerra, June 22, 1965,” 10.
  20. Vinciguerra to DeWitt John, 29 November 1963. The tape recording is no longer extant; it may have been returned to Vinciguerra.