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Herbert Steinschneider


Phil Steinschneider


As a municipal employee my father was in an enviable situation.  We had a small but adequate apartment on the second floor of one of the newer apartment complexes in Grenoble, with a balcony that opened on the Cours Berriat, a large tree-lined boulevard, with a view of the snowcapped Belledonne peaks.  These mountains proved to be a particular attraction to me, and I became an avid mountain climber and skier.  My brother has always claimed that there was no mountain too high to be adequately sized up from below, but my own love for climbing was not just about the "other side" and the view from above.  Rather, I have long suspected it was a theological ailment, especially as I have learned that many clergymen, including a Pope, have been avid mountain climbers.

Grenoble offered skiing and mountain climbing on weekends with the Club Alpin, which I joined with some of my fellow students.  Basic caution was impressed upon me early.  On the descent from the Grande Ruine in the Oisans, when his rope of three neglected to take elementary precautions and secure one another in the prescribed manner, a friend and both his companions were killed when one of them slipped.  In mountain climbing one does not make a mistake twice.  I have never climbed even the simplest rock surface without a competent companion, or, for larger climbs, without a professional guide.  Only once did I violate this rule, in the belief that the ascent of the Mont Blanc was just an extended walk.  I got lost on a glacier, caught with large boulders whizzing by on both sides.  I had to bivouac overnight not far from the summit.

Another friend of these days was Paul Faure, a lanky skeptic.  Together we shared some days on the slopes, discussing basic human problems, friendship, and the dream of a better world.  Years later I was able to introduce him to life in the United States when he came to visit me, and I arranged for him to see friends all over the country.  A Colonial Administrator by profession, Paul served as a Captain in the French war in Vietnam, and entered diplomatic service after that, which made him an occasional visitor to Washington.  He retired recently as the French Ambassador to the Organization of American States.  As with Georges Berthoin, our minds have never changed wavelength in half a century.  We have met sometimes after ten or twenty years and understood each other as if we had never been separated.  I have found this to be a mark of true friendship.

With the second Baccalauréat behind us in June of 1942 came the time to choose a university.  My brother would take the easy solution.  He applied for a License in German, in which we were as fluent as in French.  There would be no challenge involved.  This was not the road I wanted to take.  I toyed with the possibility of a medical career, but the requirement of another year of science made this questionable.  Law seemed to be too dry, but Philosophy could have some attraction.  The first weeks of the Summer passed without a decision.

One evening I had gone to bed late.  Outside it was quiet and the room was lit from the street below.  I was only half asleep, when I heard a soft voice say,