The Life of Saint Edith Stein
Martyr of Auschwitz
“Jesus remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” We were staying in the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, in Krakow, Poland. The good sisters wanted the little pre-school children to sing and perform skits for us.They were so proud of their little charges.
The children went from love songs to Jesus and Mary in Polish, to the only song they knew in English: “Jesus remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” Little did the sisters know why we were crying. As we scanned their precious innocent faces, all we could see were the precious innocent faces of children who, fifty years before, had gone to their horrible deaths in the Nazi death camps of Adolf Hitler. For you see, just two days before, we had walked the Way of the Cross through Auschwitz.
Our guide at the Concentration Camp said that no one leaves Auschwitz unchanged. She warned us that we would never forget Auschwitz! And she was right! For many years, we had avoided the ugly graphic truth of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. In the Holy Land, we avoided the Monument to the Holocaust. Whenever we visited Germany, we said our Rosary and the prayers for the dead as we passed quickly by Dachau. But stop and go inside? No way! I remember one time, when our daughter wanted to go inside Dachau, I said “I’m so sorry, but I can’t!”
Auschwitz - “Work Makes us Free!” - “Arbeit Macht Frei”
That lying, blasphemous sign stares you in the face, as you approach the entrance to Auschwitz. As you walk through the gate, the silent screams of those who went before you greet you, and you are in the midst of horror. Gray somber buildings flank each side of the dirt road on which unknowing victims walked to their death. They stand as mournful remembrances of the torture chambers that had been within. When the former army barracks could no longer contain all the poor people arriving in cattle cars (trains), the Nazis used the prisoners to build second floors on the buildings. And when they couldn’t kill the prisoners fast enough,
they had them build more buildings so that they would be able to handle the huge extermination program they had undertaken. It is inconceivable that anyone would be so inhumane as to use prisoners to build the means that would be used for their torture and death, and that of their families and friends. But these soldiers, who had once worshiped God, had managed to block Him out of their lives; and when mankind turns his back on God, he is capable of anything.
Even the sky was gray! The rocks seemed to scream out accusingly: “Where were you when Christ died once more on the Cross?” We want to tell you briefly of a Nun whose only sin was that she was born Jewish.
Blessed Edith Stein
Saint, Carmelite Sister,
Convert from Judaism,
Edith Stein was born in Wroclaw, Poland (formerly known as Breslau, Germany) on October 12, 1891. Edith Stein’s parents were Jewish.
They had come to Wroclaw, searching for a better life for themselves and their children. The year that she was born, Edith’s birthday fell on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, The Jewish Day of Atonement - “Yom Kippur”. As this is of such importance to their Hebrew Faith, Edith’s mother took it as a sign, her child was highly favored with Yahweh. This was one of the reasons she so treasured Edith. Another reason was the special part she played, the day her husband left for work, for the last time. The day was unusually hot. Edith (twenty- one months old), nestled in her mother’s arms, called out to her father. He turned around and waved to them. That was the last memory she had of her husband. They were never to see him alive again, as he died of a sunstroke that day.
Her mother became the head of the family, working and yet very much the mother in control of the home and her responsibilities as a parent. She was a strong woman, a religious woman, going to Synagogue with the older children on the Jewish High Holy Days. She was not Orthodox, however. She kept her store open on Saturday which was the Sabbath, and work was not permitted according to Jewish law. The family also prayed in German, not in Hebrew. So, the sad truth was with so many that the Nazis killed, the German
Penny was born September 23rd. That year, “Yom Kippur” fell on her birthday. Jews considered themselves Germans! They loved Germany. They loved their homeland! It is as if someone in our government said that you are not an American because you are Catholic. They were Jews by religion, but they considered themselves loyal citizens of Germany.
Edith Stein was always a brilliant student. When she turned seventeen, she entered a Girl’s High School in Breslau. At the same time, in another part of Germany, another teenager was failing an entrance exam to the Academy of Arts and already blaming it all on the Jews. Adolph Hitler was reading anti-Semitic literature and planning his revenge on those who dared to pass grades, who had stores and professions. It wasn’t important to him that these people had saved and scrimped to give their children educations, and their children had worked equally industriously to attain high grades in school and success in life. They had something he wanted and he hated them for it, and he plotted to take everything away from them, initially their possessions and then ultimately their lives. Two teenagers - one a Saint and the other damned to Hell for all eternity.
Edith Stein always had a very strong bond with her family. They cared for one another. She had all the joy of life with brothers and sisters and loads of aunts, uncles and cousins. They would be an integral part of her formation into a warm, compassionate adult. The other teenager, the young Hitler, an orphan without a family was already an angry dissident. Feeling no commitment to anyone but self, he was hiding in Vienna, trying to avoid being drafted into the Austrian Army.
Edith Stein entered the University of Breslau in 1911. She registered in the Department of Psychology and for two years she was unable to pray. She called this her period of atheism. First of all, Psychology, at that time, did not acknowledge man had a soul. Did she get caught up in that lunacy? [I remember, a couple of weeks after our son entered college, he came home and said there was no God!] Edith had always been an individual, strong willed, with her own mind. The Lord will use this later on when she will need these qualities to bring about His Will.
She loved to learn, and there was excitement in this new challenge. What had happened to her was what we have seen happen to other young people entering universities. Suddenly the enemy attacks with pride; we forget Who gave us the intellect we have, and Who it is Who gives us the desire to do something with that intellect.
We turn to man, whether a professor we admire or fellow students, or give credit to ourselves. We no longer look up, but down, and like Peter, if we do not turn to Him Who is the Giver of all things good, we find ourselves drowning.
But Edith looked for answers in Psychology. When she found it was unable to provide itself with a solid intellectual grounding, she turned to Philosophy in her pursuit of truth. We know God never gives up on us. Even as we are forgetting Him, turning away from Him, rejecting Him, He is placing people in our path who will lead us back to Him. Edith Stein turned away from her God; she believed as long as she and her friends stuck together, they could overcome the evils she saw taking over the world. But God was going to have none of that. He had plans for her.
God placed her among Jewish intellectuals who had become Christians. Although she considered herself an atheist, she found herself seeking truth, and she later wrote that anyone seeking truth is in reality longing to find God, whether he knows it or not. God would not have an easy time with her. Being brilliant, she had little tolerance for those who thought differently than she. The intellectuals in the University she attended, were studying supernatural truths which they considered as real as other phenomena. She began to study under the renowned philosopher Husserl who taught her that “knowledge, as the name implies, depends on knowing. It is in knowing that we possess the truth.” Although she never spoke of converting, she was on her way to Christ, in seeking the truth.
We cannot help reflect on the paths the two were taking, the Martyr and the Murderer. As Edith Stein was reaching out, trying to discover the truth, Hitler was captured, arrested and brought to the Austrian Consulate. He joined the army. He later said that he learned more in the Army about the problems of life than he could have ever hoped to learn in thirty years in a university. Edith served as a Red Cross nurse, compassionately, lovingly administering to soldiers of the Austrian Army infected with spotted fever, dysentery and cholera.
One of Edith’s friends, Adolf Reinach, joined the Army. This friend died at the front. But before he did, he converted to Christ at the front. When asked what was one of the motivating forces that led her to Christ, she answered, it was the faith, Adolf’s wife had in the power of the mystery of the Cross. When Edith reached out to his wife at the funeral, instead of a grieving widow, she found a woman filled with peace. Adolf’s wife was able “to console
Edith, rather than be consoled by Edith because of her faith in a loving God.” Although she had found the Crucified Lord, Whom she would follow to her cross, in the witnessing of this Christian, it would be five years before she would convert.
Edith was always involved with humanity, her fellow human beings. In High School, she campaigned as a suffragette. In 1918, she supported the German Democratic Party. She became very interested in the political climate of Germany.
Meanwhile, Hitler in 1919 was writing, in his first manifesto: Because of the crimes the Jews had committed, which he listed, they were to be removed from their midst. [Later, in 1942, Rudolf Hoss stated in his diary: “The Jews are the sworn enemies of the German people and must be eradicated. Every Jew that we can lay our hands on is to be destroyed now during the war, without exception. If we cannot obliterate the biological basis of Jewry, the Jews will one day destroy the German people.” And then on January 20, 1942, in Berlin there was a conference attended by high ranking officials of the Third Reich. Eichmann and Heydrich were present when they decided that 11,000,000 Jews were to be exterminated.]
Most of her friends had converted to the Lutheran Faith, and it is believed what held her up from converting was, she really did not know which Church she should join. When she read St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, she said that she knew this was the truth, that the Catholic Church contained the Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. She had just happened on this book. But she found she could not put it down, reading through the night to the next morning. Without sleep, but full of excitement and resolve, she immediately bought a Catholic Catechism and a Missal. As St. Teresa of Avila had been influenced by St. Augustine, we see the never-dying words of truth, only now through St. Teresa, influencing another future Saint.
Edith walked the difficult path between her loyalty to her mother and Judaism, and her growing awareness of this God Who was growing inside her. To her family, Catholicism was a cult steeped in superstition. They pictured Edith kissing Priests’ shoes and “going around on her knees”. Her mother believed differently. Although she did not want Edith to become a Catholic, she saw that God was placing His Hand on her daughter and she dare not interfere.
“On the wall, by the font, there is a plaque dedicated to her. It depicts the scene from 1 Kings 19:17. A loaf of bread and jug of water have been placed at the feet of the sleeping Elijah by the Angel who bids him: `Get up and eat or the journey will be too long for you.’” It goes on to suggest “that it is the heavenly Bread awaiting Edith at the baptismal font, the Eucharist, which alone enabled her to ascend the Mount Horeb of her life through the gas chamber, where she died for her people and her faith.”
Her life changed after her baptism. This well-known intellectual left the university and taught in a remote Dominican school for the next eight years. Edith would have become a Religious immediately after she was admitted into the Church, but her spiritual director would not permit this, as he judged she could do so much more out in the world through her role as a prominent lay woman. Besides, he argued this would be too much for her mother to accept, on top of her converting to Christianity. Edith began to lead the life of a Religious, reading the Office daily, and the Psalms. She not only poured through Holy Scripture, relating with it, she faithfully digested her Breviary. She was passionately in love with the entire liturgy of the Church.
She lost none of her sense of humor, though, or her concern for others. All the pride, she had had, turned into humility. All her impatience with others, turned into patience and gentleness. The girl who had always been good was now holy.
Jacques Maritain wrote: “How can one describe the purity, the light which shone from Edith Stein at the time of her conversion, the total generosity which one felt in her which was to bear fruit in Martyrdom?”
Now, tracking Hitler, we find he is made leader of the National German Workers’ Party. After he unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the government, he was imprisoned; there he wrote Mein Kampf. How would he be able to stir up hate and division? Lay blame. Tell the German people that the Jews were not created by
January 1st is the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary. So, we can see the Mother of Jesus and her hand in bringing this other daughter of Abraham to her Son Jesus. Edith will always have a relationship with Mary. January 1st is also the date that Bob and Penny came back to Jesus and the Church.
God. [Don’t we excuse the killing of unborn children saying they are fetuses, not human beings?] Hitler proclaimed that only the Aryan was formed in the true image of God, and the Jew was molded in the image of the other, the direct opposite of God. Where did he get the authority to make such a statement? What did he base this on? On what foundation did this demented structure stand? How did he dare say that any of God’s children were not created by Him? How anyone, with an ounce of brains, and a soul, could accept this ludicrous statement as anything but the ravings of a madman, I don’t know. But for whatever reason, some did, and the end began.
Edith pursued knowledge of her Catholic Faith, recognizing that her intellect was not an enemy to believing in Christ, but a gift from the Father to enable her to help others to understand Him. She turned to St. Thomas Aquinas, and his text “De Veritate” (On Truth) translating it into German. She soon became sought after as a lecturer.
January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor of Germany. She was asked to step down from her position at the University. She was an embarrassment to them because she was Jewish. She became aware of the impending persecution of her people and herself, as well. Two months later, there was an anti-Jewish boycott instituted, covering all of Germany. Seeing the threat to both Christians and Jews, she pleaded for a private audience with Pope Pius XI. When that failed she wrote to him, warning him that the fate of the Jews would also be suffered by Catholics, as well. She prophesied this as early as 1933. Was the Pope hoping that Hitler would not succeed? Did he think that Christians could not follow anyone as demonic as he? No one knows. It is believed he never received her letter.
Edith Stein could have fled from Germany, as many German Jews had, seeing the handwriting on the wall. In fact, prior to this, she had been considering teaching in London. There was also a teaching position offered to her in South America where her brother Arno was living. She could have been with him. Instead, she chose to go to the Cross for her people. She wrote in her essay: “The Road to Carmel” that she had spoken to her Savior and told Him that she recognized it was His Cross that the Jewish people were being made to carry. She wrote that those who understood must accept it with all their heart, for those who did not understand. made her decision to enter the Carmel. She chose the Carmelite Order because she believed, with them, that she was called to share joyfully and freely in Christ’s Redemptive suffering. She offered up her prayer and her life for not only the persecuted (the Jews) but the persecutors (the Nazis). She felt that if she did not pray and offer her life for the immortal souls of the Nazis, and for the remission of their sins, as the Savior had done for all mankind, who would? She was living out St. John of the Cross’ words that: “God sustains and is present substantially in every soul, even that of the worst sinner.” She wrote to friends telling them not to be afraid for her, as “God works out all things for good.”
Not only was Edith to look toward the Cross for her people, but she was to walk the painful Way of the Cross when her family objected so vehemently to her becoming a Nun. Her mother was 84 years old. She grieved that she would never see her again, as Edith would be fully cloistered. Edith was questioned by her niece: Why did she have to become a Nun? Was she denying her people? Edith gently explained to her little niece, she was not entering to escape persecution as a Jewess. Because although she was a Nun, she would always be part of the Jewish people.
On the Feast Day of St. Teresa of Avila, October 14, 1933, Blessed Edith Stein entered the Carmel in Cologne. We can try to experience the joy she felt at being, at last, able to enter the Carmel and live the life of a contemplative, a way of life she so ardently desired. But as all of us know, who have had to leave precious loved ones to serve the Lord, it is bitter herbs mixed with sweet honey. Edith Stein, did you feel the pain that your mentor St. Teresa, felt when you said goodbye to your beloved family?
“while leaving my father’s house, I knew I would not, even at the very moment and agony of my death, feel the anguish of separation more painfully than at that moment and time.”
Blessed Edith Stein took the Religious name “Teresa Benedicta a Cruce”, Teresa Blessed by the Cross. She shared with her Spiritual Director that she chose the name because it represented the one who had led her into the Church and the Carmel, St. Teresa, and the role that she (Edith Stein) chose: to her Lord through the Cross.
All her life, Edith Stein was an asset to everyone who knew her or came in contact with her. In community, she became a source of joy to the other Nuns who were not only aware of her humility, (from the chapter on Teresa of Avila in Bob and Penny’s book: “Saints and Other Powerful Women in the Church”) but of her warmth and her great sense of humor. Like with all the greats (for example St. Anthony), she tried to hide her great intellect, never flaunting it, never talking down to the other novices.
She never forgot her Jewish roots. She had begun writing “Life in a Jewish Family” while she was still at home, putting down on paper the emotional pain of separation from her loved ones, both spiritual and physical. She also wanted to write this as a tribute to her mother, giving her full credit for all she had ever been, was or would be. “The commandment Honor your father and mother” was one that Edith Stein took very seriously. She also wanted to share with the youth, who had been deluded by Hitler and his henchman, the true makeup of the Jewish people, not the devious tainted picture that had been painted, so that they could be manipulated into hating and harming the Jews.
Again, we come to the two who started about the same time: Martyr and murderer. Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” and it has become a book of infamy. Edith Stein wrote a translated Psalm 61 into German and today it is included in the official prayer book used at all Daily Masses in Germany: Hymn #302.10
Edith Stein took her first vows in 1935. When asked how she felt, she replied “Like the Bride of the Lamb”. That year, the Nurenberg Statues imposed grim decrees: Jews were no longer considered citizens and lost all legal rights; Marriage to Jews by Germans was prohibited, punishable by law. With Spring of 1936, there were new beginnings, only they were not the beautiful blooms that please the Lord but the strangling weeds of hate and division. The Nazis marched into the Rhineland, and with them Hell!
1936 was to be a year of pain and joy. When her mother died of cancer, and Edith could not be with her, she thought surely she too would die. Not even the joy of celebrating the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Cross and her renewing her vows, could stop the ache in her heart. She later said that, as she was standing in her choir stall awaiting the renewal of her vows, she felt the presence of her mother beside her. Edith Stein and her mother had such a close relationship, it transcended time and space. [We believe that love never dies. That great love, we have known on earth, will be poured down on us from our loved ones until we are reunited with them in Heaven. I feel the presence of my son as closely as when he was on earth.]
was baptized that Christmas. And so, the Way of the Cross, once again led to Resurrection, as Edith witnessed new life for her sister. Rosa was being born anew, as they were celebrating the coming, the birth of the Messiah, the King of the Universe into the world.
Edith could see that the pieces were coming together; the Cross, the inevitable Cross! Edith completed her great philosophical work “Finite and Eternal Being”, but it could not be published under her name, because she was Jewish. When they suggested bringing it out under the name of a Nazi sympathizer, she refused. This great book, like all great books could not be buried; in 1950 it was finally published and won world-wide acclaim.
Like lava from an erupting volcano, Hitler and his forces of destruction spread to Austria in March of 1938 and on to the Sudetenland in September of that same year. As he was fulfilling his vow to the enemy of God, Edith Stein was taking her final vows. In April of 1938, when she stood before the altar of God and her whole community, she abandoned herself totally to our Lord through His Mother.
Often she was spotted praying before the picture of Our Lady of Sorrows. It was not that she was praying for suffering. We believe that she knew that one day she was to walk that Way of the Cross with Mother Mary and her Son. She believed that only by standing with Mother Mary at the foot of the Cross, your eyes on the Crucified, can you win souls for Jesus. She wrote:
“Today I stood with you beneath the Cross,
And felt more clearly than I ever did
That you became our Mother only there.
Even an earthly mother faithfully
Seeks to fulfill the last will of her son.
But you became the handmaid of the Lord;
The life and being of the God made Man
Was perfectly inscribed in your own life.
So you could take your own into your heart,
And with the lifeblood of your bitter pains
You purchased life anew for every soul.
You know us all, our wounds, our imperfections;
But you know also the celestial radiance
Which your Son’s love would shed on us in Heaven.
Thus carefully you guide our faltering footsteps,
No price too high for you to lead us to our goal.
“But those whom you have chosen for companions14
Above the Fence at Auschwitz and below some of the Children there15
To stand with round the eternal throne,
They here must stand with you beneath the Cross,
And with the lifeblood of their bitter pains
Must purchase heavenly glory for those souls
Whom God’s own Son entrusted to their care.”11
Ten days before the “Kristallnacht”, Edith Stein wrote that like Queen Esther, she was ready to give her life for her people. It was the beginning of the end; synagogues were torched, the Jews’ homes and businesses demolished. They didn’t know what to do! It was mass havoc and desolation. The parents tried to keep their fear from their children. They were like people sleep-walking. They never, for one moment, thought this could happen!
But they had hope! As they were rounded up and led to the trains, they thought they were going to another area to start life anew. They even had to buy their own train tickets! Many purchased from the Gestapo, homes in the new village where they were relocating. They even had deeds to their new homes with them, and some had legal papers showing ownership of businesses they had purchased. They tried to bring all their treasures. They carried all they could, as they were being jammed into cattle cars. They were heartbroken leaving the village of their birth and their families before them, parting from friends and often family, but it was not new with the Jewish people and they would survive.
Thirty to forty thousand Jews were sent to concentration camps on that infamous day when God held His Face in His Hands and cried. Wasn’t His Son’s sacrifice enough? How could His children do this to His other children? The madman Hitler had told the German people that he was just relocating the Jews to another place. He never mentioned killing them; that’s why many Germans had a problem believing this outrageous act against God ever happened. But Hitler and his demonic master-minds had already set up these camps as far back as 1933.
Edith feared for the lives of the Nuns at the Carmel where she was, and the Nuns feared for her life, so on December, 1933 she left for the Carmel in Echt, Holland. There, she spent her time bringing joy as well as spiritual direction to the novices she was teaching. In those days Nuns who did manual tasks such as gardening, cooking and laundering were not allowed to use the library. As she was in charge of professions, she pleaded, all the Nuns and novices and postulants be allowed to read books, even those engaged in physical labor. Permission was denied. But it gives us a glimpse into the never-ending care this Jewish convert had for others. Like the other Jewish Convert - Mother Mary whom she admired so, she was involved with all God’s children.
Although she never showed it outwardly, always cheerful, her writings and poetry show the agonizing she did over the way the world and Hitler were heading. She was not far from wrong! On January the 30th, 1939, Hitler threatened the Jews with total annihilation, if they were the cause of another war. March 25th of that same year, Hitler declared “Poland should be totally subjected.” He was just freeing the Germans under Polish rule, and besides it all really belonged to the Third Reich. He was only planning to regain land from the Poles which really belonged to Germans. It is amazing how many countries conveniently justified Hitler’s words and actions with his premeditated and obviously warped reasoning. They looked away, as the blood began to run down the streets. And the wailing of the “women of Jerusalem” could be heard, and is still heard if one has ears to hear and eyes to see.
In Warsaw, we stood before the Monument, rising high into the sky, remembering the brave Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was a tribute to the Jews who had fought bravely but futilely when the Nazi Gestapo came to get them. There, on the Arch which still hovers over the spot where the Jews were forced to board trains to torture and death, a sign warns:
“Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it”
On Palm Sunday (at that time it was called Passion Sunday), Edith Stein wrote to her prioress:
“Dear Mother, I beg your Reverence’s permission to offer myself to the Heart of Jesus as a sacrificial expiation for the sake of true peace; that the Antichrist’s sway may be broken, if possible, without another world war, and that a new order may be established. I am asking this today because it is already the twelfth hour. I know that I am nothing, but Jesus wills it, and He will call many more to the same sacrifice in these days.”
June of 1939, Edith Stein wrote her last will and testament. She joyfully and peacefully offered herself as a sacrifice: “for the Glory of God, for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate 17
Heart of Mary, for the intentions of Mother Church,13for peace in the world and the salvation of the German nation, and for her family both living and dead.” This she declared as a testimonial of her complete abandonment to “God’s preordained will”.
September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. The rest of Europe had turned its face away, as Hitler took country after country; they made excuses for the evacuation of Jews, the enslavement of Czechoslovakia, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Their thinking had been, with each conquest, that the beast would be satisfied. They started with the concept: Better one than all. But the one turned into another one and then another one, until he walked into Poland! A few days later, she wrote: “Hail Cross, Our Only Hope.”
Edith Stein’s sister Rosa came to the Carmel in Echt, in 1940. She became keeper of the door, welcoming, and also screening those who wanted to speak with the cloistered Nuns. She desired, like her sister, to become a Religious. But before she could become a Carmelite Nun, Hitler invaded Holland in May of 1940. Therefore, she became a Third Order Carmelite. September 1st of 1941, although one (Edith) was a Religious and the other (Rosa) a Third Order Carmelite, both sisters were ordered by the Gestapo to wear a yellow star of David, inscribed “Jew”. It didn’t matter, they were converts to Catholicism.
When Hitler started his persecution of the Jews, all the Christian churches protested. They were warned that if they continued speaking out against the treatment of the Jews, Jewish converts would be rounded up and placed in Concentration Camps. All the Christian denominations ceased, at once. All the Churches that is but the Roman Catholic Church. And so, the persecution spread to Priests, Bishops, and Religious, those who had converted and those who dared defend them. Edith Stein’s words to Pope Pius XI were coming to pass; the slaughter of the innocent was covering Christian and Jew, alike.
Edith and her sister were required to report to the Gestapo periodically. One time, when they entered Gestapo headquarters, Edith Stein greeted one of the soldiers with the traditional German salutation: “Praised be Jesus Christ!” The officer just stared at her. He didn’t say a word. What was he thinking? Was it so long ago that anyone had greeted him with these words? Was her salutation bringing back days long forgotten when men and women loved one another, all were Germans, all were one regardless of religion? Edith Stein said that she had no choice but to utter these words; it was as if she could see, in the eyes of this soldier the battle being waged between principalities and powers, the raging struggle of Lucifer against Christ.
The prioress of the Carmel wrote to Le Pâquier Carmel in Switzerland, requesting they admit Edith and her sister Rosa. The Carmel only had room for Edith and she would not leave her sister behind. What were Edith’s thoughts as she waited? She began to delve into St. John of the Cross; her writing began to show clear evidence that Edith was, in addition to other holy attributes, a mystic. Some of her writings were: “Ways to know God” and “Science of the Cross”. She wrote:
“Thus the bridal union of the soul with God for which it was created is purchased through the Cross, perfected with the Cross, and sealed for all eternity with the Cross.”
Eventually the Carmel found a place for Rosa, a home for Third Order Carmelites near Le Pâquier. They had only to await permission from the Dutch authorities.
Edith Stein did not want to die. She carried the Scripture passage on her person: “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.” But she did not shrink from persecution and dying; she prepared herself for that eventuality, as each day and each piece of the puzzle fell into place.
July 1, 1942, the Nazis decreed that Jewish Catholic children were no longer permitted to go to Catholic schools. This robbed them of all education, as other schools were not open to them. The Bishops in Holland wrote a pastoral letter to be read at all Masses, protesting this treatment of innocent children. They also came out strongly against the deportation of Jews from their native land. It was read at all Masses on July 26th. On August the 2nd, the Nazis ordered all Dutch Jews, converted to Catholicism, be arrested! Now that included, as well, any Dutch Catholics of Jewish descent. The Nazis considered anyone who had any Jewish blood, no matter how little or from how far back in their ancestry, a Jew. Edith Stein and her sister were picked up that evening. Dutch citizens stood at the front of the Carmel, incredulous, grief-stricken, helpless. They heard Edith Stein say to her sister Rosa:
“Come let us go for our people.”
The two sisters were taken to three camps; the first two were Dutch camps: Amersfoort and Westerbrook. A guard from Westerbrook later testified that Edith went among the prisoners praying and consoling them, giving them hope in that God Who never forgets us. Imagine their surprise to hear a Catholic Nun speaking to them as a Jewess, reaching out to them, understanding, loving, focusing on them and not herself. When the mothers became crippled by fear and hopelessness, Edith Stein cared for their children. They were so overcome by fear that they did not know if their children were eating! Edith bathed them, dressed them, fed them, and nurtured them with her generous love. As she was filled with peace, she transmitted that peace to all around her. It brought a little bit of Heaven into the darkness of the hell all around them.
On August 7th, the two sisters Edith and Rosa Stein were transported from Westerbrook to Auschwitz! They, with thousands of helpless Jews were jammed mercilessly into cattle cars to make the long ride to hell. Many died before they arrived in Auschwitz. There was no air in the cars, no facilities to relieve oneself, no water or food for days. When one died, the others had to remain with him in the same car.
[A man gave this testimony, in 1982. He said he had been a worker on a mail truck when he was conscripted into the German Army. While he was being transported to Russia, for special duty, he said that his train stopped to be refueled, in a railroad yard in Breslau. A train pulled up alongside, and stopped. When the guard opened up the door of one of the cattle cars, he saw people heaped on one another like bundles of rags, and others squatting, swaying back and forth listlessly. There was an unbearable stench coming from within the cars. He could hear the moaning and wailing of men and women, interrupted only by the pathetic crying of little children.
He testified, there was a Nun among them dressed in brown, with a yellow Star of David on her breast. He said that maybe it was because he looked at them sympathetically, she spoke to him: “It’s terrible. We don’t even have containers to relieve ourselves.” Then looking forlornly off into the village of Breslau, she said: “This is my home; I’ll never see it again....We are going to our death.” Trying to contain his feelings, he asked her if the other prisoners knew. She responded, “It’s better for them not to know.” He identified the Nun in brown, as Edith Stein. He said that the train was marked as going to Poland.
In 1948, when he was returning from camp, he said that he read about Edith Stein and when he saw her picture, he knew that this was the Nun he had seen and spoken to in Breslau.]
When at last they arrived, a welcoming band greeted them with German folk songs. They were told to disrobe completely. They were handed soap and towels. A sign read “Clean is Good!” They were led to cottages where they were told, they would be deloused. The mothers with an instinct only a mother has, tried to hide their children under the clothes, until they would come out from the showers. When the guards caught them and asked them why, they replied, they were afraid the disinfectant would harm the children. They were assured this was nonsense, and so the mothers led their children into the cottages with them.
When some of the prisoners became aware of their fate and refused to enter the gas chambers, they were clubbed and thrown in. The guards carefully silenced anyone who gave the slightest evidence of hysteria, lest they incite a riot. They really had very little to fear; most were too weak from the long, arduous trip to stand up, no less fight.
For Edith and her sister and all the others who had survived the days of unbearable heat locked inside the airless cars, the walk from the train stop to the cottages was a long, hard one. [When we were at Auschwitz, we looked down from the guards’ post in the watch-tower. Our guide pointed out the distance the sisters and the Jews had to walk; it was miles from the platform to the cottages.] Edith thought that the guards would choose them to work in Germany. That’s what they did with strong, able-bodied women. And so, I wonder if she knew the fate that awaited them. Was there possibly a ray of hope that they would survive?
It was the beginning of the implementation of their perfect plan! The Nazis had to devise a method of disposing of the Jews and their political prisoners, in the fastest, most efficient way. They learned, all too soon, that they could not handle the hundreds of thousands who were being herded into the camps, so their next plan was to exterminate them! They came upon a plan to use Cyclon B, a bitter, extremely poisonous gas that was supposed to kill those trapped within, in fifteen to twenty minutes. Before they died, their lungs, their throats, their esophagus’, were set on fire by this powerful acid. It was a horrible death.
But when Edith and her sister arrived, the Nazis had not yet perfected this method of exterminating defenseless men, women and children. The guards had not thrown enough cans of cyanide in the air-tight, sealed cottage, and so, when they opened the door twenty-four hours later, they were still alive. They threw in more cans.
We stood on the spot where the cottage once stood, the torture chamber where Edith and her sister, along with so many other Martyrs, went to their horrible death. All that remains is a small sign where a harmless looking cottage became a house of horror. Less than twenty feet from the cottage was a mound of bones that had survived over fifty years, there as a witness to man’s inhumanity to man. When the Nazis could not cremate the bodies fast enough, to keep up with the mass annihilation, they piled the dead bodies, forming funeral pyres. In this large field, we saw Crosses where the bodies of Christians had been burned and Stars of David where the Jews had been.
Because she and all those who had been chosen to die [approximately 1/2 had been judged unfit to work and therefore killed.] were killed immediately, there were no records. It would appear that the world would never know what had happened that dark and ugly day. But the Lord would not allow His bride to be lost in a maze of shadows of the valley of death. Our faithful Father in Heaven wants her story to be told, as well as the events that led up to such a massacre of humanity. The world is poorer because we have been cheated of loving, talented, committed Saints like Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. The Lord will not allow them to die in vain. Their cries will not be silenced. God will not allow us to ignore history. Why? Because He loves us.
Who was Edith Stein? As with Saint Maxmilian Kolbe, Edith Stein would have been nominated for Sainthood even if she had not died a Martyr’s death. Her writings, so long suppressed under the Nazis have now been published not only in German but have been translated and published in English.
“Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it”
Edith Stein was one of 6,000,000 Jews, and 4,000,000 Christians who were murdered while the world looked the other way. 22
On the first day of the month of Our Lady, the Jewish Convert she so dearly loved and admired, May 1st, 1987: Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce was beatified by John Paul II.
The Lord will not allow her song to Mother Mary to go unsung:
“Today I stood with you beneath the Cross,
And felt more clearly than I ever did
That you became our Mother only there.
“those whom you have chosen for companions
To stand with round the eternal throne,
They here must stand with you beneath the Cross,
And with the lifeblood of their bitter pains
Must purchase heavenly glory for those souls
Whom God’s own Son entrusted to their care.”14
“One day this will have to be atoned for.”
Saint Edith Stein died, as a Jewess and Catholic Nun, for the Jews who were being persecuted because of their belief in the One God, and as a German for the Germans who were persecuting the Jewish people, saying if she did not pray and do retribution for the Germans, who will?
Who will die for those persecuted, today, because of His Name and who will die in reparation of the sins committed by those who persecute those who defend His Name? Who are the persecuted, today? And who are those who persecute those who follow Him through His Vicar on earth? Who will pray for those who lead so many innocent lambs to the slaughter of their souls with their false theology, claiming it is the teaching of the Church?
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”