by Waltraud Herbstrith, OCD(1)
Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany, on October 12, 1891, the youngest of eleven children of a devout Jewish family. Her ancestors, from Posen and Upper Silesia were hard-working, ambitious merchants, with large families nurtured on the spirit of the psalms. They worshipped the God of Israel in synagogue and in private prayer at home. New Year's, the Day of Atonement, and Passover were the high points of the year. Supporting this Jewish tradition was a strong sense of communal awareness, fostered above all by the mother of the family.
Frau Auguste Stein was a woman accustomed to hard work from her childhood. Intelligent and energetic herself, she passed on these essential character traits to her youngest daughter. She was the formative influence in Edith Stein's development, the primary source of strength and affection for the growing child. No matter what difficulties she had to encounter, Frau Stein bore everything in union with God. She had lost four children in the first years of her marriage and experienced the problems of an expanding lumber business in Lublinitz. Financial difficulties following the firm's initial success had compelled the family to move to, Breslau. This had demanded the sacrifice, not only of home, but more importantly, of close ties with relatives. They had barely settled into Breslau when tragedy struck again. Herr Stein, aged forty-eight, died without warning on a business errand, leaving Frau Stein entirely responsible for the care of the seven children and the management of a debt-ridden business. Edith Stein was not even two years old at the time.
Edith, from that point on, always stood for her as her husband's last testament. Frau Stein never forgot that the child had called her father back for a final good-bye as he set off for the work site in the woods, the scene of his fatal stroke. Furthermore, Edith Stein had been born on the Day of Atonement. She explains the significance of this fact in her autobiography:
"My mother laid great emphasis on the occurrence, and I think more than anything else, it made her youngest child especially dear to her...The Day of Atonement is the most solemn of all Jewish holidays, the day when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, taking along the sacrifices to be offered in atonement for himself and all the people, after the scapegoat, burdened with the sins of the nation, had been driven into the wilderness."
Mother and daughter both regarded this coincidence as a mark of election. Neither one realized the cost of the atoning sacrifice that then lay far in the future.
One of the effects of Frau Stein's absorption in the lumber business and the cares of a large family was that Erna and Edith, the two youngest, grew inseparable. Else, the oldest daughter, assisted Frau Stein with their upbringing - not a simple task at times. Edith in particular, despite her affectionate nature, was not easy to control. When things did not go her way her normal vivacity would express itself by means of temper tantrums.
Edith Stein was clearly a high strung, independent young child. She possessed a precocious mind and an unusual memory for poems and stories that made her seem something of a child prodigy. "But within me," she wrote, "another hidden world was emerging, where I would assimilate on my own the things that I saw and heard during the day." At age seven, for no apparent reason, a change began to occur in the little girl. The temperamental young child turned into a quiet introvert. She found herself living in a separate world inside herself, one that attracted her so powerfully that external impressions only provided the raw material for building it in private. This double life had various consequences. Self-assertive temper tantrums were replaced by psychic fears and hypersensitivity. Often her body reacted with high fevers.
With growth in self-awareness the precocious child's anxieties more and more transformed themselves into dreams of a brilliant future. Edith Stein believed that she was called to greatness. Her awakening mind desired to break the hold of her extravagant imagination and attain to freedom and recognition. She found it humiliating to be a child surrounded by unsympathetic adults and yearned for an environment where she could learn and be able to express herself. Obviously, it was school that she wanted. As she later wrote, "In school people took me seriously."
At school, the young pupil came to appreciate the opportunity for expressing her inner world in essays and compositions without needing to fear the condescending smiles of grown-ups. She "swallowed" her textbooks like someone starved, in German and history above all. Though later Edith Stein was to regret this one-sided development, for the most part it was neither vanity nor competitiveness that drove her on, but the need to supply her mind with sufficient nourishment.
This made it all the more surprising when at thirteen the strong-willed, gifted young girl announced that she wanted to leave school. Perhaps her frail constitution and a resulting psychological and mental exhaustion contributed to the unexpected decision. The collapse of her Childhood faith may also have been a factor. Edith Stein acknowledged years later that from thirteen to twenty-one she could not believe in the existence of a personal God.
Edith was sent to recuperate at the home of her sister Else in Hamburg. Evidently, the few months of practical work had helped resolve the crisis. With enthusiasm she plunged into the study of Latin and mathematics. From now on, she told herself, teaching would be her goal. For Edith Stein, returning to school meant returning to a world without God. Now that her depression was overcome, she was eager to continue the search for the ultimate grounds of being, the quest for truth taking the place of childhood faith.
As graduation approached, it was clear that on account of the family's straitened circumstances, Erna and Edith would have to work toward a profession. Luckily, with the older children already employed, there was still the possibility of university studies. Though such studies continued to be a rarity for women in that era, a privilege that only the most talented could aspire to, Edith Stein was determined to go on to teaching.
Over the last few years, Edith Stein had been eagerly watching the intellectual revolution going on in industrialized society, so critically important for the transformation and determination of the future role of women. She had recognized the problems it was generating, and had committed herself to an active part in their solution. In choosing teaching as her career, far from acting from financial motives or the desire for a respected place in society, she was corresponding with an inner law that she believed was imposed on every individual.
II. FROM PSYCHOLOGY TO PHILOSOPHY
From the external point of view, Edith Stein's life remained unchanged when she entered the University of Breslau in March 1911. Soon, however, another subject began to divert much of the young atheist's attention away from her professional courses. She started to attend lectures in psychology, hoping to discover through this discipline the underlying coherence of human existence. But what she discovered disappointed her. The entire notion of the soul had been relegated to the realm of the irrational and mythological, henceforth to be regarded with a skeptical smile.
Edith Stein remained unconvinced. As she continued on with her research, she came upon the book destined to revolutionize her intellectual life: the Logical Investigations of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. What this epoch-making work offered her first and foremost was an answer to her search for clarifying first principles. This was inspiration for Edith Stein. From then on, she wanted to leave Breslau to pursue her studies with Husserl in Göttingen.
Frau Stein knew that Edith had turned away from the God of her fathers. Her piety had not succeeded in effectively resisting the inroads liberal thinking had made on the family's traditions and customs. It was true that all the children continued to revere their mother and that Edith in particular faithfully accompanied her to synagogue. But, what actually edified her was her mother's complete absorption in God rather than any of the religious ceremonies.
Edith Stein herself, for all her excitement and anticipation, did not fail to see the significance of the approaching separation. "Secretly in my heart of hearts I knew that the separation would be a drastic one." She realized that in leaving behind her native Breslau, she was leaving the world of Judaism and the Law as well.
Once arrived in Göttingen, Edith Stein quickly settled into her new environment. In her diary entries of that initial period, some of the magic that the old university town worked on her can still be recaptured. Here she is seen openly and spontaneously relating with her fellow students, enjoying the experiences the surrounding locale provided in such abundance. Her classmate Rose Bluhm-Guttmann later wrote of those days:
"We spent a wonderful summer semester together in Göttingen. I studied mathematics and philosophy; so did Edith, along with history. Back at the university, a number of us had become inseparable.
Though all of us took our work seriously, we still managed to find time for the things young people enjoy. We went on wonderful trips in the mountains, we danced, and we put together lovely musical evenings and special skits.
Not only did we take all the same seminars in philosophy and education, we also worked together for the Democratic Party (women at that time still didn't have the vote) and both followed with great interest anything that concerned the subject of women's careers.
We shared a lovely little apartment with a bedroom, study and cooking privileges too, if I remember correctly. Dinner we ate out, but made our own breakfast and supper. Edith could cook and clean as well as I. She was the most gifted woman I have ever met in my life - and I have known many extraordinary women."
Edith Stein plunged with zeal into the new studies. Energetic as ever, she immediately volunteered to keep the complex minutes of the seminar sessions, surprising her fellow students with her readiness and skill in argumentation. Because of the empathetic manner with which she approached Husserl's thought, she quickly became the student most sensitive to his intention. Edith Stein had come to Husserl searching for truth, and now in his seminars she learned that, "knowledge, as the name implies, depends on knowing...It is in knowing that we possess the truth." As a teacher, Husserl trained his students to look at everything with strict impartiality and do away with their rationalist blinders. His open and dynamic method of procedure engendered an atmosphere in which intellectual friendships easily flourished. In fact, without being aware of it, Husserl was founding an intellectual movement that eventually would result in the conversion of many of his students to Christianity.
Edith Stein longed to achieve such a "mastery of understanding," to transcend the selfish constraints the ego imposes and arrive through a process of empathy at an objective set of values. She decided to approach Husserl with a theme for a doctoral dissertation, intending to investigate the nature of empathy in depth. Comprehensives, she felt could wait until a later time.
Husserl was accustomed to having doctoral students spend years preparing their theses, and he categorically insisted that they pass the comprehensives before he would allow them to begin. This came as a disappointment to Edith Stein, who had intended to tackle the dissertation right away. Nonetheless, she agreed to all his conditions, grateful that she would be able to remain in Göttingen.
III. WHAT IS TRUTH?
In Göttingen, she was introduced to the phenomenologist Max Scheler. His "prophetic philosophy" made an indelible impression on her. Scheler was a Jewish convert from Munich, and, at the time Edith Stein attended his lectures, filled with admiration for the spiritual beauty of Catholicism. In contrast to the matter-of-factness of Husserl, Scheler had something infatuating about him.
Scheler demonstrated with irresistible brilliance that religion alone makes the human being human. He placed humility at the foundation of all moral endeavor and argued that the sole purpose of this endeavor was to lead the individual to the loss of self in God - and on to new resurrection. Edith Stein had never heard anyone speak like that before. Yet rather than succumbing to the power of his oratory, she found herself deeply affected by the truth of his statements.
One of the people whom Edith Stein admired was the lecturer Adolf Reinach. He was Husserl's most valued colleague, as well as the link between the Master and his students, due to an ability to relate with people that Husserl lacked. Studying with him, "we were not passive learners listening to someone teach. We were involved in a common search with an expert guide to direct us."
All the young phenomenologists were deeply affected by their contact with the scholar. Hedwig Conrad-Martius called him "our dearly loved younger teacher, one of the founding phenomenologists." Edith Stein was also profoundly influenced by her friendship with Reinach and his wife. In him she discovered someone who practiced what Scheler preached.
During her visits to the Reinach's home, Edith Stein was introduced to his wife and sister. Here, she was placed in the unfamiliar situation of having to look up to others rather than be admired by them. The Reinachs all handled intellectual projects with just the sureness her own approach lacked. During World War I, Reinch and his wife were baptized as Lutherans. He wrote from the field that in the future his role as philosopher would be to bring others to faith. Other phenomenologists followed his lead. Edith Stein was not unmoved by these events. Though the pressure of studies kept the issue of faith temporarily in the background, she nonetheless sensed the beginnings of an interior transformation.
As the draft began calling up many of her friends for service in World War I, Edith Stein, not wishing to be outdone in courage, volunteered together with numbers of other women students for duty in the military hospitals. Writing in her autobiography about some of the doctors whom they assisted, Edith Stein revealed the motives behind her decision to volunteer:
"Dr. Scharf wanted to know my reasons for interrupting my research to come here - the fact seemed to astonish practically everyone. I told him that since my fellow students were out in the field, I didn't see why I should have things better than they did. I think that impressed him."
On completion of her term as a volunteer at the military hospital Edith Stein was awarded the medal of valor in recognition of her selfless service.
IV. HUSSERL'S ASSISTANT
When, in 1916, Husserl was offered a professorship at the University of Freiburg, he asked Edith Stein to accompany him as his graduate assistant, having learned to treasure her unobtrusive help. During her first summer there, she submitted her dissertation on "The Problem of Empathy" and was awarded the doctoral degree summa cum laude. That accomplished, she assumed responsibility for initiating the students in Husserl's pro-seminars into the new and unfamiliar area of phenomenology. She also spent a good deal of time reading and editing Husserl's shorthand manuscripts.
She received painful news toward the end of 1917: Adolf Reinach, friend to the young phenomenologists, had been killed on the battlefields of Flanders. Her heart went out to Frau Reinach in her loss. Yet when the family invited her to Göttingen to put the philosopher's papers in order, she hesitated. She felt disoriented by Reinach's death. He, after all, together with Husserl, had formed the nucleus of the Göttingen group; it had been his kindness that had allowed her to glimpse at a world that was formerly sealed. Still without faith in life after death, these memories left her burdened. She wondered if she would find words to say to the grieving widow.
The resignation she encountered when she met Frau Reinach struck Edith Stein like a ray from that hidden world. Rather than appearing crushed by her suffering, the young widow was filled with a hope that offered the other mourners consolation and peace. Edith Stein's rational arguments crumbled in the face of this experience. Not the anticipated intellectual insight, but contact with the essence of truth itself transformed her. The light of faith broke in on her - in the mystery of the Cross.
Edith Stein began to read the New Testament, wondering whether she would eventually convert to Lutheranism or Catholicism. In either case, it was obvious that the new world burgeoning within her had dimensions unknown to scholarship and philosophical research. This movement towards faith, however, was also a source of new suffering for her. Although she believed in God and in Christ, she could not bring herself to take the ultimate step of conversion.
In 1919, Edith Stein went back to Breslau to continue with her research and await a change in the general situation. Her persistent interest in politics led to an active concern about current issues. The essays she wrote in 1920 about the individual and the community and about the State reveal the development of her thinking on these subjects. While discussing the reciprocal relations between individual and community, Edith Stein also examined the pertinent religious questions. Most important here was the restriction she placed on the state's competency in religious matters.
While working on these philosophical projects, Edith Stein also gave private lessons in phenomenology and continued the search for a definitive solution to her own religious questions. An experience she had on a visit to the cathedral in Frankfurt affected her deeply:
"We went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of a day's work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that."
Finally, in the summer of 1921, she arrived at the turning point that was destined to bring her long search for faith to an end. Edith Stein was accustomed to spend long stretches of time visiting her friends the Conrad-Martiuses at their farm in Bergzabern. One evening, Edith Stein went through her friends' bookshelves looking for something to read. Her hosts had gone out; she was at home alone. The book she chose was the autobiographical Life of Teresa of Avila. Once she began reading it, she found it impossible to put the book down and stayed up reading the entire night. When she finally finished it the next morning. she said to herself, "This is the truth."
What Edith Stein found in Teresa's autobiography was the confirmation of her own experience. God is not a God of knowledge, God is love. He does not reveal His mysteries to the deductive intelligence, but to the heart that surrenders itself to Him. Fully aware that she was at the very beginning of the journey, Edith Stein nonetheless felt powerfully attracted by the vistas St. Teresa revealed.
Edith Stein bought a catechism and a missal, studied them both thoroughly, and went to her first Mass in the parish church of Bergzabern, celebrated by the pastor, Monsignor Breitling. Finding that she was able to follow the entire liturgy without difficulty, she went to the priest immediately after Mass and asked him to baptize her. The surprised Breitling informed her that normally a rather extended period of preparation was required. Rather than simply giving in, she asked him to examine her. This "examination" went so well that the monsignor set the coming New Year's Day as the date for administering the sacrament. From then on, attendance at the daily celebration of the Eucharist formed the center of her life.
Edith Stein was baptized in Bergzabern on January 1, 1922, taking the name "Teresa" as her baptismal name. It was an ecumenical event: Her Lutheran friend, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, stood as her godmother. A month later, on February 2, she was confirmed. Prior to conversion, she had always assumed that one day she would eventually marry. Now that was no longer so. Together with faith had come the interior call to consecrate herself to God by becoming a Carmelite nun. Yet she knew it was not a decision she could carry out immediately.
Up to the moment she actually confronted her mother with the news of her conversion, Edith Stein believed that she had reckoned with the worst. But her mother's reaction caught her unawares. She wept. Edith Stein wasn't ready for that; she had never seen her mother cry before. She had expected insults and abuse and possible exclusion from the family. Edith Stein continued to attend synagogue with her mother, where she surprised her by praying the psalms of the synagogue service out of the Roman breviary. Deeply moved by her daughter's devotion, Frau Stein confessed, "Never have I seen anyone pray as Edith did."
VI. THE TEACHER
After her baptism, Edith Stein gave up plans for a scholarly career and accepted a position teaching German at the Dominican sister's school in Speyer. It didn't take long to settle into St. Magdalena's, her sphere of activity for the next eight years. During this period, the search for God that had marked the years before her conversion increasingly grew into a discovery of Him, both in herself and in the neighbors God entrusted to her.
In this retired existence deliberately chosen as a means of growing in the interior life, Edith Stein learned to appreciate the demands and difficulties of the teaching profession. Her work in the narrow realm of the convent school prepared her for future responsibilities as a lecturer and a public speaker. Inside the classroom, Edith Stein displayed all the essential traits of a good educator. Her firmness and personal rectitude rapidly gained her the respect of her students; her gentleness won their confidence. Outside of school, she enjoyed going on walks with students, sharing their jokes and listening to their problems. Many of them initially responded with an embarrassed awe at being with someone of her intellectual and spiritual stature. She was a friend whose affection compensated for what many of them lacked at home, someone they knew would sympathize and share their problems.
Every year, in the busy weeks before Christmas, Edith Stein managed to prepare and deliver packages to the needy. Her room throughout December was a constant buzz of activity. Along with the gifts for the poor, there were numerous presents to be wrapped in holiday paper for all the friends she wanted to remember. Throughout the year, she would spend very sparingly on herself so as to be able to be generous at Christmas. All this having been said, the most moving "sermon" the "Fraulein Doctor" preached during her years in Speyer was the long hours she spent in church. Because work left her so little time for prayer during the day, Edith Stein adopted the practice of praying at night, often spending whole nights by herself in the convent church.
Edith Stein did not allow her professional and charitable activities to keep her from remaining in close contact with her family. She went home to Breslau every summer, hoping to ease her mother's disappointment over her conversion. During these vacations, she often went to visit Professor Schulemann, occasionally taking along her sister Rosa, who, to her great joy, was also planning to enter the Catholic Church.
VII. THOMAS AQUINAS
In 1925, Enrich Przywara asked Edith Stein to translate some of the letters of Cardinal Newman. This was the beginning of a lively intellectual friendship between the two. Finding that she enjoyed the work, Edith Stein expressed an interest in taking on additional projects. It was providential that Przywara was there to rekindle her attraction to foundational research, this time within the context of faith. A thinker of her caliber needed deeper intellectual foundations for her belief. Echoing Professor Schulemann's advice Przywara recommended translating St. Thomas, still terra incognita to the phenomenologist. The work he suggested was the Questiones Disputatae de Veritate (Disputed Questions on Truth), a key text in Thomas' thought as well as a sound introduction to the scholastic method. Thomas proved to be the means of renewing her former commitment to philosophy: "The recognition that God can be served through scholarship first really struck me while studying St. Thomas. It was only then that I could decide to take up scholarship seriously again."
Thomas' intellectual breadth had a liberating effect on Edith Stein. Thomas did not use philosophy as a kind of stepping-stone to intellectual autonomy, priding himself on the supposed preeminence of his field. For him philosophy was simply one of the talents a person is given to help discover the mysteries of God within creation. This attitude led Edith Stein to develop a more objective stance towards the world. She recognized that her former absorption in prayer and renunciation of intellectual activity had been a means, rather than an end. Once this was learned, separation from the world, though necessary at first, increasingly yielded to service of God. Her "natural productivity" as a philosopher had been restored.
VIII. THE POWER OF PRAYER
Those who knew Edith Stein personally during the years in Speyer often remarked on her dedication to prayer. There were many who admired her for it, others who questioned its value. All of them wondered how she ever found time for an ongoing conversation with God in the midst of her exhausting teaching schedule, her work on the translation of St. Thomas, and her active apostolate to the poor and the troubled. Perhaps it should be answered that it was the unfailing priority she offered to God that allowed her time for everything else.
"...It all depends on having a quiet little corner where you can talk with God on a daily basis as if nothing else existed...and regarding yourself completely as an instrument, so that you treat your most frequently demanded talents not as something that you use, but as God working through you."
Rather than serving as a form of self-gratification, Edith Stein's prayer was the energizing force behind her professional work and her numerous charitable activities.
In the autumn of 1927, Edith Stein's spiritual director, Canon Schwind, died of a stroke while hearing confessions in the Cathedral. The loss went deep: For the last five years the Schwinds had "adopted" Edith as a member of their family. Anna, the Vicar' niece, loved to relate the following anecdote; "One day my uncle rushed into the kitchen, wringing his hands in dismay. Sinking into a chair, he exclaimed, 'That lady-philosopher! Ten theologians couldn't answer all the questions she asks me.'"
In appreciation of the friendship and advice that Canon had given her, Edith Stein composed an obituary notice for the Innsbruck Clergy Circular.
The following year, Father Przywara recommended that she attend the Holy Week liturgy at the Benedictine abbey of Beuron. By taking his suggestion, Edith Stein entered on a further phase in her spiritual journey. Here she met her new director, Dom Raphael Walzer, the monastery's young, dynamic abbot. Placing her concerns before him with her customary candor, she astounded the abbot by her simple, uncomplicated piety.
Retreats at Beuron gave Edith Stein the opportunity to satisfy her thirst for prayer. Undisturbed, she would remain for hours on end, kneeling inside the abbey church. She regarded the privilege of attending the Holy Week and Easter services as one of the great high points of the year.
Often she was noticed praying before a picture of the mater dolorosa. "As I look back today," one woman commented, "I don't think Edith Stein was simply praying to be allowed to suffer. I think she somehow knew that one day she would actually take the path of suffering."
At Beuron, Edith Stein's capacity for intense interior prayer received a healthy balance through exposure to the Benedictine public liturgical praise of God.
Grateful as she was to enter into the monastic liturgical tradition, Edith Stein never wavered in her initial attraction to Carmel. Her friend Countess Bissinger remembered, "Though Edith Stein was deeply attached to Beuron, her most profound love was always reserved for Carmel. You could see the happiness it gave her whenever she found someone who appreciated this attraction."
Abbot Walzer did not support Edith Stein's wish to enter Carmel. Like many others, he was convinced that the Church had work for her to do outside the cloister. In the very years that Edith Stein was seeking out Beuron as a place of solitude and silence, invitations were regularly arriving, from abroad as well as at home, asking her to speak on the problems of contemporary woman. Obedient to the voice of the Church, Edith Stein renounced her personal desires. From this self-transcendence emerged a new sense of interior freedom and contentment. Abbot Walzer recalled, "I liked to apply to her the words the monastic breviary uses to describe the peace of a sanctified soul: Fuit et quietus. Yes, she had that tranquillity."
IX. ADDRESSING THE PROFESSIONAL WOMAN
Edith Stein's first seven years in Speyer proved to be a preparation for greater tasks. Her philosophical writings and translations, far from going unnoticed, had attracted the attention of the Association of Catholic Women Teachers and the Association of Catholic University Graduates. The members of these organizations were eager to hear her express her views on contemporary issues. Beginning in 1927, Father Przywara assumed responsibility for setting up regular lecture tours. This brought the period of seclusion to an end. So overwhelming was the response to her lectures, both at home and abroad, that she was frequently forced to interrupt her teaching duties in order to take on engagements in Ludwigshafen, Heidelberg, Zurich, Salzburg, and the industrial region of the Rhine land. She began to wonder if it might not be her vocation to speak on "Woman's Significance in Contemporary Life."
Edith Stein's forceful manner of presentation captivated her listeners. For years, these women had been searching for someone who would go beyond the sociological, psychological, and philosophical explanation of their basic questions about woman's identity to offer them an answer grounded in the power of faith. Moved by her personal warmth and her sound approach, Edith Stein's audiences found themselves responsive to her message. For many of them, according to Father Przywara - clergy and laymen as well as women - her talks provided the first opportunity to come to a genuine appreciation of women's role.
During the postwar years, women's sphere of activity had rapidly expanded from the home to the world. New opportunities had naturally led to new responsibilities. Edith Stein wondered how these obligations could be met without at the same time imperiling women's essential character. She knew that in the minds of many, traditionally male professions - medicine, teaching, engineering, and law - automatically constituted a danger to women.
Edith Stein believed that the solution of these difficulties lay in the development of a more adequate concept of the human person, and she formulated a model that unconsciously reflected the breadth of her own personality. Dispensing with available psychological and anthropological findings, she transferred the question of woman's vocation from its areligious context to one that presented both man and woman in their mutual complementarity and their individual responsibility before God. No longer was it possible, she argued, to restrict a woman's place to house and cloister.
She discussed various possibilities for the reform of the exclusively male and intellectually oriented educational system, and argued for a holistic approach in developing woman's potential. Pedagogy had to take into account the natural predisposition of woman for the concrete and the particular, for the human being "in the flesh" as opposed to the abstract. It was crucial, she stated, that women be given the necessary resources for defending their specifically feminine individuality against forces that might otherwise distort or destroy it. For women were not meant to resemble man in all respects. Their helping and mediating role, rather than representing a diminished degree of personal freedom and independence, was the proper expression of God's design, fully compatible with their psychological and physiological makeup. Instead of simply functioning as a lawyer, doctor, teacher or civil servant a woman would always have the opportunity and obligation to serve as a motherly companion for those with whom she worked. She would never be satisfied with applying a limited technical expertise; her actions would be the outflow of her own unselfish love.
X. A LECTURESHIP IN MÜNSTER
The years 1930 to 1933 were busy ones for Edith Stein, filled with a variety of plans. Many of them centered around a short-lived teaching appointment that would simultaneously mark the culmination and conclusion of her scholarly career. In 1930, at the beginning of this period, her friends, heartened by the success of her lectures and the work she had done in translating St. Thomas and introducing him to phenomenological circles, recommended that she reapply for a university professorship.
Most of 1931 was spent in unsuccessfully applying to the universities of Freiburg and Breslau. Though she obtained interviews at Freiburg with Professors Finke, Honecher, and Heidegger, and Professor Koch actively campaigned for her in Breslau, it was all to no avail. The situation of early postwar years was repeating itself, this time with anti-Semitism at work behind the scenes to obstruct the appointment.
Edith Stein moved back to Breslau - not only for the sake of her mother, who had finally accepted the idea of her daughter's holding a Catholic chair at the university, but also for Rosa, badly in need of her sister's presence. Rosa, who had grown to feel increasingly alone and abandoned in her non-Christian environment, could not even consider an official conversion to Catholicism due to her mother's opposition.
While waiting for the universities' final decision, Edith Stein continued to give lectures and to work on the revision of her translation of St. Thomas, published in two volumes in 1930-1931.
Meanwhile her comparative study of Thomism was slowly assuming comprehensive proportions. Just at this time, an offer arrived for the Educational Institute in Münster. Edith Stein decided to accept the position at Münster.
It was with some misgiving that Edith Stein took on her duties. Apart from the uncertainty she felt about the overall direction of her lectures, she was afraid that her long "leave of absence" from professional philosophy might create insuperable obstacles in relating to her students and colleagues. The student in Münster quickly found out what had long been familiar to students in Speyer: that for Edith Stein, human beings took precedence over abstract knowledge.
Living at the Collegium Marianum, a house of studies for young religious in Münster, Edith Stein was frequently called on to extend her apostolate into her time of prayer. Sometimes, in the midst of her busy schedule, she would yearn to go apart for a while and celebrate her "silent liturgy" (her name for private prayer), or share in the fullness of the divine praises at Beuron. Instead, her special sensitivity and skill led to even further demands on her time and energy. Some of her Jewish friends began to seek her as a person who could help them on their journey to Christ. One of them, a childhood companion, recalled the transformation that she observed:
"What a change there had been in Edith! Now, instead of the old ambitious drive, there was a tranquil maturity about her; the egotism had given way to a new sympathy and kindness. She seemed to have an unlimited supply of patience for discussing things, whether personal problems, questions of belief or issues of philosophy. We felt very close to each other."
Yet, whatever personal fulfillment she may have experienced dedicating herself to the inner well-being of her neighbor, academically Edith Stein found the work in Münster frustrating. It had been one thing to teach in the tranquil environment of a convent school with the opportunity for part-time scholarly research on the side; it was another to bear the major responsibility for constructing a new educational theory on theological and philosophical lines. Rather than immediately proceeding to an in-depth examination of current issues, Edith Stein offered her colleagues a preliminary series of lectures on philosophical anthropology in an attempt to situate the mystery of the human person for them in the context of the European tradition. Such clarification of key concepts was absolutely necessary, given their diverse intellectual backgrounds. With her relentless self-criticism to protect her, she was not afraid of succumbing to presumption.
Perhaps her frame of mind at this time is summarized best by the letter she wrote to the Benedictine Petrus Winrath, responding to his critique of her St. Thomas translation:
"...What I would like to do, if I were fifteen or twenty years younger, would be to begin the study of philosophy all over again. At my age, however, I have the obligation to make my work bear fruit - and I have to leave everything else to my spare moments. I hope you will allow me to write you occasionally for your suggestions. Over and above that, I ask you to remember my work in your prayers."
XI. ANTI-SEMITIC PERSECUTION
During the previous decade, Edith Stein had conscientiously kept up contact with Husserl, who continued to take an active interest in his former student's development. It pained him that she could not give an unqualified assent to his thinking, but he did his best to respect and appreciate her point of view. Because of the open communication between them, Edith Stein was able to candidly express her reservations when she visited the elderly philosopher and his wife in Freiburg in 1930. This very candor, however, only proved to highlight their differences - especially in the area of religion. As often before, Edith Stein was confronted with the futility of discussion in achieving interior change. She recognized that prayer and personal sacrifice functioned as much more effective instruments.
Political circumstances kept the idea of a sacrifice in the forefront of her thinking. In Münster, two years later, Edith Stein looked on horrified as university students began violently attacking Jews. A patriotic German herself, she had always been proud of her Jewish heritage. Baptism had further sharpened her understanding of her people's special vocation. Now she felt dazed. Unconcerned for her own safety, she suffered intensely over those being victimized by racial hatred, and worried about her family and friends in Breslau.
Seeking to come to terms with her people's tragic destiny - Edith Stein was one of the few who recognized the final outcome right from the beginning - she turned to the Cross. Her friend Sister Adelgundis recalled an incident of that year in Freiburg, when, "after looking at the crucifix on the wall and asking me to look at it with her, she made a comparison - I no longer remember the exact words - between the divine sacrifice of the Cross and the terrible path of suffering awaiting the Jewish people." Anti-Semite persecution was pushing Edith Stein closer to the realization of her unique vocation, the merging of Judaism and Christianity into a single redemptive unity. The words she spoke to her Jesuit confessor, Father Hirshmann, shortly before her martyr's death, demonstrate her appreciation of this special mission:
"You don't know what it means to me to be a daughter of the chosen people - to belong to Christ, not only spiritually, but according to the flesh."
The drastic political changes of 1933 finally resolved the issue of Edith Stein's vocation. Along with the Nazi takeover there came a large-scale offensive against the Jews. Thousands were forced to leave their jobs and businesses without warning; unsuspecting citizens were violently attacked. Hitler used his rearmament program, his reduction of unemployment and his appeal to national pride to blind large segments of the population. They looked to the Führer to lead them to a better future, though those with more foresight saw in his carefully formatted anti-Semitism, the prelude to an all-out battle against Christianity and every other form of spiritual autonomy. Initially, Edith Stein's position as a Catholic at a Catholic Institute seemed relatively secure, but a visit to the home of a colleague soon taught her otherwise. While they were at dinner, the head of the household, not knowing that she was Jewish, began to describe in great detail the anti-Jewish outbursts that were taking place. "I had heard even before this of different measures being taken against Jews. But now, all of a sudden, I realized that God had once more laid a heavy hand upon his people - my people. The man sitting across from me didn't have the least idea of what was going on inside me...To have told him and possibly robbed him of his night's sleep would only have been a violation of his hospitality."
Edith Stein felt called to take action on behalf of her people. She submitted a request for a private papal audience, hoping that a special encyclical would alleviate the situation. Yet interiorly, she remained dissatisfied.
At Easter, while traveling to Beuron to consult with Abbot Walzer, Edith Stein interrupted her journey to attend a Holy Hour at the Carmelite convent in Cologne. During the service, she found her attention wandering from the homilist's words:
"I spoke with the Savior to tell him that I realized it was his Cross that was now being laid upon the Jewish people, that the few who understood this had the responsibility of carrying it in the name of all, and that I myself was willing to do this, if he would only show me how. I left the service with the inner conviction that I had been heard, but uncertain as ever as to what carrying the Cross would mean for me."
When she returned to Münster, Edith Stein learned that her request for an audience had been refused. She sent her appeal in writing to the pope, who responded with a benediction for herself and her family. Edith Stein realized that most people could not grasp the urgency of the threat as she did. Even Abbot Walzer distrusted her grim premonitions. Yet her alarm proved wholly justified: Scarcely had she come back to Münster, when she was told that she would have to give up her position. A sympathetic administration suggested working on her projects privately until the general situation improved, but she declined.
An offer to teach in South America also awaited her in Münster. After giving the matter serious consideration, Edith Stein became convinced that the time had at last come for fulfilling her ambition of entering the convent. She described her decision in her diary:
" ..On April 30 (Good Shepherd Sunday that year), I attended part of the Thirteen Hours devotion which St. Ludger's parish was celebrating in honor of its patronal feast. I arrived in the afternoon, determined not to leave until I found out if I could now enter Carmel. Just as the concluding blessing was being given, I felt the Good Shepherd giving me his consent."
At Pentecost, several weeks after this incident, she wrote to Hedwig Conrad-Martius, There's nothing to regret about the fact that I can't continue to lecture. To me a great and merciful Providence seems to be standing behind it all. Actually, I think I see the resolution fairly clearly myself, but I'm still not free to communicate it to you. Edith Stein was speaking of her application to the Carmelite convent in Cologne. Though she worried that she might be considered too old (she was forty-two), the sisters were impressed with her, and in mid-June they notified her of her acceptance. Hard as it was for her to leave Münster and her friends, it was the confrontation with her family that Edith Stein dreaded.
Christians themselves often have trouble understanding the value of a contemplative vocation; for the Steins it was an impossibility. The day came when Frau Stein asked her daughter, "What do you plan on doing with the sisters in Cologne?" When Edith answered "Join them," peace at home was a thing of the past. Everyone in the family felt crushed by the tragedy. Edith herself clung to her friends to keep from faltering in her desperation; the brothers and sisters did all they could to change their sister's mind. "Why did you have to get to know Him?" demanded Frau Stein. "He was a good man - I'm not saying anything against him. But why did he have to go and make himself God?"
That last day at home was her birthday, October 12. Once again, it was a Jewish holiday, this time the final day of the Feast of Booths. Edith Stein spent it in synagogue with her mother.
"In the evening, some friends dropped by to say farewell. Once they had left, my mother buried her face in her hands and began to cry. I stood behind her chair, resting her old, white-haired head against my chest. We stayed like that for a long time, until I was able to convince her to go up to bed. After taking her upstairs and helping her to undress for the first time in my life - I sat alongside her at the edge of the bed until she sent me off to sleep. But I don't think either one of us got any sleep that night."
The next morning, still utterly unable to comprehend her decision, the family bowed to the inevitable. As she boarded the train in a state of total emotional exhaustion, Edith Stein felt like someone awaking from a horrible dream. Slowly, her thoughts turned to Cologne.
"She ran to Carmel, singing for joy, like a child to its mother's arms, never doubting her almost blind enthusiasm for even an instant. It reminded me of the way St. Benedict speaks of our journey to God. 'Now we must run and do the things that will profit us forever.'" In these words Abbot Walzer expressed his surprise at the speed with which Edith Stein settled into her new environment. His fear had been that, once in Carmel, she would grow restive within the confines of the enclosure, surrounded by sisters of limited academic background. Fortunately events did not bear him out. Edith Stein neither worried about the austerities and restrictions of Carmelite life, nor looked for permission to do scholarly work. Her vocation to Carmel was genuine; no hidden motive obscured the purity of her intention. When she arrived at the convent, it was with full understanding that the whole of the Carmelite vocation consisted in the individual's response to God's claim of love. She had learned this studying the life of Thérèse of Lisieux, whom she spoke of in a letter of 1933:
"My impression was, that this was a life which had been absolutely transformed by the love of God, down to the last detail. I simply can't imagine anything greater. I would like to see this attitude incorporated as much a possible into my own life and the lives of those who are dear to me."
For all her unbounded generosity, there were certain things that constituted quite a struggle for the forty-two-year-old postulant. She found herself in a situation where people twenty years her junior were carrying out duties more effectively than she. Her advice was no longer asked for; to the rest of the community, she simply appeared as a rather clumsy postulant.
Yet despite the demands of the transition, Edith Stein blossomed in the happy novitiate atmosphere. Her face lost the traces of former suffering and acquired a cheerful new serenity. She succeeded in adapting herself to her younger companions and patiently accepting her own limitations. Initially, it was the complicated ceremonies and usage's of community life that she found particularly troublesome. Somehow her mind would not retain them. Then there was the manual labor, for which her long years of intellectual activity had not prepared her.
With the initial adjustment behind her, Edith Stein began looking forward to the day of her Clothing when she would be given the habit of the Order. It was not a wholly unclouded time: The continuing conflict with her mother tinged the preparations with sorrow. Because Frau Stein regarded Edith's reception of the habit as the ultimate break between her daughter and the Jewish people, not only did she not attend the ceremony, for years afterwards she refused to answer any of the weekly letters Edith mailed from Carmel. Nor were any of the brothers and sisters present, though some of them sent congratulations.
For the religious name, traditionally taken on this day, Edith Stein chose Teresa Benedicta a Cruce - Teresa, Blessed by the Cross. She had sought out a name that would express her gratitude for the spiritual patronage of St. Benedict and St. Teresa and at the same time reflect her special devotion to the Passion of Christ.
Soon after the celebration, she wrote to Mother Petra to thank her for her gift and reflect on the magnitude of what she had been given:
"If you only knew how little it takes to make us Carmelites happy. Your present overwhelmed us. So much love and kindness would embarrass me, if I didn't know that they're meant more for my holy vocation - which I received through an individual. As it is, I use each mark of affection as a stimulus for mustering up my spiritual resources in the hope of becoming a less unworthy vas electionis. ...Still, this poor little soul is so tiny compared to the abundance of grace that comes to it each day."
Edith Stein did not consider her official incorporation into convent life as an excuse to become oblivious or unsympathetic to the needs of her neighbor. She worked at maintaining her correspondence with the friends and associates who depended on her advice.
As the political situation worsened, Edith Stein's Jewish friends began visiting the convent to discuss their plans for emigration. Invariably, they left the parlor strengthened and consoled. For Edith Stein, there was no contradiction between the demands of a life of prayer and the call to fraternal charity.
While generously sharing the blessing of her contemplative vocation, Edith Stein was fully aware of the insecurity of her own position. Her political insight led her to expect the worst: As she told one visitor, it was more than likely that the Nazis would come and take her from the enclosure.
During the novitiate year, Edith Stein gradually turned to writing, in accord with her Provincial's wishes. She completed the index for her translation of St. Thomas and contributed to a number of periodicals.
Edith Stein pronounced her simple vows on Easter Sunday, 1935. Perhaps this is what inspired the answer she gave to the sister who asked how she felt - "Like the Bride of the Lamb."
In the Carmelite Order, three years normally separate the end of the novitiate from the taking of the solemn vows. Edith Stein's first major responsibility as a simply professed nun came in the form of a commission from her superiors to finish the manuscript of Act and Potency begun in Speyer. She wondered how she could accomplish the task. Her work would be frequently interrupted for the periods of common prayer. The manuscript stood in need of full-scale revision. The necessary scholarly resources and opportunities for consultation would not be available. Nonetheless, Edith Stein determined to do her best.
Edith Stein completed her study in the summer of 1936. While waiting for an answer from the publishers to whom she had submitted the work (now entitled Finite and Eternal Being), she received the news of her mother's death. Frau Stein had died in Breslau on September 14, 1936, the Feast of the Holy Cross, after a long and painful struggle. Knowing the serious nature of her mother's illness, Edith Stein had written to many of her friends over the summer asking them to pray for the healing of her mother's embitterment. But Frau Stein had died despondent, unreconciled to her daughter's decision, despite the notes she had occasionally written in response to Edith's letters. The winter following Frau Stein's death, Edith had the joy of seeing her sister Rosa enter the Catholic Church. By coincidence, she was able to administer the final instructions as well as to be present for the baptism: a broken wrist and ankle, the result of a fall down a flight of stairs, had forced her to be hospitalized outside the enclosure. On her return to the convent, she received her new assignment as house infirmarian.
In 1937, the Cologne community celebrated an important anniversary. Three hundred years before, on November 5, 1637, the first group of Carmelites had arrived from Belgium to found a community in the city. They had remained until 1802, when, in the course of the Napoleonic conflict, they had been forced to leave the convent. Though the next generation had reestablished the community of Mary, Queen of Peace, they had not been able to regain possession of the former house. In commemoration of the tricentenary, Mother Teresia Renata Posselt, the prioress, along with Edith Stein and the house archivist, composed a chronicle of the community's varying fortunes. Little did they know that eight years later, at the end of the war, renovation would begin on the convent's original buildings. In spite of the gathering darkness, 1938 fulfilled two of her dearest wishes: She was permitted to pronounce solemn vows and she learned that Husserl, on his death bed, had turned back to God. Husserl had fallen critically ill in the months before her profession. What Edith Stein learned only after her vows was that, as of Holy Thursday, Husserl had turned from philosophy to God. Freed by his illness from scholarly obligations, he again experienced the attraction to Christ which for years had lay buried under philosophical problems. Edith Stein received the report of the faith shown by the dying Husserl as a great gift, sure that its conjunction with her vows was anything but coincidental.
XII. ESCAPE TO HOLLAND
By the year 1938, the situation in Germany had grown steadily worse. It was clear to anyone with political insight that Hitler had decided on going to war. All that he lacked was "war criminals" who would force Germany to take defensive action. He found what he was looking for in the defenseless Jews. Confronted with this situation, Edith Stein refused to abandon hope. She was convinced that, like Esther pleading before King Ahasuerus, she had a mission to accomplish on her people's behalf. Though its precise nature continued to elude her, she had enough of a sense of it to be able to write to Mother Petra:
"I firmly believe that the Lord has accepted my life as an offering for all. It's important for me to keep Queen Esther in mind and remember how she was separated from her people just so that she could intercede for them before the king. I myself certainly am a poor and insignificant little Esther, but I take comfort from the fact that the King who has chose me is infinitely kind and merciful."
The S.S. attack of November removed any lingering doubts about the true state of affairs. The morning after the attack there was still an odor of death hanging over the streets of Germany. All through the night, Jewish citizens had been mercilessly driven from their homes with billy clubs, and their businesses demolished or confiscated. As news of these events made their way into the convent, Edith Stein listened like "someone numbed with pain." Without condemning the murderers, she was overcome with horror at the abyss of sin and suffering that threatened to swallow both friend and enemy. Characteristically, however, she soon transformed this initial response into an act of voluntary atonement. She expressed this in a letter to Mother Petra that December:
"One thing I should tell you: when I entered, I had already chosen the religious name I wanted, and I received it exactly as I had asked for it. Of the Cross: I saw it as referring to the fate of the people of God, which even then was beginning to reveal itself. As I understood it, anyone who recognized that this was the Cross of Christ had a responsibility to bear it in the name of all. I know a little more now than I did then what it means to be betrothed to the Lord in the sign of the Cross. But it's not something that can ever be understood. It is a mystery."
Edith Stein's brother and sisters, roused by the terrible occurrences of the Kristallnacht, applied to emigrate to America. This was no easy matter: The German government demanded overseas sponsorship for each of the would be emigrants. Else and Erna Stein and their families were lucky enough to make the necessary arrangements and sail to America, and Arno Stein had already settled there, but Paul and Frieda Stein's applications were turned down. Rosa's future was another issue to be determined. As for Edith herself, with Palestine barring the way to further immigration, the Prioress decided to have her transferred to the Dutch convent of Echt.
Leaving Cologne was again a difficult separation. As one sister reported it:
"She left the convent on December 31,1938. It was a painful separation for everybody. I had come to feel a heartfelt love and admiration for her and wondered what life would be like without her. On account of the upcoming departure, the last Christmas together was very subdued. Then it came time for her to go. We gathered in the recreation room to say good-bye. One by one, she embraced the sisters, but by the time she reached me, I couldn't keep back the tears any longer, and all I said was her name. That shook her a little; for a moment she lost her self-control and began to cry with me. But it was only an instant; then, she regained her composure and left."
Edith Stein was driven across the border under cover of darkness on New Year's Eve.
Though from the practical standpoint, Edith was no more able to make herself useful in Echt than in Cologne, the sisters came to treasure "their philosopher" for her dedication towards ordinary tasks. She appreciated their understanding:
"Already, in such a short time, I've experienced so much kindness that I can't help feeling grateful. It's clearly God's will that has brought me here - and that is the safest haven of peace."
During the year, Edith Stein composed three acts of self oblation - for the Jewish people, for the averting of war, and for the sanctification of her Carmelite family. Unwilling to bear the Cross in name alone, she wanted to be genuinely conformed to her crucified Lord. And, as a sister at Echt remarked:
"When a person of Edith Stein's caliber offers that kind of sacrifice, God takes up the offer."
In 1939 she composed her final Testament. This document more than any other, reveals her conscious acceptance of her particular mission. To quote from its concluding line:
"I joyfully accept in advance the death God had appointed for me, in perfect submission to his most holy will. May the Lord accept my life and death for the honor and glory of his name, for the needs of his holy Church - especially for the preservation, sanctification and final perfecting of our holy Order and in particular for the Carmels of Cologne and Echt - for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by his own and his kingdom come in glory, for the deliverance of Germany and peace throughout the world, and finally, for all my relatives living and dead and all whom God has given me: May none of them be lost."
The year 1940 brought her the joy of welcoming her sister to Echt. Rosa, after a series of narrow escapes, had come into Holland by way of Belgium. Now at last, two of the Steins were together again, though the rest were still scattered through Europe and America. Rosa took on the duties of community portress at the convent, proving herself so capable that she quickly gained the confidence of both sisters and townspeople. Yet Edith and Rosa's positions in the house remained unsettled. Edith had been told that, due to the unstable political climate, she could not expect to make a permanent transfer to Echt after her three year probation. On similar grounds, the convent declined to officially accept Rosa as portress sister. Pained by these decisions, Edith Stein looked to the Cross for solace.
Just at this time, reports began to arrive of the dissolution of Carmelite convents in Germany and Luxembourg. Edith Stein prepared for the worst. For years she had been confronting the idea of having to live outside the cloister; now it was an imminent possibility. A letter conveys her reaction:
"We may have committed ourselves to the enclosure, but that doesn't put God under any obligation to let us stay in the cloister forever...Yes, we have the right to pray we can be spared this experience but only as long as we sincerely add: Not my will, but thine, be done."
In 1940, the Germans occupied Holland. Edith Stein was once again within the reach of the anti-Semitic persecutors. Correspondence with the Carmelites in Cologne became increasingly difficult, since along with the troops had come the Gestapo, the German secret security police.
The year the Germans entered Holland, the sisters elected Sister Antonia to be their prioress. Eager to make use of Edith Stein's intellectual abilities, the new superior assigned her to teach the postulants Latin and begin training Rosa in the basics of Carmelite life. She also asked her to write a book on St. John of the Cross in commemoration of the upcoming centenary in 1942. In order to leave her free for research, Sister Antonia dispensed her from regular housework.
From the start, the project proved a source of deep joy:
"I'm just beginning to collect material for a new book. Our dear Mother wants me to return to intellectual work as far as the organization of our life and present circumstances permit, and I'm glad to have the chance to work on work on something like this again before my brain gets completely rusty."
Like Ignatius of Antioch, who shortly before his martyrdom told his congregation, "Now I am beginning to be a Christian." Edith Stein considered herself a beginner right to the end of her life. She set about studying St. John with the spirit of a humble disciple:
"As a result of the work I'm engaged in, I find myself living almost continually in the world of our holy Father St. John. This is truly a great grace. Do pray, Reverend Mother, that I may produce something worthy of his celebration."
XIII. FINAL ACCOUNTS
By the beginning of 1942, Edith Stein realized that to keep her new community out of danger, she would have to find a way to get out of Holland. National Socialism, determined to bring about the complete extermination of the Jews, was extending S.S. operations to all the occupied countries, like a vast network of death.
As the crematoria and gas chambers rose in the East, Edith and Rosa Stein, along with thousands of other Jews in Holland, began receiving regular citations from the S.S. in Maastricht and the Council for Jewish Affairs in Amsterdam. During these interrogations, which often lasted for hours, Jews were forced to stand at a three meter distance from S.S. officials. They were also informed that they would have to wear the yellow star. Though the Dutch Christians responded to these indignities by treating the Jews with emphatic respect, many of them putting on the star themselves to demonstrate their sympathy, the arrests continued unchecked. Edith Stein applied for a Swiss visa. She hoped that by transferring to the Carmel of Le Paquier it would be possible to leave Holland legally. But because of limited living space, Le Paquier informed the Echt community that, while they would be glad to receive Edith Stein, other accommodations would have to be found for Rosa. This was unacceptable to Edith Stein. Although, humanly speaking, Le Paquier was offering salvation, she refused to go to Switzerland without her sister. She continued to write and wait in faith.
In July, as the number of deportations increased, the situation grew more urgent. Yet negotiations with Le Paquier dragged on, the Swiss apparently oblivious to the seriousness of the danger. Hoping to bring the sisters to safety, the Carmelites in Cologne did what they could to support the efforts of the Echt community.
Meanwhile, throughout Holland, resistance to the deportations was mounting. Catholic and Protestant church leaders, unwilling to remain silent any longer, agreed to send a joint telegram to Reichskommisar SeyssInquart. German authorities, in an apparently conciliatory mood, promised that "Jewish Christians" would be left unmolested. The bishop informed Edith Stein's community of this development as soon as he learned it, and everyone at Echt breathed easier.
It was a short-lived respite. As the deportation of the majority of Jews continued, the Churches decided to express their concern publicly. They composed a joint pastoral letter for their congregations that included the text of their telegram to the Reichskommisar. SeyssInquart heard of their intention at the last moment and vetoed it. While some of the denominations bowed to the command, the Bishop of Utrecht informed the Occupation that it had no right to intervene in ecclesiastical affairs. By his authority, the following pastoral letter, telegram included, was read in all the Catholic parishes of Holland on July 26, 1942:
"Dear Brethren: When Jesus drew near to Jerusalem and saw the city before him, he wept over it and said, 'O, if even today you understood the things that make for peace! But now they are concealed from your sight'...Dear brethren, let us begin by examining ourselves in a spirit of profound humility and sorrow. Are we not partly to blame for the calamities which we are suffering? Have we always sought first for God's kingdom and his righteousness? Have we always fulfilled the demands of justice and charity towards our fellowmen?...When we examine ourselves, we are forced to admit that all of us have failed...Let us beseech God...to swiftly bring about a just peace in the world and to strengthen the people of Israel so sorely tested in these days, leading them to true redemption in Jesus Christ."
While the Dutch waited for the enemy to retaliate, Edith and Rosa Stein received news that Paul and Frieda Stein, along with their families, had been deported to Theresienstadt. The two sisters prepared to meet the same fate any moment.
One week after the bishop's protest, the dreaded vengeance came. On August 2, in a single sweeping operation, all Jewish Catholics were put under arrest, including the members of Catholic religious orders. Since Nazi officials did not dare to move against the Catholic hierarchy directly, they vented their fury on the Jewish Catholics, dragging them into the march to the East in atonement for the Church's defiance.
That year, August 2 fell on a Sunday. Edith Stein spent the day in her usual manner, praying and working on the unfinished manuscript on John of the Cross.
It was five in the afternoon when the prioress was summoned to the parlor where two S.S. officers waited to question her about Edith Stein. Assuming they had come to discuss the emigration, Sister Antonia sent Edith Stein to speak to them. The officers immediately ordered her away from the grille, giving her five minutes to pack her things. This threw the convent into a state of confusion. Sister Antonia, realizing her mistake, attempted to negotiate with the S.S. men, but without success. The other sisters hastily gathered a few necessary items for Edith Stein, who appeared momentarily dazed. Quickly recovering, she asked the sisters for their prayers and told them to renew their appeal to the Swiss Consulate.
By the time she reached the convent gate, Rosa was already waiting. The two sisters sorrowfully said farewell to the rest of the community. Meanwhile, the street had filled with local residents incensed over the latest act of violence. Surrounded by the crowd and unable to fully absorb the situation, Rosa began to grow disoriented. Seeing this, a neighbor recalled, Edith Stein took her by the hand and said reassuringly, "Come, Rosa. We're going to our people." Edith Stein understood that the last stage of her journey had begun. Together with Rosa she walked to the corner and got into a waiting squad car. In a few minutes, Echt had been left behind.
The next day, August 3, was a long drawn-out agony for the prisoners. A mood of extreme depression prevailed among them, the women in particular. One of the survivors, Dr. Lenig, has testified to Edith Stein's efforts to care for women's needs. His account has been confirmed by another survivor, Peter Loesen, who was able to recognize Edith Stein on the basis of a family resemblance. Loesen wrote:
"What I still recall very clearly is the unworried, or perhaps even cheerful, way that she and the other brothers and sisters accepted the situation. There was no way to tell that a few hours before the police had caught them completely unaware. They even took care of some of the children. This was so different from the attitude of the other prisoners, who seemed paralyzed with fear - and with good reason."
Loesen's testimony refers to the fifteen members of religious communities who were imprisoned at Amersfoort along with three hundred other Catholic Jews. Five of the fifteen - two priests, a lay brother and two nuns - belonged to the Loeb family, all of them members of the Trappist order. Two friends of Edith Stein, likewise German refugees, were also there: Dr. Ruth Kantorowicz, who had been staying with the Ursulines in Venlo, and Alice Reiz, who had been working in Almelo with the Good Shepherd Sisters. Despite the circumstances of the reunion, the women were grateful to be together. During that day at Amersfoort, the religious gathered regularly to pray the Divine Office and recite the rosary, spontaneously grouping around Edith Stein as their center. "The influence she exerted by her tranquil bearing and manner was undeniable," one witness remembered.
Back at Echt, the nuns had spent three anxious days worrying about the fate of the kidnapped sisters. Finally, on August 5, they received a telegram through the Council for Jewish Affairs. An identical message relating to Ruth Kantorowicz had been forwarded to the Ursuline house in Venlo. The telegrams requested warm blankets, medicines and other basic necessities for the two women. Greatly relieved, the Echt Carmelites competed with each other in finding provisions for the prisoners. Two local men volunteered to drive the trucks to Westerbork.
August 6, the day the men made the journey, was the last day the Jews spent at Westerbork. In the morning they were informed of the impending departure and given permission to write. Edith Stein's final letter, written in a large, firm handwriting on two small pages from an appointment calendar, is a request to the sisters at Echt for warm clothing and toilet articles for Rosa. The note has a matter-of-fact, almost cheerful, tone and closes with the words:
"A thousand thanks. Greetings to all. Your Reverence's grateful child. B."
To it was attached a final plea addressed to the Swiss Consulate.
For Edith Stein, the time of uncertainty was over. Rather than being sent back to the convent, she was to follow the way of the Cross to the end, in the company of her Jewish brothers and sisters. The men from Echt who, thanks to the kindness of the Dutch police, were able to meet with her when they arrived a few hours later, found her in a relaxed, almost jovial mood. As they said in their statement:
"After a few very tense moments, the barbed-wire gates opened, and there in the distance we could see Edith Stein dressed in her black and brown habit, together with her sister Rosa. The meeting was both happy and sad. They shook hands with us warmly, but could hardly speak at first - so happy were they to see people from Echt. After a little while, the ice was broken, we handed out the things the Carmelites had sent. The men recalled how grateful Edith Stein was for all the kindness the Council for Jewish Affairs had shown. One thing that had made her particularly happy was finding priests in the camp who were working with the sisters to comfort the prisoners. She related all this in a calm and quiet manner. We had both been smoking as she spoke, and after she finished, in the hope of relieving the tension a little, we jokingly offered her a cigarette. That made her laugh. She told us that back in her days as a university student she had done her share of smoking, and dancing too..."
"For all her quiet composure, there was a lighthearted happiness in the way she spoke to us. The glow of a saintly Carmelite radiated from her eyes. You could feel the heavenly atmosphere that her faith had created around her. Several times she reminded us to tell Reverend Mother not to worry about her and her sister Rosa...In the camp they had heard that either that night or the one following they would be transported to their native Silesia to work in the mines. Wherever they were headed, they told us, whatever work they were assigned, prayer would remain their first obligation. She hoped she could offer her suffering for the conversion of atheists, for her fellow Jews, for the Nazi persecutors, and for all who no longer had the love of God in their hearts."
In the middle of the night before August 7, the Westerbork prisoners were unexpectedly awakened to listen to the names of those to be deported. Apart from six exceptions, the list included everyone. As morning came, thousands of men, women, and children crossed through the camp in an endless line, escorted by the S.S. commandos who had taken the place of the camp police. Slowly they made their way to the train, the religious in their habits standing out strangely. The few who were being left behind stood and waved farewell.
XIV. CHRONOLOGY OF HER LIFE
October 12, 1891 born in Breslau.
October 12, 1897 entered Victoria School in Breslau.
1908-1911 attended the Oberlyceum of Victoria School.
1911 Abitur (Comprehensive final examination required by students wishing to embark on academic study at a university).
1911-1913 attended the University of Breslau to study German Literature and History. 1913-1915 attended the University of Gottingen; studied Philosophy, Psychology, History, German Literature, also meeting with Husserl.
January 1915 State Examination/pro faculate docendi in Philosophical Propaedeutics, History and German.
1915 volunteered for service with the Red Cross in the Military Hospital for Contagious Diseases in Mährisch-Weisskirchen.
1915 short period of teaching in the Breslau school system.
1916 served as assistant to her teacher Husserl in Freiburg.
1917 received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Unversity of Freiburg. Dissertation: On the Problem of Empathy. Inaugural Dissertation, Halle, 17. January 1,
1922 was baptized and received into the Catholic Church.
1923-1931 taught at St. Magdalena Speyer High school for girls and teachers' college. 1932-1933 lecturer at the German Instilute for Scientific Pedagogy, Münster.
1928-1932 speaker at educational workshops and congresses in Germany and abroad (Prague, Vienna, Salsburg, Basel, Paris, Münster, Bendorf).
1933 dismissed as lecturer by government decree under the National Socialist regime.
October, 14, 1933 entered Cologne Carmel.
April 15, 1934 received the religious habit; on this occasion she chose the name Teresia Benedicta a Cruce.
April 21, 1935 first profession (temporal vows for three years).
May 1, 1938 received the black veil at the hand of Auxiliary Bshop Dr. Stockums.
December 31, 1938 farewell to Cologne Carmel and transfer to Carmel in Echt/Holland.
August 2, 1942 arrested by Gestapo and interned in transit camp Westerbork/Holland.
August 7, 1942 deported to Auschwitz.
August 9, 1942 killed by gassing in Auschwitz.
1. Please refer to the OCDS Rule of
Life, Decree, Foreword, and Articles 2, 4, 5 and
2. Carmelite Studies IV, The Life and Thought of Edith Stein. ICS Publications.
3. Edith Stein - Collected Works, Vol 1. Life in a Jewish Family. ICS Publications.
4. Edith Stein - Collected Works, Vol 2. Woman. ICS Publications.
5. Edith Stein - Collected Works, Vol 3. On the Problem of Empathy. ICS Publications.
6. Edith Stein - Collected Works, Vol 4. The Hidden Life. ICS Publications.
1. Translated by Father Bernard Bonowitz, OCSO Condensed from Edith Stein, A Biography, by Waltraud Herbstrith. Copyright 1985 by Harper & Row. Used with permission from Harper Row, Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, CA. Waltraud Herbstrith is a Carmelite nun who knew Edith Stein well and has devoted her life to writing a full account of this modern martyr.
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