Let Us Go For Our People
The pretty village of Birkenau in Germany had received its name in token of the lovely birch trees growing in such profusion everywhere. The Nazis cleared out the village residents, and it became an extension of the Auschwitz concentration camp. When the transport from Holland pulled into camp there on August 9, 1942, it carried 559 people; among them were two sisters, Edith and Rosa Stein.
Many of the passengers had already died in transit because of traveling conditions which even the camp commander, Rudolph Hess, termed "horrible." Many were suffering from psychological breakdown. The people were ordered to form lines of five. The SS doctor selected 295 persons fit for work: the others, 264 including Edith and Rosa, were driven in lorries to huts in the nearby woods where they were told to undress for showers and delousing.
During this summer of 1942, two farm cottages were being used for the gassing — a red cottage (bunker 1) and a white one (bunker 2). It is believed that Edith was led to the white cottage. A former guard writes that as many people died in these two little cottages as might have filled a city. The victims came to the cottages directly from the train and went to their death completely unaware of the fate that awaited them. They were disarmed by the lovely pastoral scene and matter-of-fact small talk of the "Sondekommandos" and the SS men. Those who did show panic were shoved inside quickly, and if any indeed became hysterical, they were forced to the back of the cottage and shot.
The cottages were windowless. As soon as the strong, air-tight doors were bolted down by screws, the acid — Cyclone B — was discharged through vents in the ceilings. In about 15 to 20 minutes it was over for all.
In Hess's autobiography, we find an account of what the camp was like in the summer of 1942, the time when Edith arrived. It is a description of human sacrifice. "During the summer of 1942 the bodies were still being placed in mass graves. Towards the end of the summer, however, we started to bum them, at first on wood pyres bearing some 2,000 corpses and later in pits together with bodies previously buried... Bodies were burnt in pits day and night, continuously.... By the end of November all the mass graves had been emptied."
Some years ago, I stood by the remains of the white cottage which is flanked by a large birch tree. Several pits of the former mass graves were within a radius of a few feet from the cottage. The pits were marked by large white crosses. My guide, a staff member of the camp Archives, told me that the ashes of the cremations had been used as fertilizer for the surrounding fields or else simply dumped into the nearby pond or Vistula River. We walked to the edge of this pond, seeing clearly the calcium remains along its edges. He retrieved a fistful of small bits of white bone from the mud and placed it in my hand. Time stopped for me.
After World War II, much former German territory was ceded to Poland. The former concentration camp at Auschwitz is now the site of the Oswiecim Museum where I had come to do research on Edith Stein, German philosopher, educator and feminist.
After a two-hour interview with the director of the Museum, a staff member of the Archives had shown me about the camp. He was a young ardent Pole who evidenced much historical knowledge.
Then we went to the Archives where he helped me to obtain books and photographs. I was shown much courtesy by all.
Now I went to Wroclaw to find the beginnings of Edith's life. Formerly named Breslau, in German Silesia, this beautiful medieval city of religion and culture had also been ceded to Poland.
Siegfried and Augusta Stein, Edith's Jewish parents, had come from Lublinitz to seek a better livelihood a half year before Edith's birth. She was born in a small house on Kohlenstrasse, which no longer exists, on October 12, 1891, the youngest of seven surviving children. In that year, October 12th also happened to be the Jewish Day of Atonement, "Yom Kippur," and Edith explains in her autobiography that this correlation of events was so important to her mother that it was the paramount reason why her mother held her so dear. She describes another tender association.
On a very hot day in July, 1893, Mrs. Stein was holding a mere 21-month-old Edith as Mr. Stein made his farewells; he was going on a long trek to a distant forest for his lumber business. Edith called after her father from her mother's arms, and this moment was the last memory Mrs. Stein retained of her husband for he was to die of sunstroke that very day.
Edith concedes that she was a headstrong child. At times merry and saucy, she was at other times most naughty and willful, becoming infuriated when she could not have her own way. Her mother had taken over the lumber business, and the elder sisters took their turns caring for Edith and her sister Erna, who was just a year older than Edith. Yet the mother remained the center of the home and for Edith was always an image of the proverbial woman of faith, courage, and industry.
Edith tells us that her mother was very religious, but the second generation in the family did not entirely maintain the Jewish faith. Yet in their youth, the elder brothers and sisters went to the synagogue with their mother on the high holy days.
Nor were they strictly orthodox: the business remained open on Saturdays, and prayers at home were said in German, except for grace said in Hebrew. In her early teens, Edith suddenly decided to stop praying and was to consider herself an atheist until she was 21 years old.
She was among the early group of women in attendance at a university when she enrolled at the University of Breslau in 1911. She studied there for two years in philosophy, psychology, history, and German philology. She had intended to write her thesis on the development of child thought, but in 1913 she went to the University of Goettingen to attend a summer session under the noted philosopher Edmund Husserl, and there she stayed.
In this new school of phenomenology largely composed of Jews, a new spiritual focus was revolutionizing the discipline and creating a movement of Christian conversion. Christian ontological principles had remained unrecognized by philosophy for three centuries, for Kantian Idealism had reduced the nature of Divine Being to a subjective concern. Husserl's insistence on the reality of the objective world also included a recognition of the reality of the transcendent; hence, these great intellectual minds of the phenomenological group established with clarity the reality of the supernatural. The girl who had not been able to relate to a personal God was now confronted with a need to investigate the possibility of God 's existence. This new spiritual focus manifested in philosophy was, of course, part of the great Religious Revival dynamically present in the arts as well.
Edith was deeply affected by two of her professors. She described Adolph Reinach, a Jew, as possessing a "natural goodness": she recognized the phenomenon of genius in the famous Max Scheler, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, as he lectured on subjects such as the essence of humility and sanctity. Edith writes that the walls of rational prejudice fell away, and her spirit opened up to the infinite possibilities of another world which she would have to think about.
Adolph Reinach enlisted immediately after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Elsewhere, Adolph Hitler, a young Austrian who had been hiding from conscription in Vienna, was discovered, and now he joined willingly for the "German Colors." Hitler was to claim later that he learned more about real life from the war than he could have learned if he had spent 30 years at a university. In 1915, Edith stopped her studies for five months to serve as a Red Cross aide at a hospital in Austria. There she nursed soldiers infected with contagious diseases — spotted fever, dysentery, and cholera.
From February to October, 1916, she taught at the Breslau Girls' High School where she herself had matriculated. In August she went to the University of Freiburg where recently Husserl had been given a chair in phenomenology. At this time she was awarded her doctorate in philosophy, summa cum laude. And it is a recognition of her singular genius that Husserl chose her to be his first assistant there at Freiburg.
In 1917, Edith visited the widow of Adolph Reinach, for Adolph had been killed that year and Anna had requested that Edith arrange his papers. Edith expected to find a shattered woman: instead, she found a woman strong in faith who was able to console rather than be consoled. For Adolph had become a Protestant before his death at the front, and his wife had also been baptized. So dynamic was this impression of Anna Reinach as she made her offering in the mystery of the cross that this visit become for Edith the door opening into Christianity. But all this required a period of gestation. It was to be another five years before her final decision.
Freiburg nestles at the foot of the Black Forest which is an enchanted world in itself. Edith did not go home to visit her family during the 18 months that she worked with Husserl; consequently, friends and members of her family visited her. They tramped with her through the surrounding woods, enjoying her gay comradeship as well as the exquisite pastoral beauty. Edith was a true nature lover and a delightful, high-spirited companion. Her brother-in-law, Hans Biberstein, once said of her that she was the kind of woman you could steal horses with! She had much laughter and an intuitive faculty for relating to people.
Generous and thoughtful, she seemed to sense the needs of those near her and, without self-consciousness of any kind, tried to meet those needs. Her great strength of will did not prevent a complete balance of temperament.
Edith taught Husserl's beginning students, referring to the group as her "philosophical kindergarten." However, her primary duty was to transcribe and edit Husserl's notes which were written in Gabelsberger shorthand and needed careful editing, even elaboration. The notes were garbled, for Husserl never reread or revised his writing after his first burst of inspiration. A colleague of Edith, Roman Ingarden, tells us that Husserl truly failed Edith in the promise he had held out to her. Indeed, disappointed in her post, she left in 1918. But during this period, she had managed to write two phenomenological studies, "Psychic Causality" and "The Individual and the Community," which were published in 1922.
She had campaigned as a suffragette during high school days: now. in 1918, she canvassed for the liberal German Democratic Party.
She became so interested in the structure and function of the state that she was soon to produce a study. The State, published in 1925. It is interesting to note that the first volume of Hitler's Mein Kampf appeared the same year in July. In these days, there were few women teaching in universities, and anti-Semitism was rampant; even with a letter of unqualified recommendation from Husserl, Edith was unable to find a university teaching post. Another letter was written about this time in 1919— Hitler writing to a military officer, presenting the views of the German Workers' Party concerning Jews. It was his first political manifesto. The "crimes" of the Jews were listed; all privileges enjoyed by Jews should be countermanded by a legal struggle; the removal of all Jews from their midst was to be the final objective. This was already in 1919.
Edith spent the next three years at home in Breslau, during which time she wrote and taught while the drama of her conversion deepened. In her study "Psychic Causality" Edith describes a "state of resting in God" which becomes "a spiritual rebirth" in the person who surrenders to God and relinquishes all efforts of mind and will for "a certain receptivity." Now, with the appearance of her new study, "Plant Soul, Animal Soul, Human Soul," it seemed to her friends that she had already accepted the Christian faith, as indeed she had. She was to testify later to a priest. Father Johannes Hirschmann, that Anna Reinach had won her to the Christian faith, but that she had hesitated as to which denomination she should join. Many of her friends had become Protestants. Max Scheler had prepared her for the Catholic faith in his ardent teaching at Goettingen University. But her basic reason for entering the Catholic Church was her reading of the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.
This happened one summer evening in 1921. Edith was visiting her friends from the University of Goettingen, Theodor Conrad and Hedwig Conrad-Martius. Many members of the Philosophy Circle at Goettingen University still came from time to time to gather fruit at the Conrad farm and to talk philosophy. Hedwig writes that Edith, always reserved, was immersed in a deep quiet. Hedwig, a Protestant, was also undergoing a religious crisis. She writes of those days, "It was as if we were both walking on a narrow mountain ridge, aware that God's call was imminent."
Her friends went out one evening, leaving Edith to entertain herself with a book. She picked up Teresa of Avila's autobiography, The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. We are told by Edith that her search for truth through the years had been a prayer in itself. Now she was transfixed by the saint's account of her innermost life, by her humility and surrender to God. She read through the entire night. When Edith closed the book, she said "That is the truth," and went directly to buy a Catholic catechism and a missal.
The extraordinary receptivity which had permitted her to grasp the faith of Max Scheler and Anna Reinach, a receptivity which she had herself defined as "resting in God" in scientific and yet mystical terms, now permitted her to experience the reality of St. Teresa's spirituality and to be transformed by it.
So persuaded was she of the truth of St. Teresa's experience that she had to acknowledge the source of that experience as Truth itself.
On the first day of 1922, Edith was baptized at St. Martin's Church in Bergzabern. Years ago, I stood by the baptismal font there, reading the words on the wall plaque dedicated to the saintly woman who had given up her life for "her people and her faith."
Edith had thought of baptism as a preparation for religious life in a convent; however, she could not bring herself to deal such a severe double blow to her mother. But there was a seclusion from the world of some sort for her. She left prestige and worldly comfort to assume a quiet teaching post at the oldest Dominican convent in Germany — St. Magdalena in Speyer — where she taught German to high school girls, novices and nuns preparing to teach. She did this for no salary; all she would accept were room and board and clothes made for her by the nuns themselves.
She had taken private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and she read the divine office daily. Although she had constant piles of essays to grade, many of her hours were spent in prayer in the convent chapel. (In fact, she at times spent the entire night in prayer and contemplation, strictly against the wishes of her spiritual director!) In order to become knowledgeable about the Catholic faith, she translated for publication great Catholic thinkers, such as Cardinal Newman and Thomas Aquinas. Her translation of Aquinas' Truth also included a brilliant phenomenological commentary on Thomistic metaphysics, and suddenly she became famous throughout Germany. Then a Festschrift was published in celebration of Husserl's 70th birthday; this included Edith's comparative study of Husserl's phenomenology and the philosophy of Aquinas, a study which was to become an important seminal work for both disciplines. During these years, she was also working on her own Act and Potency, the embryo of her great philosophical work. Finite and Eternal Being.
Even with all this intellectual activity, she always had time for someone in need. She was considered the real novice mistress. Always ready to help the young students, she did so without making them feel belittled in any way. Edith writes that when she was a young girl herself, she had been a kind of "wisecracker," often making cutting barbs at human foibles and weaknesses evident about her. Now she was a true mother to her charges, exercising a spiritual maternity which she terms woman's greatest asset. Her personality had undergone a great transformation: her Speyer colleagues and students describe her as gentle, patient, modest, loving, humble, happy, brilliant, lovable, serene, balanced, charitable and even holy.
Her seclusion was cut short in a few years. In order to find the right perspective for the education of young women, she had developed an analysis of woman's being and vocation proper to her happiness. She took the Catholic world by storm when she presented this analysis at a meeting of Catholic German women teachers in 1928. During the next five years, she lectured on the subject of women for national associations of Catholic women and Catholic teachers throughout Europe. This small, thin person who spoke simply in a low voice held huge audiences spellbound. With her dark brown hair swept back in a tight coif, large brown-grey eyes, an expansive forehead denoting great intellect, a strong chin signifying her inexorable will but also bearing a dimple expressive of her lovely humor, she was declared unforgettable.
She already evidenced that charisma alluded to by a Dutch guard who spoke to her after her arrest: "A talk with her was like a visit to another world."
Edith's analysis of humanity as a dual species, masculine and feminine, is still most valuable in the work of Differential Psychology. She attacked the then existing masculine educational system which treated woman as "an ornament of the domestic hearth." One could say that she actually pioneered in women's studies. She asserted that a woman needs a formation proper to her own psyche, one permitting the development of her human nature to its individual and feminine fulfillment. And she planned the curriculum for that goal.
In Essays on Woman, Edith writes that a woman differs from a man in the relationship of body to soul and in the relationship of her faculties. Because emotion lies at the center of her being, it is especially vital that she be geared in intellectual training to develop objectivity and value judgments. A pedagogical goal is to teach her to relate properly to others and to understand the world in which she must serve. Woman's natural drive is concern for the person — that of herself and of others. There is a danger that this drive may be excessive, and it must be purified lest she be guilty of a "hyperfemininity" which becomes a decided nuisance. Yet it is through her tendency to the personal, aided by her strong emotions, that she is able to exercise her other strong disposition: to help the humanity within herself and in others to develop to a total wholeness of being and harmony of faculties.
Such a person is God-centered, for God is the Master Educator, and the person who best images Him is a total human being. Edith became the "voice" of the Catholic Women's Movement and its intellectual leader. She urged that women exercise their right to individual judgment, become involved in the problems of the time, and seek solutions for the needs of the masses. (We must not forget that Edith was counteracting the growing Nazi propaganda which would reduce woman to "Kirche, Kueche und Kinder." Rather, Edith asserts, a woman can practice any profession which a man follows! However, women are especially gifted for disciplines which deal with people on a personal level, as in medicine, social work, teaching, politics, law, literature, art, etc. Believing in marriage as a sacrament, she also challenges the single woman to a pure life of service for humanity and God. For a woman's unique strength, her spiritual maternal love, is a power which all women have regardless of marital status, a power needed in every walk of life. Women are to be considered not only as women but as individuals with particular gifts and a loving humanity needed by the community at large. Simply, a woman is a person whose human nature is uniquely feminine.
When Edith made her dynamic contribution during the years 1928 to 1933, there were but few analyses of woman's psyche, certainly none based on a religious focus. And she was considered by many Catholics to be the person best capable of dealing with the issue of woman.
The author of Mein Kampf had written that the Aryan was the highest image of God and humanity, the Jew its exact antithesis. After Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich in the winter of 1933, Edith had to discontinue lecturing at the German Institute of Scientific Pedagogy in Muenster, the new post she had just assumed in the summer of 1932. Her worldly career was at an end.
She pondered over offers of teaching posts outside of Germany but declined. Could she not finally follow her own dictates at last and become a religious?
What madness, and yet, what sanity! She knew fully her danger as a Jewish convert. She knew the danger to all Jews and believed that their dreadful fate would also envelop Catholics. For as early as that very spring of 1933, she sought an audience with Pope Pius XI to urge him to issue an encyclical condemning Nazi anti-Semitism. And when she was unable to obtain a personal audience, she wrote a letter to the Pope which was hand carried to Rome by her spiritual director, the Abbot of Beuron, Raphael Walzer, O.S.B. This was in April. We know that her plea was not successful: a Concordat was signed between the Vatican and Nazi Germany in July. But her lone protest to the Pope testifies to both her foresight and her courage.
Her family was, of course, horrified at her decision to become a religious. Her 12-year-old niece asked her, "But why, now?" Edith replied that being in a convent would in no way guarantee her safety, and that she would always be part of the Jewish race. Indeed, it is this love for her own people as well as for God which set her future path. Edith Stein knew that the destiny of the Jewish people was her own destiny, and she wished it so. In a letter written in 1938, she declares that, like Queen Esther who had also been singled out from her race to plead for the lives of her people, she, too, would plead for her people to the heavenly king.
In October, 1933, Edith joined the Discalced Carmelites in Cologne. What is amazing is that her prayers were offered up for all of God's children — the persecutor as well as the persecuted. For Edith, now Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, had taken literally the command to "love your enemy." In imitation of Christ's Passion, she offered herself as expiation for the safety of her own Jewish people, for Germany, and for world peace.
After entering Carmel, Edith's happiness was unbounded. Her friend Hedwig Conrad-Martius writes that Edith had always been was enchanting in her childlike radiance. The girl who had so loved dancing, hiking, boating, tennis, theater, concerts, art, literature, and philosophical discourse was now content in strict enclosure. She said once that she had never laughed so much during her entire life as she did the first two years of her novitiate.
During the periods of recreation, she entertained the nuns with stories, but now her humor was always directed against herself — never against others. She was always eager to do things for the other nuns, even their house chores at which she was noticeably clumsy.
The nuns to whom I spoke who knew her personally had the same memories of her total humility, her deep contemplative spirit and devotion to prayer, and her extraordinary gift of relating to each person. It was years before they realized her importance in the outside world because she herself never spoke of it.
She had fully expected to give up intellectual activity, but her superiors did not allow it. Her first project after her entrance to the convent was to write a history of her family in order to combat the Nazi caricature of Jewish humanity. In the Preface of this autobiography of her youth, Life in a Jewish Family, Edith writes that her intention was to honor her mother and all that she represents. The last few months before Edith left for Carmel, her mother had shared many memories of the family with her.
Mrs. Stein had been deeply pained by Edith's decision to become a religious. For a long while after Edith's departure, she maintained a stony silence, never answering Edith's weekly letters. But finally, this noble, cultivated woman, from whom Edith derived so much of her own magnanimity, had softened; she included a little note in the letters sent to Edith by her sister Rosa. (Rosa was the only member of the entire family to follow Edith into the Church.)
Edith possessed strong powers of concentration and creative energy which the nuns attributed to her deep powers of prayer and contemplation. She finished Finite and Eternal Being while working during her times of recreation in the period of only nine months. Despite her concern with the happenings of the outside world, an involvement heightened by her belief that all human beings are responsible for each other, she was peaceful. But her life at the Carmel was shattered like glass, along with the lives of all the other Jews in Germany, on the night of November 9, 1938 — the "Night of Crystal." This night was so named for the windows broken in Jewish businesses, when thousands of shops and synagogues were attacked. Countless Jews were arrested and sent to the concentration camps which had already existed since 1933
Edith's sister Elsa and brother Arno had already emigrated to America, and now her closest sister, Erna, made plans to leave the country. Edith knew she must also leave Germany for the safety of the other nuns in her Carmel; they could be accused of harboring a Jew. Many of the convents were disbanded, the nuns simply turned out into the street. Thus, on the last night of 1938, Edith fled to the Carmel in Echt, Holland. She was ushered through the night by car away from her country and people whom she dearly loved. She crossed the countryside in the early morning mists which in Holland can be so heavy that a person may easily be drawn into a mystical awareness of existence and eternity. And this traveler was a saint.
The Echt Carmel was then a small, unpretentious row house on a quiet street in a simple Dutch village. When I interviewed the then acting prioress, I asked if Edith had been melancholy there.
"No," she said. "Her face usually wore a look of profundity, but she was most cheerful and friendly with the nuns." Yet Edith has left us three testimonies of the travail she was undergoing in 1939 as the world prepared for war. On January 30, Hitler declared that, should the Jews cause another world war, they would bring about their own extinction. On March 26, Hitler stated, "Poland should be totally subjected." The next day was Passion Sunday of Easter week: Edith wrote a note to her Mother Superior offering herself as expiation for world peace to break the hold of the anti-Christ, Hitler. In June, she wrote her will, concluding with a joyful acceptance of the death foreordained for her by God. And again, she offered herself as expiation for the Church, the Jews, Germany, world peace, and her family — living and dead.
The Germans invaded Poland on September 1— it was the beginning of World War II. On September 14, Edith wrote an impassioned essay, "Hail Cross, Our Only Hope." She expresses anguish in her inability to tend the wounded and dying (we remember how she had nursed the soldiers in World War I): she reveals sorrow in her powerlessness to personally console the women and children in their misery. But, she affirms that there is an actual power of healing and consoling which is available even to the cloistered religious through her compassionate love and prayer. In her earlier essay, "The Prayer of the Church," she writes that women who are able to forget themselves completely in contemplation of Christ's Passion can by their stream of mystical prayer change the face of the earth.
Edith's sister Rosa had become a Catholic after their mother's death in 1936, and in 1940 she joined Edith at the Echt Carmel. Because Holland was soon invaded by the Germans in 1940, she was unable to become a religious but became a Third Order Carmelite. She served as portress for the Carmel, acting as intermediary between the public and the cloistered nuns. Starting on September 15, 1941, both sisters were forced along with their Jewish brethren to wear the Yellow Star of David inscribed "Jew." Eater, they were obliged to report periodically to the Gestapo. One day in the office at Maastricht. Edith greeted the officer with "Praised be Jesus Christ!," the habitual greeting of Catholic Germany, rather than the Nazi greeting of "Heil Hitler!" Edith later explained that she had been compelled to make this utterance in a clear recognition of the eternal struggle between God and Satan. The officer had stared and said nothing.
The prioress, attempting to get Edith out of Holland, had applied to a Swiss Carmel, but Edith would not go without her sister and this caused further delay. Finally, arrangements were made for them both. Edith was to go to the Le Paquier Carmel, Rosa to a home for Third Order Carmelites. But now they had to await approval of the authorities in Holland.
Meanwhile, Edith was writing a study of the life, theology, and poetry of St. John of the Cross, The Science of the Cross. In June, 1942 she wrote to the Cologne Carmel that she carried on her person the line from Matthew (Chapter 10, verse 23) which reads "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next." On July 24, she wrote a note to the prioress of the Le Paquier Carmel, wistfully expressing the hope that she and Rosa might be able to come soon.
Two days later, the Dutch hierarchies, Protestant and Catholic, issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the only one still available to Jewish children. They were warned to withdraw the protest. Some of the Protestant clergy reneged, some did not. The Catholics not only refused to recant but, on July 26, they read from every Church pulpit the telegram which they had received from the Nazi authorities warning them not to voice their protest.
In retaliation, on the following Sunday, August 2, all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland were rounded up and arrested, two of whom were Edith and Rosa.
Neighbors, aghast, gathered at the door of the Convent. The last words they heard were Edith's as she said to Rosa, Come, let us go for our people." During the next week the two women were shifted between three camps. The first two were Dutch camps, Amersfoort and Westerbork.
Witnesses have testified that Edith was a great source of mercy and consolation at the camps. Many of the women had sunk into despair, unable to care for themselves or their children, and here Edith showed her strength. She seemed totally serene, her usual radiance undimmed. She was certainly prepared for anything, even death. But it is equally certain that she believed they might be heading for heavy labor in the East. Her last two notes addressed to the nuns in Echt requested that they send warm clothing and blankets for her and Rosa, a request which would indicate expectancy of labor in winter.
A released prisoner has described the expression on Edith's face as she looked upon her sister Rosa as that of "a Pieta without Christ": she was ready for labor or death but she could not ask the same for her sister. Through the courtesy of the Jewish Council, she was able to send a telegram to the Hague asking that they intervene and free them to go to Le Paquier.
Yet, a Dutch official at the Westerbork camp has testified in a 1952 issue of De Tijd that when he asked Edith, just a few hours before she was put on the train to Auschwitz, if he should make a call to Utrecht in a last attempt to save her, she told him not to. Baptism, she said, should not be an unfair advantage, and she needed to share the fate of her Jewish brothers and sisters.
The Dutch Red Cross reported that Edith and Rosa were in the transport which left Westerbork on August 7 and arrived at Auschwitz in the early hours of August 9. So devastating were the conditions of these cattle trains in which the prisoners were transported that Edith, in her keen intuition, must surely have understood a great deal. When they arrived at Auschwitz, she was still wearing her Carmelite habit, and so conspicuous was she in appearance and balanced manner that one of the Nazi guards turned to another guard and said, "This one is sane, anyway." Those selected for death were given wash cloths for the supposed "shower" and marched directly to the cottage for gassing. Edith's last sight of the world might nave been that birch tree which stood by the cottage in full bloom. She was 50 years old.
Can we not understand Edith Stein as a symbol of the inherent unity between Jews and Christians? Moreover, is she not also a sign of the oneness of humanity itself? Dedicated to the good of all persons, she represents a moral force for all of humanity. She was above all barriers of race, religion and nation. She was a citizen of the world.
Dr. Freda Mary Oben, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, is an editor and translator of Edith Stein's writings and one of the world's leading experts on Stein's life and work. Dr. Oben resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. © Inside the Vatican, Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, 3050 Gap Knob Road, New Hope, KY 40052, 800-789-9494.
© Inside the Vatican, Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, 3050 Gap Knob Road, New Hope, KY 40052, 800-789-9494.
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