Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD, (German: Teresia Benedicta vom Kreuz, Latin: Teresia Benedicta a Cruce) (12 October 1891 – 9 August 1942), was a German Jewish philosopher who joined the Roman Catholic Church and became a Discalced Carmelite nun. She is a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church.
She was born into an observant Jewish family, but was an atheist by her teenage years. Moved by the tragedies of World War I, in 1915 she took lessons to become a nursing assistant and worked in a hospital for the prevention of disease outbreaks. After completing her doctoral thesis in 1916 from the University of Göttingen, she obtained an assistantship at the University of Freiburg.
From reading the works of the reformer of the Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Jesus, OCD, she was drawn to the Catholic Faith. She was baptized on 1 January 1922 into the Roman Catholic Church. At that point she wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite nun, but was dissuaded by her spiritual mentors. She then taught at a Catholic school of education in Speyer.
As a result of the requirement of an “Aryan certificate” for civil servants promulgated by the Nazi government in April 1933 as part of its Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, she had to quit her teaching position. She was admitted to the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne the following October. She received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (“Teresa blessed by the Cross”). In 1938 she and her sister Rosa, by then also a convert and an extern Sister of the monastery, were sent to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands for their safety. Despite the Nazi invasion of that state in 1940, they remained undisturbed until they were arrested by the Nazis on 2 August 1942 and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they died in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942. She was canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1998
From Thalia Gur-Klein
1.1. History: The Nazi Occupation, the Jews, the Christian Jews and the Church
On July 11, 1942, a collective letter of ten Protestant and Catholic Dutch Churches was sent to the occupying German authorities. In this letter the ten most prominent Christian representatives, Protestants and Catholics, expressed their dismay at the decrees and exclusion of the Jews from normal life due to recent deportation of men, women, children and entire families. Appealing to the Christian sentiments of the occupiers, the Churches ended their pleas arguing that the Christians Jews moreover would be cut off from the Church way of life and devotion.
The nazi General Schmidt offered a concession to the Dutch Churches, in which Christian Jews converted before 1 January 1941 were to be exempted from deportation. This exemption was meant to appease the protesting spirit of the Churches before a large deportation of the bulk of the Jews was to take place on 15 July 1942. Five days later, the occupying general declared that it had never been his intention to exempt the Christian Jews indefinitely. His future policy would depend on the attitude of the Churches. For this purpose, the German occupying police was given ‘Kanzeluberwachung’, a right to listen to Church sermons during the coming Sundays. The original letter to the occupying Nazi general from July 11, 1942 was first circulated on 23 July, with the intention of having it read on Sunday 26 July from the Churches’ pulpits. As a result of a warning from Generalkommissar zur bezonderen Verwendung, Gruffke, on July 24 1942, the larger branch of the Protestant Church, the Reformed Church, withdrew its planned protest.
Both the Catholic and the smaller and more orthodox branch of the Protestant Church, de Gereformeerde Kerken decided to proceed with their plan. The original 11 July letter was indeed read on Sunday 26 July 1942 from most pulpits throughout the country belonging to these two clerical organisations, with a pastoral letter attached to it. Archbishop de Jong of Utrecht and the Bishops Breda, Roermond, Haarlem and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, all signed the sermon.
Consequentially, the Nazis rounded up Catholic Jews on one day, Sunday, 2 August 1942. The massive arrest included monks and nuns, among them Edith Stein. They were to perish in concentration camps a few weeks later. Their exact number seems unclear. In ‘Memoriam to Edith Stein’, Maria Buchmuller mentions 1200 Catholic Jews. In their biographical book of Sophie van Leer, Marcel Poorthuis and Theo Salemink write that the Nazis possessed a list of 722 names. 213 Jews were detained in a camp in Amersfoort, and unknown number of detainees were held in Amsterdam. For various reasons, a number of Catholic Jews from the original list were originally exempted, others were detained and then freed later.
114 Catholic Dutch Jews from the original list of 722 are known to have perished in the Camps. On the one hand, the discrepancy between the two sources shows that even a reliable academic research is left with an open information like ‘unknown numbers detained in Amsterdam’, which in turn may be liable for speculation. On the other hand, the same ambiguous information may initiate legendary numbers of martyrs, which is classical of legends of saints.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life, legacy and saintly example of Edith Stein. Help us to think your thoughts after you, as she did, and to stand with your people Israel, as she did, to her cost and martyrdom. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany (Wrocław, Poland) on 12th October, 1891. She began her studies by pursuing psychology, German and history at the University of Breslau, but became interested in the philosophy of science and moved in 1913 to the University of Göttingen to study phenomenology under Edmund Husserl. In 1916 Stein defended her doctoral dissertation, On the Problem of Empathy, trans. Waltraut Stein, 1989) which was published in 1917. After finishing her doctorate Stein became Husserl’s assistant, during which time she prepared his manuscripts for publication. This resulted in Stein completing fragments of paragraphs and drafting portions of text which found their way into Husserl’s posthumous publications (e.g. Ideas II).
In 1918 Stein finished working with Husserl. At this stage in her career Stein edited the papers of her teacher Adolf Reinach who sadly was killed in the First World War. Stein organised a Festschrift for Husserl and contributed two essays to Husserl’s Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phaenomenologische Forschung, which are published together in English as The Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities (trans. Mary Catharine Baseheart and Marianne Sawicki, 2000). These articles of Stein’s are considered to have influenced Husserl’s thought in terms of his social philosophy in the early 1920s.
In 1925 Stein published Eine Untersuchung über den Staatin Husserl’s Jahrbuch, translated into English as An Investigation Concerning the State (trans. Marianne Sawicki, 2007). At this time Stein worked as a private lecturer (her prospects of securing university tenure being hampered by the fact that she was a woman). This is considered the early period in Stein’s intellectual journey.
Stein received baptism into the Catholic Church in 1922. After her conversion Stein translated several works of John Henry Newman and Thomas Aquinas. From 1926 onwards she gave lectures to German teachers, especially women teachers. Her articles and lectures in this period are collected in two volumesBildung und Entfaltung der Individualität. Beiträge zum christlichen Erziehungsauftrag and Essays on Woman (trans. Freda M. Oben, 1987). In 1930 she tried again to join a university faculty and wrote Potenz und Akt (Potency and Act,trans. Walter Redmond, 2009) which was an attempted Habilitationsschrift. Once again she was unsuccessful, but secured a post in a teacher training college. Here she continued to work on a systematic philosophy of pedagogy (Der Aufbau der menschlichen Person/Was ist der Mensch?). Due to the Nazi prohibition against Jewish professionals, she had to abandon this, and return to her family home in Breslau in 1933.
In October 1933 Stein joined the cloister of Carmel. She revised Potenz und Aktat this time and producedEndliches und ewiges Sein: Versuch eines Aufstieges zum Sinn des Sein, translated into English as Finite and Eternal Being (trans. Kurt Reinhardt, 2002). This volume was to be published in the 1930s but was forbidden given Stein’s Jewish ancestry (first pub. 1950). The appendix of this work contains a critique of Martin Heidegger, now published in English as Martin Heidegger’s Existential Philosophy (trans. Mette Lebech, 2007). In 1942, Stein wrote Kreuzeswissenschaft: Studie über Joannes a Cruce, (first pub.1952) translated into English as The Science of the Cross: A Study of St. John of the Cross (trans. Josephine Koeppel, 1998). Other publications remain untranslated from German, such as Einführung in die Philosophie (possibly a third Habilitationsschrift written c. 1920s-30s).