Edith Stein was born in Poland on October 12, 1891. Her parent were Jewish. She was a brilliant student. When she turned seventeen, she entered a Girl’s High School in Breslau. At the same time, in another part of Germany, another teenager – Adolph Hitler was failing an entrance exam to the Academy of Arts and already blaming it all on the Jews. Two teenagers – one a Saint and the other damned to Hell for all eternity.
God placed her (Edith) among Jewish intellectuals who had become Christians. Although she considered herself an atheist, she found herself seeking truth, and she later wrote that anyone seeking truth is in reality longing to find God, whether he knows it or not.
Meanwhile, Hitler in 1919 was writing, in his first manifesto: Because of the crimes the Jews had committed, they were to be removed from their midst. [On January 20, 1942, in Berlin there was a conference attended by high ranking officials of the Third Reich. It was decided 11,000,000 Jews were to be exterminated.]
Most of her friends had converted to the Lutheran Faith, and it is believed what held her up from converting was, she really did not know which Church she should join. When she read St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, she said that she knew this was the truth, that the Catholic Church contained the Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. Edith walked the difficult path between her loyalty to her mother and Judaism, and her growing awareness of this God Who was growing inside her. January 1, 1922, Edith Stein was baptized.
January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor of Germany. Edith Stein could have fled from Germany, as many German Jews had. Instead, she chose to go to the Cross for her people. She had spoken to her Savior and told Him that she recognized it was His Cross that the Jewish people were being made to carry. She wrote:”Those who understand must accept it with all their heart, for those who do not understand.”
On the Feast Day of St. Teresa of Avila, October 14, 1933, Edith Stein entered the Carmel in Cologne. She took the Religious name “Teresa Benedicta a Cruce”, Teresa Blessed by the Cross. She shared with her Spiritual Director that she chose the name because it represented the one who had led her into the Church and the Carmel, St. Teresa, and the role that she chose: to her Lord through the Cross. She offered up her life for not only the persecuted (the Jews) but the persecutors (the Nazis). She felt that if she did not pray and offer her life for the immortal souls of the Nazis, and for the remission of their sins, as the Savior had done for all mankind, who would?
Edith Stein took her first vows in 1935. When asked how she felt, she replied “Like the Bride of the Lamb”. The Nazis marched into the Rhineland, and with them Hell!
1936 was to be a year of pain and joy. When her mother died of cancer, and Edith could not be with her, she thought surely she too would die. Not even the joy of celebrating the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Cross and her renewing her vows, could stop the ache in her heart. Her sister Rosa was baptized that Christmas.
As Hitler and his forces of destruction spread to Austria in March of 1938 and on to the Sudetenland in September, Edith Stein was taking her final vows. In April of 1938, when she stood before the altar of God and her whole community, she abandoned herself totally to our Lord through His Mother.
Often she was spotted praying before the picture of Our Lady of Sorrows. It was not that she was praying for suffering. We believe that she knew that one day she was to walk that Way of the Cross with Mother Mary and her Son. She believed that only by standing with Mother Mary at the foot of the Cross, your eyes on the Crucified, can you win souls for Jesus.
She wrote that, like Queen Esther, she was ready to give her life for her people. It was the beginning of the end; synagogues were torched, the Jews’ homes and businesses demolished. They didn’t know what to do! It was mass havoc and desolation. Parents tried to keep their fear from their children. They were like people sleep-walking. They never, for one moment, thought this could happen! Thirty to forty thousand Jews were sent to concentration camps on that infamous day when God held His Face in His Hands and cried.
Edith Stein feared for the lives of the Nuns at the Carmel where she was, so on December, 1933 she left for the Carmel in Echt, Holland.
June of 1939, Edith Stein wrote her last will and testament. She joyfully and peacefully offered herself as a sacrifice: “for the Glory of God, for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the intentions of Mother Church, for peace in the world and the salvation of the German nation, and for her family both living and dead.”
September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. The rest of Europe turned its face away, as Hitler took country after country; they made excuses for the evacuation of Jews, and the enslavement of Czechoslovakia, Austria, and the Sudetenland.
Edith Stein’s sister Rosa came to the Carmel in Echt, in 1940. She desired, like her sister, to become a Religious. But before she could become a Carmelite Nun, Hitler invaded Holland in May of 1940. Therefore, she became a Third Order Carmelite. September 1st of 1941, both sisters were ordered by the Gestapo to wear a yellow star of David, inscribed “Jew”. It didn’t matter that they were converts to Catholicism.
When Hitler started his persecution of the Jews, all the Christian churches protested. They were warned that if they continued speaking out against the treatment of the Jews, Jewish converts would be rounded up and placed in Concentration Camps. All the Christian denominations ceased, at once. All the Churches that is but the Roman Catholic Church. And so, the persecution spread to Priests, Bishops, and Religious, those who had converted and those who dared defend them. Edith and her sister were required to report to the Gestapo periodically.
The prioress of the Carmel wrote to Le Pequier Carmel in Switzerland, requesting they admit Edith and Rosa. The Carmel only had room for Edith and she would not leave her sister behind. Eventually the Carmel found a place for Rosa, a home for Third Order Carmelites near Le Pequier. They had only to await permission from the Dutch authorities.
July 1, 1942, the Nazis decreed that Jewish Catholic children were no longer permitted to go to Catholic schools. The Bishops in Holland wrote a pastoral letter to be read at all Masses, protesting this treatment of innocent children. They also came out strongly against the deportation of Jews from their native land. It was read at all Masses on July 26th. On August the 2nd, the Nazis ordered all Dutch Jews, converted to Catholicism, be arrested! Edith Stein and her sister were picked up that evening. Edith was heard saying to her sister Rosa:
“Come let us go for our people.”
Feast Day August 9
Reference: “Martyrs – They Died for Christ”