The Cologne Carmel, Kristallnacht, and the Carmel at Echt
In October, 1933, at age forty-two, Edith was received in the Carmelite monastery at Cologne. Her mother was crushed by the decision and utterly incapable of comprehending it.
One month later, on Kristallnacht, on "the night of broken glass," the Nazis intensified their anti-Semitism. During this year, a large-scale offensive was enacted against the Jews, and thousands were forced to leave Germany.
With the horror of Kristallnacht, all hope was virtually abandoned for the Jews to live in peace. Throughout the night, Jewish citizens were rounded up, driven from their homes, and their businesses were demolished or confiscated. Broken glass was everywhere. In a matter of a few hours, their lives as members of German society were destroyed. Even the synagogues were been burned. It was clear to Germans and Jews alike that any public outcry would be intensified with ruthless and immediate punishment by the Nazis.
On New Year's Eve 1938, Sr. Teresa and her sister Rosa, an extern sister, were transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt. For two years, they lived in relative peace. But when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis invaded Holland and arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in the country. They were forced to wear a yellow star on their person. Though the Carmel in Switzerland offered asylum to Sr. Teresa, there was no room for Rosa.
In his journal dated July 30th, 1942, Dr. William Harster, the Commanding Officer of Security Police and the Public Security Administration in charge of The Hague, wrote among other entries: "Since the Catholic bishops have interfered in something that does not concern them, deportation of all Catholic Jews will be speeded up and completed within the coming week. No appeals for clemency shall be considered" (Waltraud Herbstrith, Edith Stein, 191).
On August 2, 1942, Sr. Teresa, her sister, and twelve hundred Jews were arrested and put on a train to Westerbrook, a transitional concentration camp in Holland. "Come, Rosa, we're going for our people," she declared.
Early in the morning of August 7th, Number 44074, Edith Stein, and her sister Rosa were brought to Auschwitz, Poland. August 9th is the date recorded for their death in the gas chamber there. Sr. Teresa, Blessed by the Cross was canonized a saint of the Church on October 11th, 1998.
Adagio for Strings
In 1938, even as Hitler's threats engulfed Europe, the American composer, Samuel Barber, composed Adagio for Strings. Evocative of intense pathos, the melody makes its slow, steady, and irrevocable ascent, building to a climax that is almost unbearable to experience. Once the strings reach their peak, the unrelenting tremolo sends shivers up the spine. Abruptly, the music breaks off, presumably for all to catch their breath before it resumes with a whimper, yielding to a tense silence. Then it dies away. The music follows the trajectory of St. Teresa Benedicta's life.
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In 1979, Father Johannes Hirschmanns, S.J. wrote that although Auschwitz remained a place stripped of love, it also revealed that the Cross was stronger than hate. Whoever has visited Auschwitz can appreciate the beauty, however stripped, rising from the ashes, as it did for Isaiah. "To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his glory" (Is 61:3).