Following her conversion, Edith took a teaching position in Speyer at a secondary school conducted by the Dominican sisters. As an inspiring leader, she won the hearts of the teachers and students alike. In addition to teaching, she lectured, especially to women. On one occasion, speaking to them, she declared, “The nation . . . doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.” During her tenure at the school, she developed a spirituality of the Christian woman.
In 1925, the noted philosopher, Eric Przywara, S.J., asked Edith to translate St. Thomas beginning with his disputed questions on truth. His request convinced her of the importance of academics as a vocation to follow. St. Thomas’ works served not only as a path to truth but also as an analytical way to personal experience of God. For him, there is a unity between the thinking person and the person who contemplates and loves. As Edith put it, “The perfection of love does not consist in a certainty of knowledge but in an intensity of being seized” (Herbstrith, 86 quoting Stein Thomas von Aquin, I, Teil, 268, 86).
During those years at Speyer, Edith dedicated herself to a life of prayer, which for her, was the hidden but energizing power of her professional life and her many works of charity. Her public lectures saw the fruit of prayer. Eventually however, she lost her teaching post because she was a Jew.
The Cologne Carmel, Kristallnacht, and the Carmel at Echt
In October, 1933, at forty-two Edith asked to be received into the Carmelite monastery at Cologne and was accepted. Her family was crushed by the decision and could not understand it. Her last day at home was a Jewish holiday, the Feast of Booths. She went to synagogue with her mother, and the next morning, left for Carmel.
On November 9th, 1938, Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” as it came to be known, the Nazis intensified their persecution of Jews. During this year, a large-scale offensive was enacted against the Jews, and thousands were forced to leave Germany. Edith grieved for those victimized by racial hatred, especially over her family and friends.
With the horror of Kristallnacht, the German Jews abandoned all hope to live in peace. “All through the night, Jewish citizens were rounded up, driven from their homes with Billy-clubs, and their businesses were demolished or confiscated. In a matter of hours, their lives as members of German society had been destroyed. Even the synagogues had been burned” (Herbstrith, 164). Germans and Jews alike now understood that any public outcry on their part would be met with ruthless and immediate punishment.
It was becoming more dangerous for the Carmelites in Cologne to house Edith and her sister. On New Year’s Eve, Sr. Teresa Benedicta and Rosa were transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt. Two years later when the Nazis occupied Holland, they rounded up all Jews who were now forced to wear a conspicuous yellow star. The Carmel in Switzerland offered her asylum, but as there was no room for Rosa. Edith felt she must decline their assistance.
From Westerbrook to Auschwitz
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. Noappeals for clemency shall be considered” (Herbstrith, 191).
Four days later, Sr. Teresa, her sister, and twelve hundred Dutch 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.
(Column continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Early in the morning of August 7th, Number 44074, Edith Theresia Hedwig Stein, and her sister Rosa were brought to Auschwitz, Poland. August 9th is the date assigned to their death in the gas chamber there. In 1979, a friend of Edith Stein, 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.
Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings
In 1938, even as Hitler’s threats engulfed Europe, the American composer Samuel Barber wrote his Adagio for Strings. Full of pathos that evokes tears, it is perhaps the most intense eight minutes of music of the twentieth century, music that parallels Edith’s life. Inch by inch the gentle, circular melody ascends. It intensifies to a climactic crescendo sending shivers up and down the spine. Suddenly, abruptly, the music breaks off. After a tense moment of silence, it resumes, as if whimpering, then dies away.
Atrocity in Nice, France
At this writing, a complete report about the gruesome murder in Nice of Father Jacques Hamel last Tuesday is unavailable. Why did the two Islamic assailants choose the quiet Normandy town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray to carry out their execution—the words are almost impossible to pen—the cutting of Father Hamel’s throat … and at the time of the celebration of Mass? Why did the assailants record the chilling assassination as it was taking place? The parish church had not been registered as high risk.
Trembling, Mayor Hubert Wulfranc broke down in tears and could hardly speak: “A brutal act of barbarism has taken away our priest and gravely wounded a parishioner.” He was speaking for the entire town for whom Father Hamel was a beloved figure. One after the other, they recalled the priest’s dedication and holiness.