Today in 1942 the Carmelite Nun Edith Stein was arrested in her convent in the Netherlands by the SS and taken to Auschwitz concentration camp where she would be killed a week later. Stein reportedly said, "Come, let us go for our people" before she was taken away. One of the finest philosophical minds of her generation, she was a Jewish convert to Catholicism and and had entered the Carmelites nine years earlier.
Because of her history as a Jew and the growing Nazi threat, the order had transferred her from her convent in Cologne a few years earlier to Echt in Holland. Nazi Germany had invaded the Netherlands on 1940 and after the Rotterdam Blitz, the Dutch army had surrendered. During the occupation, over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up and transported to Nazi extermination camps and Dutch workers were conscripted for forced labour in Germany. The Dutch government had relocated to London. A statement from the Dutch bishops, was read out at all the churches, it had been a letter to the Nazi General, Friedrich Christiansen in protest against the treatment of Jews. This is part of what it said
Ours is a time of great tribulations of which two are foremost: the sad destiny of the Jews and the plight of those deported for forced labour. ... All of us must be aware of the terrible sufferings which both of them have to undergo, due to no guilt of their own. We have learned with deep pain of the new dispositions which impose upon innocent Jewish men, women and children the deportation into foreign lands. ... The incredible suffering which these measures cause to more than 10,000 people is in absolute opposition to the divine precepts of justice and charity. ... Let us pray to God and for the intercession of Mary ... that he may lend his strength to the people of Israel, so severely tried in anguish and persecution
In a retaliatory response, the Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, had, ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts who had previously been spared, including Edith Stein. This was not a surprise to Stein, as even prior to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, she believed she would not survive the war. Her fellow Carmelite sisters would later recount how Stein began "quietly training herself for life in a concentration camp, by enduring cold and hunger" . On the way to Auschwitz she was imprisoned at the concentration camps of Amersfoort and Westerbork. A Dutch official at Westerbork was so impressed by her sense of faith and calm, that he offered her an escape plan. Stein vehemently refused, stating: "If somebody intervened at this point and took away my chance to share in the fate of my brothers and sisters, that would be utter annihilation."
Stein had begun her life in an observant Jewish family, but had become an agnostic by her teenage years. In April 1913 she studied philosophy for the summer semester with the famous phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. Famous for his work into transcendental consciousness as a limit of all possible knowledge, his thought profoundly influenced 20th-century philosophy. By the end of the summer, Stein had decided to pursue a doctoral degree in philosophy under Husserl and chose empathy as her thesis topic. But her studies were interrupted in July 1914 because of the outbreak of World War I.
At the end of the war one of her best friends and professors Adolf Reinach was
killed and Edith went to visit and console his widow, Anna Reinach. She was surprised to find that it was Anna who consoled her. Anna's strong religious faith allowed her to calmly accept her husband's death. Stein was deeply moved by her friend's faith and she decided that she too would become a Christian. Three years later she had another religious experience, while visiting a friend, she was left alone one evening when everyone else went out. To keep herself occupied, she started reading the autobiography of Theresa of Avila, and was captivated and stayed up all night reading the book. When she finished she said to herself, "This is the truth." Her path to the Carmelites seemed set.
After nursing during the war, she completed her degree and became Husserl's assistant there. Although Stein passed her doctoral examination with distinction, her attempts to habilitate failed due to the fact that Stein was a woman. Her career as an academic philosopher had three clear stages. Her dissertation on empathy was according to her own account an attempt to fill a gap in Husserl's work. Empathy was a crucial act in which intersubjectivity was established, but Husserl had failed to explain it. She wanted to clarify this crucial idea for the development of the phenomenological movement. This lead her to explore psychology and the humanities and she would publish a treatise on the Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities, this lead her to be come interested in Freedom and Grace. Martin Heidegger followed in her footsteps as Husserls assistant. Her Second period lead her to investigate the work of Aquinas comparing it to Husserl and she gave lectures on women's education and vocation and on education in general to very large audiences and to great acclaim. Finally this would lead her to more explicitly Christian book Finite and Eternal Being – An Ascent to the Meaning of Being. Stein's final work, the Science of the Cross, was a commentary on St. John of the Cross, which developed the specifically Carmelite understanding of the depths of the soul.
She was beatified as a martyr, using her religious name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, at a ceremony held in the Cologne soccer stadium in 1987 by John Paul II. The pope called her a "daughter of Israel who remained faithful" to both her Jewish heritage and her Catholic faith. 11 years later she was made a saint in Rome. The miracle that was the basis for her canonization is the cure of Benedicta McCarthy, a little girl who had swallowed a large amount of paracetamol (acetaminophen), which causes hepatic necrosis. The young girl's father, Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a priest of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, immediately called together relatives and prayed for Teresa's intercession. Shortly thereafter the nurses in the intensive care unit saw her sit up, completely healthy. Ronald Kleinman, a pediatric specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who treated the girl, testified about her recovery to Church tribunals, stating: "I was willing to say that it was miraculous." The young girl would later attend Sr. Teresa Benedicta's canonization as an older woman.
Rumours that Stein would eventually be made a saint stirred up much controversy. Some Jews were troubled by her conversion (changing) from Judaism to Christianity, especially at a time when it was so dangerous to be Jewish. Others did not like the idea of focusing on Stein's Catholicism when the real reason she'd died was because she was a Jew. The vast majority of Holocaust victims, they argued, were Jews, and Stein's sainthood might take attention away from that fact. However as she was probably murdered in revenge for a statement against Nazism that Holland's Catholic bishops had made a month earlier, the church insisted that she had died because of the moral teaching of the Church and is thus a true martyr. However Cardinal William Keller, made it clear that Stein's sainthood must not take attention away from the fact that the Jewish people were the true targets and victims of the Holocaust. Honouring Stein, stated Keller, "does not lessen but rather strengthens our need to preserve and honour the memory of the Jewish victims."