An excellent article from The Catholic Thing about her which was published yesterday on the 75th anniversary of her death at the hands of the Nazis; and the author is so correct that she was an outstanding philosopher—many of her books are in my library—and I would encourage you to take a look at her work..
Every generation thinks it’s living in unusual times. Ours really is. We are witnessing the passing of our civilization and – like someone having brain surgery while wide-awake – are conscious of what’s happening. Or at least a few of us are. We’re suffering – among other things – massive amnesia. Juvenile rebellion, too, by people of all ages, against what’s taken to be “our civilization.” But the greater problem, by far, is that for most people our basic traditions have just dropped below the horizon. They don’t see that anything else than what they’re familiar with ever existed. And we have fewer and fewer witnesses to the truth.
Today is the 75th anniversary of the death of a woman whom St. John Paul II called “a martyr to truth,” Edith Stein, a brilliant philosopher, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, who got caught up in the Nazi persecutions of Jews and the Church, and died at Auschwitz.
It’s just one reflection of the malice of those days that she and her sister Rosa were picked up by the Gestapo at their Carmelite convent in Holland, where they’d fled for safety, because the Dutch bishops had twelve days earlier issued a pastoral letter denouncing Nazi “racism.” In retaliation, Nazi authorities arrested Jewish converts to Catholicism and shipped them to the gas chambers.
I first got interested in Stein when I wrote The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. She was canonized in 1998; controversy erupted over whether she should even be called a martyr since she was killed not in odium fidei, some argued, but because she was Jewish. It also seemed to some critics that JPII was trying to appropriate the Holocaust partly for Catholics
In Poland, where the Nazis killed several million non-Jews, this is still a sore controversy. But the official Vatican explanation – one typical of what JPII called the “new martyrs” – was that several factors intermingled to make “martyr” the right term for Edith.
Besides the Dutch bishops’ statement of Catholic teaching about “race,” there were at least three features of Stein’s life that could be read as a willingness to accept martyrdom:
- She refused to go into hiding, since the Dutch were themselves often heroic in resisting Nazism. (A Catholic woman, Miep Gies, for instance, famously helped hide Anne Frank and her family when such help, if discovered, meant death).
- The Carmel that had taken in Edith (by then Sister Benedicta of the Cross) would have been subject to reprisals if she went into hiding.
- And most significantly: she knew, as an assimilated German Jew, that Catholics in Germany were often accused of lying, and she wished to remain fully loyal to the truth of who she was – and what she believed.
Pope John Paul II was right, then, when he declared at her canonization: “A young woman in search of the truth has become a saint and martyr through the silent workings of divine grace. . . .Now, alongside Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux, another Teresa takes her place among the host of saints who do honor to the Carmelite Order.”