On August 9 1952 one of Europe's three co-patroness died at Auschwitz
On August 9, 1942 Edith Stein died at Auschwitz. Born in 1891 to a Jewish family, she converted to Catholicism, entering the Carmelite Convent in Cologne under the name of Sister Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. John Paul II proclaimed her blessed on May 1, 1987, Saint on October 11, 1998. He proclaimed her co-patroness saint of Europe along with St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Catherine of Siena, on October 1 1999.
The ferocity of National Socialism raged across Europe. Few people had grasped its ideology and had no illusions on the havoc that would follow. Among these, Dr. Edith Stein, who was then teaching at a college in the Dominican city of Speyer. The processes of beatification and canonization are a mine of information on the figure of Edith Stein, who in pictures appears static, extremely lively and perceptive: “…in the academic boards she always advocated fair treatment, forgiving and loving toward pupils that she believed were treated too severely by other teachers”. She perceived the deception since the onset, and repeatedly denounced it while Nazism was gaining grounds. During the parade of the troops which, having crossed the Rhine, marched through Speyer to the sound of the bells with Baroness von Bodman, enthusiastic, and her young pupils, Edith Stein was in Domeplatz. Upon her return to the college “she voiced her worries: ‘You’ll see: the Jews’ persecution will begin, and then it will be the Church’s turn’”. As the persecutions grew harsher, she was offered an anchor of salvation as lecturer in a University of Latin America. She refused for two main reasons that innervate and pervade her life, namely, the quest for the Truth and faithfulness to her people. In her opinion, changing her identity and seeking shelter in a hidden refuge or being protected by friends would mean lacking Truth towards humanity and towards herself. The faithfulness to her people of Israel has been an ever thriving bond in her life. By recognizing the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth, Edith Stein did not feel, as many people accused her, that she had betrayed her people, especially at a time when the tragedy weighed heavily and oppressed all the Jews. Edith Stein, who entered the Carmel of Echt in 1939, reaffirmed her choice when, ensuing the publication of the letter of the Bishops of the Netherlands condemning Nazi dictatorship and the violence against the Jews, the raid of reprisal led to the capture of 300 Catholic religious of Jewish background. Journalist Van Kempen managed to contact her in the filtration camp and saw before him “a highly spiritual and strong woman”. During the meeting he smoked a cigarette and asked her “if she wanted to smoke one too. She answered she had done so once, and that once, as a student, she had also danced”. She did not run away and would not consider the proposal of a Dutch employee: “She said: - I never believed that men could be so…and that my brothers would have to suffer so much! - When there was no doubt that she was being deported, I asked if I could help (to free her); …again she smiled at me begging me not to. Why make an exception for her and her group? It would have been unjust to take advantage of the fact that she was baptized! If she did not take part in other people’s fate her life would be ruined: - ‘No, no, not this!’”. With this firm decision she faced her deportation, the dreadful journey that brought her to the final destination of her life: Auschwitz. Near her, religious men and women considered ways to proclaim the Gospel, Edith Stein remained silent, and her face expressed her incredulity for plans of apostolate that she well knew would never be brought to completion. The leaded convoy that brought with it 987 Jews upon its arrival to Auschwitz left behind them all hopes of survival. On June 6 1939 with acute foresight she wrote: “I accept the death that God has decided for me, I give myself with joy in total submission to His most holy will”. For the homicidal fury of Nazi ideology Edith Stein was burned to ashes, but her message and her witness continue to thrive and the Patroness of Europe looks over our lives of Truth towards God.