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Edith Stein

Edith Stein

German philosopher Edith Stein (1891-1942) was a leading proponent of the phenomenological school of thought led by Edmund Husserl in the first half of the twentieth century. In her writings, Stein attempted to reconcile phenomenology with her Catholic beliefs in works on Thomas Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, and the topic of women in the Church. A Jew by birth who converted to Catholicism, she was killed in a Nazi concentration camp and beatified as a Catholic martyr in 1987.

The twentieth-century German philosopher Edith Stein was a student of Edmund Husserl and a prominent supporter of his theories on phenomenology. Born into a Jewish family, Stein's search for spiritual truth led her first to atheism and later to the Roman Catholic Church, where she eventually became a Carmelite nun. She attempted to connect her philosophical and religious beliefs in her writings that discussed topics such as the role of women in the Catholic Church, Thomism, and the mysticism of St. John of the Cross. She is considered a martyr by both Jews and Catholics for her death in the concentration camps of the Nazi regime during World War II.

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, Germany. She was the youngest of eleven children born to Jewish lumber merchants hailing originally from Silesia (now part of Poland); four of her siblings had died before Stein's birth. Stein's father died when she was only a year old, leaving her mother, Auguste Stein, in charge of the debt-ridden business and the surviving children. Because her mother was required to devote most of her time to work outside the home, her oldest daughter, Else, took on much of the responsibility of raising the other children. As a child, Stein became known for her intelligence and sense of humor—she would often recite poetry and make clever remarks. But she disliked her reputation as "the smart one" of the family and began to develop a more isolated, introspective nature in her early school days. She attended the Victoria School in Breslau, where she not only began classes early, but quickly became the best student in her grade. Her love of learning extended to her hours at home as well, where she spent much of her free time reading.

Religious Crisis Led to Atheism

At the age of 13, Stein underwent a crisis of faith and decided to leave school. Although she no longer believed in God, she did not discuss her beliefs with her family and continued to attend religious services. Thinking that she was suffering from poor health, her mother sent her to rest at the home of her sister Else, who had married and moved to Hamburg. After eight months in Hamburg, Stein came to terms with her new ideas and decided to devote her life to teaching and the pursuit of the truth. She returned to Victoria School and completed her coursework in anticipation of attending college.

She began her advanced education at the University of Breslau in 1911. In the hopes of gaining some insight into the mysteries of human experience and the soul, she took a psychology course, but was disappointed at its emphasis on quantitative experimentation. About this time she read the philosophical work Logische Untersuchungen ("Logical Investigations") by Edmund Husserl. Husserl, who was a professor of philosophy at Göttingen University, was the founder of the school of thought known as phenomenology, an examination of the development of human consciousness. The book was a revelation to Stein, who decided that she wanted to study with Husserl himself. She transferred to Göttingen, where she was one of the first female students to attend the university. There she found a group of philosophers who shared her interests, and she was encouraged by Husserl, who told her that the practice of phenomenology could lead her to the truth she sought.

Became Leading Phenomenologist

It was at Göttingen that Stein was first exposed to the Roman Catholic faith. A fellow student, Max Scheler, who was also a Jew by birth but would later convert to Catholicism, gave lectures on religious philosophy that introduced Stein to the tenets of the faith. Scheler's work involved the ranking of human values, and he placed religious values as the factor that defines humanity. While his teachings showed Stein the richness of the Christian faith, it also made her reflect on her own lack of religious beliefs and started her on her own search for religious meaning. She was also influenced in this thinking by another phenomenologist who converted to Christianity, Adolf Reinach.

With the beginning of World War I in 1914, Stein volunteered her services at a hospital that treated soldiers suffering from cholera, typhus, and dysentery. The hospital closed a year later, and Stein returned to the university and completed her doctoral studies. She had selected the idea of empathy as the subject of her investigations in phenomenology, and Husserl was very impressed with her work. Although he had several distinguished students, including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, Husserl considered Stein to be the best student he had ever had. When in 1916 he took a professorship at the University of Freiburg, Husserl requested that Stein join him as his graduate assistant. That year she completed her doctoral dissertation, "The Problem of Empathy," and received her doctoral degree with honors. She was then hired as a faculty member at Freiburg, where she taught phenomenology and helped Husserl to edit his manuscripts. She was very successful at Freiburg and soon became known as a top philosopher at the university.

Converted to Catholicism

Stein's interest in Catholicism increased in 1917 with the death of her friend Reinach, who had been killed in battle at Flanders. She was approached by Reinach's widow, who asked her to organize her husband's academic papers. In Reinach's writings, she found many references to Jesus Christ, and this led her to read the New Testament. These experiences convinced Stein that she believed in God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, but she did not yet take steps to convert to an organized religion. She returned to her work in philosophy, applying to Göttingen to work as a professor. But the school's longstanding ban on female professors was upheld, despite a glowing recommendation from Husserl. Stein returned to Breslau in 1919 to teach and continue her research. It was during this period, in 1921, that she finally was inspired to commit to the Catholic Church. While visiting friends in Bergzabern, Germany, that summer, she discovered the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She found herself unable to put down the book, and after spending a whole night reading it, she was certain that she was ready for conversion. She attended her first Mass and requested that the priest baptize her, but she found that she had to complete a period of instruction first. She returned to her work in Breslau but came back to Bergzabern to be baptized on January 1, 1922.

Stein felt that her new religious life included a calling to serve in a religious order, but she did not do this immediately out of respect for her mother, who was quite disturbed by her daughter's conversion. Instead, she began working at a girl's school in Speyer, Germany, run by Dominican nuns. She followed the Dominican's practices closely, even though she was not one of them, accepting only enough money to cover basic living expenses. During her stay at Speyer, she was encouraged by the Jesuit priest and philosopher Erich Przywara not to abandon her academic work. At his urging, she began a German translation of a Latin work on truth by St. Thomas Aquinas. Through her study of Aquinas and her discussions with Przywara, she was convinced that she could serve God through a scholarly search for truth. Her writing and translations became popular and Stein was invited to lecture for a number of groups on religious and women's issues in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. By 1931, these experiences had convinced her that she should leave Speyer and return to her philosophical work full-time.

Completes Book on Jewish Life

The academic world in the 1930s, however, was growing increasingly anti-Semitic, and Stein found that she was not welcome at the schools at Freiburg and Breslau. She finally managed to obtain a lecture position at the Educational Institute in Münster in 1932. There she continued her work on Scholasticism and phenomenology, but she also felt the need to address the increasing hatred and violence that she witnessed around her. Attacks on Jews were becoming frequent and in 1933, the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. One result of the rise of Hitler was that Stein, along with other Jews in university positions, was fired from her job. She felt that she had a unique opportunity and responsibility, as a Jewish-born Catholic, to bridge the gap of understanding between Christians and Jews. To accomplish this, she penned the book Aus dem Leben einer Jüdischen Familie, or "Life in a Jewish Family," which tried to show the similar human experiences of Jews and Christians in their daily lives.

In 1933, Stein felt that she was ready to devote her life more completely to religious pursuits. She applied to the Carmelite convent in Cologne, and at the age of 42, was accepted as an initiate to the order. There she took the religious name Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, in honor of St. Benedict and St. Teresa of Avila as well as the Passion of Christ. She was encouraged by her superiors to continue her philosophical writings, which included an attempt to combine the thoughts of Husserl and Aquinas in her book Endliches und ewiges Sein ("Finite and Eternal Being"), completed in 1936. Under the anti-Jewish laws in effect then, however, the book was refused for publication and was not printed until 1950.

After the Kristallnacht, a night in which numerous Jewish businesses and synagogues were vandalized and burned in Germany, Stein realized that she was no longer safe in her native country. Also wishing to avoid bringing harm to her Carmelites sisters by her presence in their convent, she moved to a Carmelite convent in Echt in the Netherlands on December 31, 1938. In Echt, she was joined by her sister Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism. Although still not completely out of danger, Stein attempted to return to a normal pattern of life, instructing younger women in Latin and training her sister Rosa as a Carmelite. She also continued her writing, completing a phenomenological work on the life of the mystic St. John of the Cross entitled Kreuzewissenschaft: Studie über Joannes a Cruce ("The Science of the Cross: A Study of Saint John of the Cross"), a book that also would not see publication until after the war.

Killed in Concentration Camp

In 1942, the Nazis began removing Jews from the Netherlands, and Stein urgently applied for a Swiss visa in order to transfer to a convent in Switzerland. Her sister was unable to arrange similar travel arrangements, however, and Stein refused to leave without her. On August 2, 1942, the sisters were removed from the convent at Echt by Nazi troops and transported to a concentration camp at Amersfoort for a few days before being sent on to the Auchwitz camp in Poland. While nothing is know about their last days or the exact circumstances of their deaths, it is assumed that the women were among the many people killed in the Nazi gas chambers, placed in mass graves on the site, and later cremated.

In 1987, decades after the travesties of the Jewish Holocaust, Stein was beatified by Pope John Paul II, who lauded her as a Catholic martyr and also praised her phenomenological works. This created controversy among Jewish groups, who were upset that she was remembered in this way since the reason she was killed was because she was a Jew, not because she was Catholic. In an apologetic statement, John Paul II acknowledged that her fate was a symbol of the great loss of Jewish life during World War II. This discussion highlighted the difficult, but important place that Stein holds among both Jews and Catholics. She is remembered by many people for her untiring search for truth in both the philosophical and spiritual realms and her attempts to use this knowledge to promote peace and understanding in the face of hatred and war.

Further Reading

Graef, Hilda C., The Scholar and the Cross: The Life and Work of Edith Stein, Newman Press, 1955.

Herbstrith, Waltraud, Edith Stein: A Biography, translated by Bernard Bonowitz, Harper & Row, 1985.

Nota, John H., "Misunderstanding and Insight about Edith Stein's Philosophy," Human Studies, Vol. 10, 1987, pp. 205-12.

Oben, Freda Mary, Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint, Alba House, 1988.

Posselt, Sister Teresia Renata de Spriritu Sancto, Edith Stein, translated by Cecily Hastings and Donald Nicholl, Sheed & Ward, 1952. □

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Stein, Edith

Edith Stein

Born: October 12, 1891
Breslau, Germany
Died: August 9, 1942
Auschwitz, Poland

German philosopher

German philosopher Edith Stein was a leading supporter of the early twentieth century's phenomenological school of thought, which explored human awareness and perception. A Jew by birth who converted to Catholicism, she was killed in a Nazi (having to do with members of the German Socialist Party led by Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945) concentration camp (a guarded enclosure where political prisoners were kept) and canonized (declared a saint) in 1998.

Childhood

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, Germany. She was the youngest of eleven children born to Jewish lumber merchants hailing originally from Silesia (now part of Poland). Raised in a very religious atmosphere, four of her siblings died before Stein's birth. Stein's father died when she was only a year old, leaving her mother, Auguste Stein, in charge of the debt-ridden business and the surviving children. Because her mother was required to devote most of her time to work outside the home, her oldest daughter, Else, took on much of the responsibility of raising the younger children.

As a child, Stein was known for her intelligence and sense of humorshe would often recite poetry and make clever remarks. But she disliked her reputation as "the smart one" of the family and began to develop a more quiet nature in her early school days. She attended the Victoria School in Breslau, where she not only began classes early, but quickly became the top student in her grade. Her love of learning extended to her hours at home as well, where she spent much of her free time reading.

At the age of thirteen, Stein underwent a crisis of faith and decided to leave school. Although she no longer believed in God, she did not discuss her beliefs with her family and continued to attend religious services. Stein soon came to terms with her new ideas and decided to devote her life to teaching and the pursuit of the truth. She returned to Victoria School and completed her coursework in hopes of attending college.

Discovering Catholicism

Stein began her advanced education at the University of Breslau in 1911 where she was influenced by the works of Edmund Husserl (18591938) who was a professor of philosophy (the study of knowledge) at Göttingen University and was the founder of the school of thought known as phenomenology, an examination of the development of human awareness. The work was an eye-opener to Stein, who decided that she wanted to study with Husserl at Göttingen. It was at Göttingen that Stein was first exposed to the Roman Catholic faith. When in 1916 Husserl took a professorship at the University of Freiburg, he requested that Stein join him as his graduate assistant. She was very successful at Freiburg and soon became known as a top philosopher at the university.

Stein's interest in Catholicism increased in 1917 which led her to read the New Testament, the second half of the Bible. These experiences convinced Stein that she believed in God and the divinity of Jesus Christ, but did not convert to Catholicism until 1921.

During a stay at a girl's school in Speyer, Germany, Stein was encouraged by the Jesuit priest and philosopher Erich Przywara not to abandon her academic work. At his urging, she began a German translation of a Latin work on truth by St. Thomas Aquinas (12251274). Through her study of Aquinas and her discussions with Przywara, she was convinced that she could serve God through a search for truth. Her writing and translations became popular, and Stein was invited to lecture for a number of groups on religious and women's issues in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

Completes book on Jewish life

Attacks on Jewish people were becoming frequent and in 1933, Adolf Hitler (18891945) and his Nazi Party came to power in Germany. One result of the rise of Hitler was that Stein and other people of Jewish origin in university positions were fired from her job. Stein felt that she had a unique opportunity and responsibility, as a Jewishborn Catholic, to bridge the gap of understanding between Christians and Jews. To accomplish this, she wrote the book Aus dem Leben einer Jüdischen Familie, ("Life in a Jewish Family") which tried to show the similar human experiences of Jews and Christians in their daily lives. In 1933, she attempted to combine the thoughts of Husserl and Aquinas in her book Endliches und ewiges Sein ("Finite and Eternal Being"), completed in 1936. Under the anti-Jewish laws in effect then, however, the book was refused for publication and was not printed until 1950.

Because of the Nazi rule, Stein realized she was no longer safe in her native country and fled to a convent (a community of nuns) in Echt in the Netherlands on December 31, 1938. In Echt, she was joined by her sister Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism.

Killed in concentration camp

In 1942 the Nazis began removing Jews from the Netherlands, and Stein urgently applied for a Swiss visa (an official authorization of travel) in order to transfer to a convent in Switzerland. Her sister was unable to arrange similar travel arrangements, however, and Stein refused to leave without her. On August 2, 1942, the sisters were removed from the convent at Echt by Nazi troops and transported to a concentration camp at Amersfoort, Netherlands, for a few days before being sent on to the Auschwitz camp in Poland. While nothing is known about their last days or the exact circumstances of their deaths, it is assumed the women were among the many people killed in the Nazi gas chambers, placed in mass graves on the site, and later cremated, or burned to ashes.

In 1987, decades after the travesties of the Jewish Holocaust (the horrors imposed by the Nazis which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews), Stein was beatified (blessed) by Pope John Paul II (1920), who praised her as a Catholic martyr (one who dies for their beliefs) and also praised her phenomenological works. This created controversy among Jewish groups, who were upset that she was remembered in this way since the reason she was killed was because she was a Jew, not because she was Catholic. In an apologetic statement, John Paul II acknowledged that her fate was a symbol of the great loss of Jewish life during World War II (193945; a war fought between the Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan, and the Allied Powers: England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States). This discussion highlighted the difficult, but important place Stein holds among both Jews and Catholics. Stein's canonization (emergence to sainthood) by the Pope on October 11, 1998, also drew protest from some Jews.

For More Information

Gaboriau, Florent. The Conversion of Edith Stein. Edited by Ralph McInerny. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 2001.

Graef, Hilda C. The Scholar and the Cross: The Life and Work of Edith Stein. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1955.

Herbstrith, Waltraud. Edith Stein: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Oben, Freda Mary. The Life and Thought of Saint Edith Stein. New York: Alba House, 2001.

Scaperlanda, María Ruiz. Edith Stein: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001.

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Stein, Edith

STEIN, EDITH

STEIN, EDITH (1891–1942), German philosopher. Born in Breslau, of an Orthodox Jewish family, Edith Stein studied philosophy under Edmund *Husserl at Goettingen and then became his first assistant at Freiburg University. Her dissertation, Zum Problem der Einfuehlung (1917; On the Problem of Empathy, 1964), played an important role in the phenomenological movement. She also prepared some of Husserl's works for publication. In 1922, after reading the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila, she converted to Catholicism, gave up her university post, and went to teach at a Dominican girls' school in Speyer. Here she studied Catholic philosophy, especially that of Thomas Aquinas, and translated his treatise Quaestiones disputatae de Veritate (Untersuchungen ueber die Wahrheit, 1931). Her study in the Husserl-Festschrift, "Husserls Phaenomenologie und die Philosophie des heiligen Thomas von Aquino" (1929) attempted to show the points of contrast between phenomenology and Thomism. In 1932, Edith Stein was appointed lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Muenster, but in 1933, with the advent of the Nazi regime, she had to give up this position, and entered a Carmelite convent in Cologne as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Here she completed her large work Endliches und ewiges Sein (Werke, vol. 2, 1950), relating Thomism and contemporary phenomenological and existentialist thought. In 1938, to escape Nazi persecution, she was taken to a monastery at Echt in Holland, where she wrote Kreuzeswissenschaft (Werke, vol. 1, 1950; The Science of the Cross, 1960), on the life and teaching of St. John of the Cross. Shortly after finishing the work she, along with other priests and nuns of Jewish origin, was arrested by the Gestapo as a reprisal for the condemnation by the Dutch bishops of Nazi antisemitism. She died in the Auschwitz gas chambers. In 1998 she was canonized by the Catholic Church.

bibliography:

H.C. Graef, The Scholar and the Cross (1955); H.C. Bordeaux, Edith Stein: Thoughts on Her Life and Times (1959), includes bibliography; A.A. Devaux et al., in: Les Etudes Philosophiques, 11 (1956), 427–72, incl. bibl.; H. Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement (1960), index; The Writings of Edith Stein, selected, translated, and introduced by H. Graef (1956), 7–18, biographical introd.; C. Alexander, Der Fall Edith Stein. Flucht in die Chimaere (1970).

[Richard H. Popkin]

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Stein, Edith

Edith Stein

Born October 12, 1891
Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland)
Died August 9, 1942
Auschwitz, Poland

German Jew who converted to Catholicism
and became a nun

On October 11, 1998, Edith Stein became the first Jewish person in modern times to achieve sainthood. The Roman Catholic Church gave her this honor because, they said, she had done so much to promote understanding between Christians and Jews and because she had died a martyr (someone who dies rather than renounce his or her religion) for both her heritage and her faith. A respected thinker and writer on philosophical issues and an atheist (person who does not believe in God) as a young woman, Stein converted to the Catholic religion when she was thirty years old. Twelve years later, she entered a convent as a nun. In 1942 she was executed at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland. Stein's sainthood caused a controversy because many Jews felt that she had died not because of her Catholicism, but because she had been born a Jew. They feared that her canonization (being made a saint) would deflect attention away from the fact that most of the victims of the Holocaust (the period between 1933 and 1945 when Nazi Germany murdered millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others) were Jews and that the Catholic Church had remained silent about Nazi brutality during World War II.

An intelligent little girl

Stein was born into a Jewish family on Yom Kippur (the Jewish holiday that is the "Day of Atonement" or time to make up for past wrongdoing). The Steins lived in the town of Breslau in a part of Germany that later became part of Poland (changing the town's name to Wroclaw); at that time Breslau had one of the largest Jewish communities in Germany. Stein was the youngest of seven children—four of whom would later die in the concentration camps—born to Siegfried and Auguste Stein. Her father died when she was two years old, and her strong, capable mother took over the family lumber business.

Stein's intelligence was evident when she was very young: at six, she begged her mother to let her bypass kindergarten and start school immediately. She was also a kind, understanding person to whom, her sister Erna later wrote, "one could entrust one's troubles and secrets." Describing herself in her autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family, Stein wrote, "In my dreams I always foresaw a brilliant future for myself …I was convinced that I was destined for something great… "

An atheist and a brilliant student

When she was fifteen, Stein gave up her Jewish faith, announcing that she was an atheist. She also dropped out of school for a short period, but after six months she told her mother she was going back and even planned to attend college. She entered the University of Breslau in 1911 and stayed for two years, then transferred to the University of Göttingen.

For a while Stein studied psychology, but she was dissatisfied with this subject and finally turned to philosophy. She became a student of a famous philosopher named Edmund Husserl, who was a leader in the field of phenomenology, a kind of philosophy that concerns the nature of thought and experience.

While she pursued her doctorate degree at Göttingen, Stein was a well-liked member of a circle of brilliant students, several of whom would later become famous philosophers. She had an especially close friendship with one of them, Hans Lipp, but their relationship never developed into a romance as their friends expected it would. During this period Stein enjoyed art, music, and literature as well as hikes and picnics with her friends.

World War I and after

When Germany entered World War I (1914-1918; a war that began as a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia and escalated to include thirty-two countries), Stein volunteered to serve in a hospital run by the Red Cross. For six months in 1915 she worked at the Weisskirchen Epidemic Hospital in Moravia, nursing Austrian soldiers with infectious diseases, such as dysentery and cholera.

After the war Stein returned to Breslau and taught for eight months in her former high school. Then she went back to Göttingen to finish her doctoral thesis (major paper written to fulfill the requirements of the Ph.D.), which was on the problem of empathy or how a person can know anything about the inner life of another person. Stein was thrilled when Husserl asked her to be his assistant, and she served in this position for eighteen months, teaching Husserl's beginning students and putting his papers in order so that they could be published.

Two religious experiences

It was around this time that Stein had one of the most important experiences of her life. One of her best friends and professors from the Göttingen circle, Adolf Reinach, had been killed in 1917 in the war. Stein went to visit and console his widow, Anna Reinach. She was surprised to find that it was Anna who consoled her. During the war, both Reinachs had converted to Christianity, and Anna's strong religious faith allowed her to calmly accept her husband's death. Stein was deeply moved by her friend's faith. She decided that she too would become a Christian, but she was not yet sure which religious denomination (religious organization or church, such as Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, or Baptist) to join.

In 1918, having earned her Ph.D., Stein returned to Breslau, where she continued to write and publish articles about philosophy. She would have liked to become a professor but no German universities would hire a female philosophy professor. Three years later Stein had another important 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, a dynamic Catholic saint who lived from 1515 to 1582. Captivated by Theresa's words, Stein stayed up all night reading the book, and when she finished she said to herself, "This is the truth."

Becoming a Catholic

Despite the strong objections of her mother and many of her friends, who felt she'd turned her back on her own heritage, Stein was baptized into the Catholic religion on January 1, 1922. She wanted to enter a convent immediately, but a spiritual advisor she consulted advised her against that step, claiming it would be too difficult for her family to accept. Instead, she spent the next eleven years as a teacher and also continued to write and lecture. Even though she was not yet a nun, she privately took the same vows of chastity (not having sex), poverty, and obedience that nuns commonly take.

From 1923 to 1931 Stein worked at a teacher's college, where she helped high school girls and nuns prepare for teaching careers. Those who knew her during this period described her as a calm, gentle, and patient person who liked to laugh and often told funny stories. In 1932, Stein was hired to teach at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy in Munster.

Deciding to enter the convent

Stein's teaching career was cut short by the Nazis, who took control of Germany in the early 1930s. Led by the dictator (absolute ruler) Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry), the Nazis had begun a series of harsh measures against Jews. In 1933, Jews were banned from holding public positions. Stein had to leave her job, and her writings could no longer be published.

For some time Stein had been feeling uncomfortable in the secular (nonreligious) world, and at that point she decided to enter the convent. This caused heartache among her family, who loved her but could not understand her choice. Stein's elderly mother was especially upset, knowing that she would probably never see her daughter again (the nuns were cloistered, which meant that they never left the convent and lived in a silent world of poverty and prayer). Asked why she was abandoning the Jewish people now, Stein replied that she was not rejecting her heritage, which she considered a great one, but that she could do Jews the most good by praying for them from within the convent.

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

On October 14, 1933, Stein took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and entered the Cologne Carmel (convent of the Carmelite order of nuns). Recognizing her gifts, her superiors gave her time to study and to write about religious and philosophical topics. She also worked on her autobiography, with which she hoped to honor her beloved mother and to show that the lives of Jews were different from negative images put forth by the Nazi Party.

Meanwhile, Stein was well aware of what was happening to Jews in the outside world. Like other German Jews, Stein was made to wear a yellow Star of David (a Jewish religious symbol) sewn to her clothing—in her case, a nun's habit (a long, flowing garment that covers all but the face and hands). She wrote a letter to Pope Pius XII, who was then the head of the Roman Catholic Church, asking him to publicly condemn the Nazis, but she received no reply.

Arrested by the Nazis

On November 9, 1938, the Nazis carried out their Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, also called the "Night of Broken Glass"), a terrible "pogrom" or attack on Jews. Homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed and as many as 40,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. For her protection, Stein was sent to a convent in Echt, Holland. But her safety lasted less than three years.

On August 2, 1942, the Nazis entered the convent and arrested Stein and her sister Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism. Stein reportedly said, "Come, let us go for our people" before she was taken away. She spent about a week in two transport camps in Holland before being sent to Auschwitz. She arrived on August 9 and was soon killed, like so many other Jews (and, on the same day, her own sister and about 700 Dutch Catholics), by poisonous gas piped into a sealed room crowded with unsuspecting people.

"A daughter of Israel"

At a ceremony held in the Cologne soccer stadium in May 1987, Pope John Paul II beatified Stein—he declared that she was a holy person, and should be admired and respected. The pope called her a "daughter of Israel who remained faithful" to both her Jewish heritage and her Catholic faith.

Rumors 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. Instead, the Catholic Church should be facing up to its own failure to condemn Nazism.

The Catholic Church responded by claiming that Stein and the other Catholics killed at the same time were probably murdered in revenge for a statement against Nazism that Holland's Catholic bishops had made a month earlier. When Stein was canonized, on October 11, 1998, the church's top official for Jewish-Catholic relations, 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.

Honoring Stein, stated Keller, "does not lessen but rather strengthens our need to preserve and honor the memory of the Jewish victims."

Where to Learn More

Books

Herbstrith, Waltraud. Edith Stein. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985.

Oben, Freda Mary. Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint. New York: Alba House, 1988.

Periodicals

Donohue, John W. "Edith Stein, Saint." America (June, 21 1997): 8.

Gordon, Mary. "Saint Edith?" Tikkun (March-April 1999): 17.

Jerome, Richard. "The Convert: Born a Jew, Edith Stein Is Tapped for Sainthood." People Weekly (May 19, 1997): 161.

Michael, Eleanor. "Saints and Nazi Skeletons." History Today (October 1998): 4.

Payne, Steven. "Edith Stein: A Fragmented Life." America (October 10,1998): 11.

Penner, Martin. "A Martyr, But Whose?" Time (October 19, 1998): 16.

Killed in a concentration camp, Edith Stein caused a controversy fifty years later when Pope John Paul II made her a saint.

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