§ 1. ON THE CONVERSION OF EDITH STEIN In light of our discussion in section § 33 of Husserl’s conversion in to Christianity it should also be pointed out that many of Husserl’s friends and colleagues such as Max Scheler, Adolf Reinach and Edith Stein, like Husserl himself, also “converted” from Judaism to Christianity in the course of their philosophical development.
However, the beginning Edith Stein’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity begins with her personal visit to Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Theodor Conrad at their home in the Bergzaberg where they picked fruit by day and discussed philosophy by night during their summer holiday’s together.
As the story goes, one day Hedwig Conrad-Martius and her husband Theodor Conrad, had to leave the Bergzaberg quite unexpectedly and asked Edith whether or not she would like to pluck any favorite books off the library shelves of their private library to read them while they were gone? According to Edith Stein’s testimony of this above episode in her Autobiography she says she picked off their library shelf a large volume of St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Life” to read.
Says Edith Stein,
I picked at random and took out a large volume. It bore
The title: “The Life of St. Teresa of Avila”, written by herself.
I began to read, was at once captivated, and did not stop till
I reached the end. As I closed the book, I said, “That is the
Moreover, Edith became so spiritually moved by St. Teresa’s “The Life” that she felt led to go into town to buy a missal and attend a Catholic Mass for the first time in her life. After the Mass, she says, she calmly followed the priest into the “Sacrasity” of the church and asked to be baptised. The priest arranged the baptism for her on New Years Day, 1922, with Hedwig Conrad-Martius as one of her co-sponsors.
§ 2. THE BRIDE OF CHRIST -- FROM HUSSERL TO CARMEL However, the high point of Edith Stein’s conversion and from Judaism to Christianity on her spiritual journey from Judaism to the Roman Catholicism took place at the Carmel chapel in Cologne, Germany, on April 15th, 1934, some twelve years “after” her baptism into the Catholic Church.
According to Sr. Teresa Renata Posselt, the Novice Director, and Mother Prioress of Edith Stein at the Cologne Carmel, she provides us with a living portrait and personal recollection of Edith Stein’s “conversion” from “Judaism to Christianity” as
a Carmelite nun at her “Clothing Ceremony” in the Carmel chapel in the Autobiography of Edith Stein:
Says Teresa Posselt,
‘On April 15th 1934, Good Shepard Sunday, Edith Stein was clothed in the habit of “Our Blessed Lady of Mount Carmel” and received a name that she herself suggested, Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. (Sister Teresa Benedicata of the Cross). It was a feast such as the Cologne Carmel had never seen. The generous “bouquets of flowers” given by many friends and acquaintances lent the little church a most marvelous beauty’. 2
‘An hour before the ceremony began she left the enclosure as a “Bride adorned for her Husband” to receive guests of honor in the reception room… ’ 3
‘After High Mass the celebrant delivered an address that again severely tried the humility of our unassuming Bride of Christ. Then her Carmelite superior, Fr. Theodore, moved toward her, and there followed a dialogue that has remained unchanged for centuries:’ 4
‘Are you resolved to persevere in the Order, until death?’ 5
‘Thus do I hope and desire, through the mercy of God and the prayers of the Sisters.’ 6
With the closing blessing, ‘May the Lord who has led you to us divest you of your former “self “ together with all its works’, her superior left her side.” 7
“Edith Stein rose, took the lighted candle in her hand and approached the convent door as it opened before her. Awaiting her inside the enclosure were the veiled nuns standing in two ranks, each of them holding a lighted candle. One of the Sisters, stepping forward, held up the crucifix, Edith sank on her knees before it and kissed it. She crossed the threshold and the door closed behind her.” 8
‘While the congregation now passed toward the wide-open grille in the church and the Sisters threaded their way through the cloisters singing ‘O gloriosa Domina’ (O glorious Lady; a hymn in honor of the Virgin Mary), Edith Stein hurriedly removed her secular adornment. Over her shoulders was laid the course habit. The bridal veil and myrtle-wreath gave place to the nun’s habit and helping hands changed her pretty shoes for a pair of rough sandals. When the procession drew into the choir at the last verse of the hymn, the transformation was complete and she and the Reverend Mother came in together, the last pair in the procession.” 9
‘The novice knelt on the carpet before the grille lying on a footstool nearby was the rest of her Carmelite habit. 10
‘May the Lord clothe you with the “new self”, created in God’s image, in justice and holiness of truth.’ 11
Edith Stein’s “Clothing” Ceremony
(April 15th, 1934)
‘The Mother Prioress, standing on the novices’s left, took the leather cincture, handed one end of it to the novice-mistress standing on the right, and together they fastened it round her waist.’ 12
‘When you were younger,’ said the provincial, (reminding her of her absolute obedience, ‘you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you shall be old, another shall gird you’. 13
‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Taking the blessed scapular, the Reverend Mother, together with the novice-mistress, laid it on the shoulders of the kneeling novice’. 14
‘Receive the sweet yoke of Christ and His burden that is light…’ 15
The clothing ceremony was now over.
§ 3. HUSSERL’S REACTION Meanwhile, back ‘in Freiburg, Husserl, “the dear old Master” was waiting for a report about Edith Stein’s “clothing”, that he had not attended. On May 3rd, Sister Adelgundis, O.S.B., also one of his pupils, visited him and read him a letter from their mutual friend Maria Merz who had attended the ceremony. Husserl listened to it attentively and with devotion. Now and then he would interrupt her to ask some
questions about the Church’s established practices and customs. It afforded him real satisfaction that Edith was also esteemed in the Church and in the Order. This way
he gave the impression of an anxious and yet proud father whose daughter – after all, he used to call her his best pupil – is marrying into a new family. ‘With genuine paternal pride he exclaimed: ‘I do not believe that the Church has any “Neo-scholastic” of Edith Stein’s caliber. Thank God she will be permitted to
keep up her scholarly work at the Cologne Carmel. Subsequently, he expressed regret at not having travelled to attend the “Clothing Ceremony” in Cologne. He said, innocently, ‘After all, I would have been entitled to be the ‘father of the bride’. Then after a thoughtful pause, ‘it’s possible to be personally fond of one another, even if one has changed one’s ‘world view’, as in the case of Edith.’ 16
By Robert A. DeGray, Ph.D.
American University of Prague
ON THE NAZI PERSECUTION
AND MARTRDOM OF EDITH STEIN
(August 9th, 1942)
(The Life and Death of Edith Stein)
§ 1. THE WAY OF THE CROSS Edith Stein was “baptised” on New Years’s Day, 1922. Hedwig Conrad-Martius was one of her religious sponsors or witnesses to this dramatic event in her life. On April 15th, 1934, Edith entered the Carmelite Order to become a nun which culminated in her final religious “conversion” from Judaism to Christianity.
However, on August 2nd, 1942, some eight years “after” Edith Stein took her religious vows as a Carmelite nun in Jesus Christ at the Carmel at Cologne, she was arrested and picked up at the Echt Monastry, (along with her sister Rosa where they had fled from Cologne) by two SS guards and taken directly to Gestapo headquarters for questioning before being transported to the East to be gassed (along with millions of other Jews) in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 9th, 1942.
Says John Oesterreicher, 87
It was at five in the afternoon of that bitter and bright August 2, 1942,
that Edith Stein was taken prisoner. The community was assembled in the
choir and she was reading aloud what they would meditate on the next
morning, when two SS-men rang the bell. “In ten minutes Sister Stein has to
leave the house,” was their command. While the Prioress protested, to no
and then went to her cell, where several Sisters helped her pack the few
belongings – a blanket, cup, spoon, and food for three days, were all
the SS-men thought she needed! First she begged the Sisters to pray for her,
then that they notify the Swiss consul; and for the rest she was silent
the Sisters from Echt recall, as if her spirit were not in the cell but
elsewhere. Meanwhile, crowds had gathered in the street, so that she and her
sister Rosa were led to the patrol wagon amid clamor against the Nazi
tyranny. They and all other prisoners were taken first to the camp of
Amersfoort, then the camp of Westerbork, both in Holland… There were
about twelve hundred Catholic Jews at Westerbork, of whom fifteen were
§ 2. THE FINAL LETTERS The stay of the twelve hundred Catholic Jews at the Westerbork
camp lasted from August 5th to the night of August 6-7, 1942, at which time Edith Stein, and her sister Rosa, as well as all the rest of the prisoners, to include: priests, nuns, brothers, sisters, and all other remaining Catholic Jews were finally transported to the East to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau to be exterminated. During the deportation process Edith Stein was able to write down her final requests to her superiors in letters or notes which were then given to messengers
(who had brought articles to them at Westerbork camp for her) to be delivered to the “Convent of Echt” before their final deportation to the East.
Letter to Mother Ambrosia Antonia Engelmann, OCD, Echt
Original in Convent Archive of Beek Carmel.
Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 4, 1942.
Dear Mother and Sisters,
During the past night we left the transit-station A. (Amersfoort)
and landed here early this morning. We are given a friendly reception here. They intend to do everything possible to enable us to be freed or at least that we may remain here.
All the Catholics are together and in our dormitory we have all the nuns (two Trappistines, one Dominican), Ruth (Kantorowicz), Alice (Reis), Dr. (Lisamaria) Meirowsky, and others are here. Two Trappist Fathers from T. are also with us. In any case, it will be necessary for you to send us our personal credentials, our ID cards, and our ration cards. So far we have lived entirely on the generosity of the others. We hope you have found the address of the Consul and have been in touch with him. We have asked many people to relay the news to you. The two dear children from Koningsbosch (Annemarie and Elfriede Goldschmidt) are with us. We are very calm and cheerful. Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within. Sincerest greetings to all. We will probably write again soon.
In Corde Jesu, your – B
When you write please do not mention that you got this.
Sincere greetings to all. We are very sorry not to have seen Mother Ottilia any more. In this brief time we have experienced a great deal; one lives together with the others and everywhere people help each other. We have slept very little, but we have had a lot of good air and much traveling. Many greetings to Sophie, Marie (Delsing) too, and to everyone; they were so upset; we not at all.
In Corde Jesuwe all find ourselves in graditude.
Letter to Mother Ambrosia Engelmnann, OCD, Echt
Original in Convent Archive of Beek Carmel
Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 5, 1942.
My dear Ones,
A. R. C. nurse from A. (Amersfoort Camp) intends to speak today with the Consul. Here, every petition (on behalf) of fully Jewish Catholics has been forbidden since yesterday. Outside (the camp) an attempt can still be made, but with extremely little prospect. According to plans, a transport will leave on Friday. Could you possibly write to Mére Claire in Venlo, Kaldenkerkeweg 185 (the Ursuline Convent) to ask for our (my) manuscript if they have not already sent it. We count on your prayers. There are so many persons here who need some consolation and they expect it from the Sisters.
90 In Corde Jesu, your grateful
Letter to Mother Ambrosia Antonia Engelmann, OCD, Echt
last evening with some suitcases for her children and now offers to take some short letters along. Early tomorrow a transport leaves (Silesia or Czechoslovakia?).
What is most necessary: woolen stockings, two blankets. For Rosa all the warm underwear whatever was in the laundry; for us both, towels and washcloths. Rosa also has no toothbrush, no cross and no rosary. I would like the next volume of the Breviary (so far I have been able to pray gloriously.) our identity-cards, registration cards (as Jews) and ration cards.
A thousand thanks and greetings to all,Y.R.’s grateful child,
B. (PS) 1 Habit and aprons, 1 small veil. 4
§ 3. EYEWITNESS REPORTS AND DOCUMENTS
Edith and Rosa Stein along with all their brothers, sisters, priests, nuns, as well as all other “Jewish Catholics” (who were arrested by the SS men in Holland and transported to the Amersfoort camp and then shipped to the Westerbork camp for final deportation to the East); all perished together as Christian martyrs in the Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 9th, 1942.
That is to say, of the 1,200 persons sent by transport from the Westerbork camp to Auschwitz, only 200 hundred persons (from eye-witness accounts) were ever considered fit enough for work by the Nazi ‘selection’ officers at Auschwitz. The other remaining persons, one-thousand to be exact, including Edith and Rosa Stein, were all sent to the gas chambers directly upon their arrival by at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
Says Doctor Lenig:
Response to a Cologne Carmel inquiry letter sent to Dr. Lenig on March 27th, 1947. Reverend Mother Prioress,
At the request of my dear friend, Professor Max Budde of Gelsenkirchen, I have the honor to inform you as follows….
I met Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, known in the camp as Edith Stein, on August 2nd, 1942, in the transit camp at Amersfoort, in barracks no. 9, if I am not mistaken. On that Sunday all Catholics of Jewish, or partly Jewish, ancestry were arrested by the German hangmen’s helpers as a “reprisal” for a “pastoral letter” that had been read from the pulpits of all Dutch churches the previous Sunday. They
were taken away and at first assembled at Amersfoort before being deported from there to the gas chambers and creamatoria…
Some of these night transports went to the death camps at Drente and others went straight to Auschwitz. Mothers were permitted to request baby carriages from home for their infants and to take them along as far as the baggage car, that, alas! was always left behind. I never heard anything more of any of them…
Among the first to be carried off by night was your lamented Sister, Edith Stein. Like all of them, she went calmly to her death, fully assured of rising again to eternal life. It is impossible for me to say definitely whether the night of deportation was on either August 4th or 5th, 1942. May God be merciful to her and all the victims of (Nazi) German “Race-Christianity”; may He grant them eternal peace and may His eternal light shine upon them. Amen.
With my respectful regards,
Moreover, a former “female prisoner” from the Ravensbruck-Auschwitz camp, (prisoner No. 2790), a lady from Berlin, states:
“Having read about Edith Stein, I feel duty bound
to give the following information. From the end of March
1942 (to be precise, March 27th, 1942) about a thousand
Jewish woman used to come into the camp every day. The
first transport came from Slovakia, Czechoslovakia and
Hungary. Until the beginning of 1943, they came mainly
from these countries. Afterward from Holland, Belgium,
“Not until the middle of 1943, did we get mixed Jewish
transports (i.e., a mixture of German and others). The vast
majority of these transports came from the camp of
“According to my calculations, therefore, it is impossible that
Edith Stein came to Auschwitz as early as 1942. If she had
come to Auschwitz in 1942, it would be known for certain,
since “the writer of these lines” was a prisoner in the woman’s
camp of Auschwitz from March 26th, 1942 until January
18th, 1945. And was working in the “Prisoners Bureau at
Auschwitz”, and later also at Auschwitz-Birkenau. All the
prisoners were registered there, and Edith Stein would have
stood out “immediately” upon being asked about her
“Moreover, there was a very active “resistance” movement
in the woman’s camp at Auschwitz. They used to take almost all
the “German Jewish woman” upon arrival to barracks distant from
Birkenau, where they would be in less danger. Those who survived
in this way would be able to testify to that. I’m certain Edith Stein
was not one of them.” 6
The question this above testimony raises is precisely whether or not Edith Stein and her sister Rosa ever arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from the Westerbork camp in Holland by train at all? If they did not arrive by transport then where could they have gone to? Were they sent to a different concentration camp instead of Auschwitz? Or, on the contrary, did they escape? And, if so, why were they never heard from again? This above account does not seem to be a very creditable report in light of these facts.
§ 4. THE LAST NEWS OF THE NETHERLANDS RED CROSS While the Camelite nuns in Cologne attempted to search in vain for any traces of Edith Stein or her beloved sister Rosa Stein through published records, newspaper stories, eyewitness accounts, or any other such existing documents, they could find nothing to “verify” or give any real concrete and empirical “proof” whatsoever concerning the whereabouts of the Stein sisters or even of their deaths. Finally news from the “Netherlands Red Cross” arrived through the “Bureau of Affairs” which provided an official report by attempting to provide the “last word” on Edith Stein’s death at Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 9th, 1942.
Moreover, below is the final “Netherlands Red Cross” report which was prepared by the “Settlement Bureau of Jewish Affairs” in order to legally confirm the death of Edith Stein at Auschwitz-Birkeneau. The document reads as follows:
BUREAU OF INFORMATION OF THE NETHERLANDS RED CROSS
9 Jan Ewverts Street, ‘s-Gravenhage
‘s-Gravenhage, 2 June, 1958
Dossier No. 108796
Your letter of May 16, 1958.
The Undersigned, Chief of the Settlement Bureau for Jewish Affairs of The Netherlands Red Cross Beureau of Information Confirms Hereby That According to The Papers Kept in our Archives
Jewish Mothers and Children arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Edith Teresa Hedwig STEIN
Born on: October 12, 1891, in: Breslau
Last Residence: Monastery of the Carmelite Nuns,
Bovenstestraat 48, Echt (Holland)
For Reasons of Race, and Specifically Because of Jewish Descent
On 2 August, 1942, Arrested in Echt, via K.L. [Concentration Camp]
On 5 August, 1942, Handed Over in K.L. Westerbork and
On 7 August, 1942, Deported from K.L. Westerbork to K.L. Auschwitz.
The above named person is to be considered as having died on 9 August,
1942 in Auschwitz.
Notice to this Effect is Given on 15 February, 1950, in Echt
…[conditions are given regarding legal procedures]…
(Signed, official seal applied by Chief of the Bureau) 7
Can this above “official document” on the life and death of Edith Stein satisfy everyone who reads it?
The fact of the matter is that we will probably never know with absolute certainty what ever happened to Edith Stein and Rosa’s transport and whether or not they ever made it to from Westerbork, Holland, to their final destination point at Auschwitz-Birkenau as exhibited by the “Netherlands Red Cross” report.
However, there is one “final piece” of corroborating evidence in this saga of the life and death of Edith Stein that I wish to present to the reader which absolutely convinces me that Edith Stein (along with her sister Rosa) died at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp on August 9th, 1942, by way of a “creditable” report by a man who claims to have seen Edith Stein and to have spoken with her briefly at the
“train station” in her home town of Breslau where their transport briefly stopped on its way to Auschwitz.
§ 5. THE FINAL EYEWITNESS REPORT
By way of a “postscript” to the foregoing discussion I wish to conclude this “appendix” of the life and death of Edith Stein with a timely newspaper article that appeared in the “Kölner Rundschau,” a local Cologne newspaper, which I believe helps throw valuable light on the “Netherlands Red Cross” document reflected above as well as to help corroborate “eyewitness reports” that Edith Stein’s transport, did in fact,actually go to Auschwitz-Birkenau as its final destination point from the Westerbork camp in Holland which should conclude the final speculation surrounding the whereabouts of Edith and Rosa Stein.
The story below, appeared in 1982, and is now published in volume one of Sister Josephine Koeppel’s excellent translation of Edith Stein’s “Autobiography” with the following details:
“On the 40th anniversary of Edith Stein’s death, August 9th, 1982, a story in the “Kölner Rundschau,” a Cologne newspaper, adds a poignant postscript. This account cannot be verified, but there are so many details that make it creditable that one finds it difficult to dismiss. What a distressing thought – Edith’s route to the East may well have taken her by way of the very places most dear to her.”
“The trip from Holland must have been by rail line south, past Cologne, since we have Fouquet’s testimony for the stop at “Schifferstadt” which is but a few miles from Spyer where she taught. Then Johannes Wieners’ story provided the final vignette.”
“As a postal employee in the Cologne branch of the federal postal system, Wieners had been inducted with seventeen other men, three of them officers, to form a mobile postal unit. He was
required to report June 15th, 1942, for six weeks of military training. They were being sent to the eastern war zone where the Sixth German Army was fighting the Russians. He was assigned a large truck as a mobile postoffice; they were being transported East by train.”
“On the 7th of August, 1942, he and the others in his unit were standing in the
Switching area of the railroad depot in Breslau since their engine had been uncoupled for servicing.”
“A freight train pulled into the station on the track next to theirs. A minute or so later, a guard opened a sliding door on one of the cars. With dismay, Weiners noticed it was packed with people who were jammed together, cowering on the floor. The stench coming from the car almost overpowered the men standing outside.”
“Then a woman in nun’s clothing stepped into the opening, Weiners looked at her with such commiseration that she spoke to him: ‘It’s awful. We have nothing by way of containers for sanitation needs.’ ”
“Looking into the distance and then across town, she said, ‘This is my beloved hometown. I will never see it again.’ ”
“He was profoundly shocked and asked, in all seriousness: ‘Do your companion prisioners believe that also?’ ”
“Her answer came even more hesitantly, ‘It’s better they do not know it.’ ”
“Weiners’ companions were irritated that he spoke to a Jewess and berated him for it. But one of them who had overheard the conversation joined him; the two men discussed quietly in the face of their angry comrades the possibility of doing anything for the people.”
“Edith had overheard the objections, when they asked her if they could get her anything and her companions anything to eat or drink, she replied, ‘No thank you, we accept nothing.’ ”
“The markings on the car made it plain that it had come from Holland.
By this time, the boiler on their engine had been refilled, and the locomotive recoupled. The men had boarded their train which then left Breslau station.”
“Johannes Wieners served for a time and then was taken a prisoner of war. When much later, he was back in Germany, he saw a picture of Edith Stein, accompanying an article about her. He was sure she was the nun he had seen on August 7th, 1942. It may be God’s plan that we continue to learn more about her thoughout the years.