Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Edith Stein was born to a Jewish family at Breslau on October 12. 1891. Through her passionate study of philosophy she searched after truth and found it in reading the autobiography of St Teresa of Jesus. In 1922 she was baptized a Catholic and in 1933 she entered the Carmel of Cologne where she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was gassed and cremated at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942, during the Nazi persecution and died a martyr for the Christian faith after having offered her holocaust for the people of Israel. A woman of singular intelligence and learning, she left behind a body of writing notable for its doctrinal richness and profound spirituality. On MAY 1, 1987, Pope John Paul II beatified the Discalced Carmelite nun Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) in Cologne, Germany. We are now privileged to acknowledge her as a saint, canonized by the same pontiff in Rome on October 11, 1998.
Gate of Auschwitz
On August 2, at five o’clock in the afternoon, two SS officers appeared at Carmel; they had come for Sister Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa. As they left the house, Sr. Teresa Benedicta took Rosa’s hand and said only: “Come, we will go for our people.”
Via the camp at Amersfoort, they arrived at the collection site of Westerbork. Edith Stein, known for her lack of household skills, manifested an astonishing activity in the barracks. One Jew, lucky enough to escape the deportation, reports: “Among the prisoners brought here on August 5, Sister Benedicta was noticeable because of her great air of peace and her composure. The misery in the camp and the excitement among the new arrivals was indescribable. Sister Benedicta went around to all the women, consoling, helping, calming them like an angel. Many mothers, nearly frenzied, had neglected their children for days; they brooded in dull despair, paying no attention to their surroundings. Sister Benedicta at once took charge of the little ones, washed and combed them, and saw that they got food and care. As long as she was there, she kept busy washing and cleaning and bringing about a lot of loving activity so that everyone was astounded.”
In a brief letter sent to Echt on August 6, she asked for some supplies for herself and Rosa and she mentions “being able to pray gloriously.” Her interior union with the Lord, her Bridegroom, gave her a deep peace even in the face of death.
On August 7, at three-thirty in the morning, the transport train of prisoners moved away. Late in the afternoon the train – the prisoners were crowded into cattle cars – made a stop in Schifferstadt, close to Speyer. Here Edith Stein was seen for the last time by surviving witnesses. Here she sent greetings to the Sisters at St. Magdalena’s in Speyer, adding the phrase: “We are heading east.” Two days later the train arrived at Auschwitz. The prisoners were at once led to the gas chambers where they perished. Her last words at the Schifferstadt train station, “we are heading east,” are more than a geographical indication. When the women came to the grave on the first Easter morning In order to anoint Jesus, the first rays of the sun appeared in the east, and they received the news that the Crucified One had arisen (c£. Mark 16:2-6). The way Edith Stein traveled at God’s hand did not end with the suffering of the Cross in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, but rather in the resurrection with Christ. This is what the church testified on October 11, 1998, in the festive canonization ceremony.