80th anniversary of the death of Edith Stein
Nearly 200 worshippers commemorated the 80th anniversary of the death of Edith Stein at the Auschwitz Memorial on 9 August. They held a prayer march through the grounds of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau, from the historic death gate to the monument to the victims located between the ruins of the crematoria and gas chambers. Among those gathered were representatives of the episcopates of Poland and Germany, the clergy and the faithful. The event was presided over by Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski, with the Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Jarosław Sellin, among the guests.
Edith Stein was murdered in the gas chamber at Birkenau on 9 August 1942. The Carmelite nun, who took the name St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was the first Jewish woman to convert to Catholicism and was elevated to the altars. She is considered one of the patron saints of Europe. The anniversary of her death is celebrated in the Catholic Church as a day of prayer for the victims of the Holocaust.
“In sacrificing her life for her people, she followed to some extent in the footsteps of a man who almost exactly a year earlier had sacrificed his life for an unknown fellow prisoner - merely because he had a wife and children - in the footsteps of Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe - said Archbishop Jędraszewski. - Probably due to the similarity of their fates (...) The Holy Father John Paul II said: "I recall that in 1982, also in October, I had the privilege of canonising Maximilian Maria Kolbe in this very place. I have always been convinced that these are the two martyrs of Auschwitz jointly leading us into the future: Maximilian Maria Kolbe and Edith Stein - Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Today I am aware that a cycle is being closed. I thank God for it“. - Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski cited John Paul's words.
“Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us now embark on the journey that St Edith Stein, St Benedicta of the Cross, undertook here in Auschwitz-Birkenau eighty years ago, which was the last journey of her life. May our mutual prayer be an important contribution to building a truly brotherly society in Europe, which in Ukraine today is affected by a cruel war caused by a ruthless aggressor, Russia. May our invocation of solidarity to God for a European spirit be in keeping with the hymn Juxta crucem tecum stare, written on Good Friday in 1938, in which Edith Stein stated that our communion with Our Lady of Sorrows must consist primarily in contributing to the eternal salvation of others“, said Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski to the congregation.
Bishop Bertram Meier of Augsburg addressed the commemoration participants with the following words. "As a member of a nation that brought endless suffering and millions of victims to Europe, whose darkest phase of history is condensed here in the former concentration camp of Auschwitz, I thank you, dear Archbishop, personally and from the bottom of my heart. Your invitation (...) is an expression of the precious bond between the Polish and German bishops and of the growing understanding in the universal Church of the significance of Auschwitz," Bishop Meier wrote.
“We, the people of today, must not avert our eyes. Auschwitz is, indeed, one of the defining signs of the twentieth century (...) Saint Teresa Benedicta, who followed the Lord on the Way of the Cross, help us to become people committed to fostering peace, which is so threatened today. Patroness of Europe, strengthen the power of peace in Europe and the world,“ - reads the bishop's letter.
“It is extremely remarkable that we are standing here together today, as Poles and Germans. In this place of suffering of the Jewish people, Poles and many people from other nations. (...) We have walked this road together in prayer and remembrance, but the fundamental question is, what kind of people will we become as we leave here? (...) I, therefore, call on young people to actively build peace, not to be mere tools for the rulers of this world, to take responsibility for their lives to seek allies among the saints, living and dead,“ - appealed the Bishop of Augsburg.
Edith Stein was born in 1891 in Breslau (today’s Wrocław) to a pious Jewish family. She converted to Catholicism at the age of 30. Twelve years later, she joined the Carmelite Order and assumed the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. On 2 August 1942, the nun was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Amersfoort, and two days later transferred to the Westerbork assembly camp in the occupied Netherlands. The transports left the camps for extermination sites in eastern Europe as part of the so-called final solution to the Jewish question.
The Nazis deported the nun and 986 Jews from the Westerbork camp in occupied Holland. The transport, which arrived at the camp on 8 August, comprised 510 men and boys and 477 women and girls. There were dozens of Catholic Jews on the transport, including nuns and friars in habits, including Edith Stein from the Carmelite convent in Echt.
After selection on the ramp located between the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II - Birkenau main camps, 315 men and 149 women were sent to the camp. The remaining 523 people, including Edith Stein and her sister Rose, were exterminated by the Germans in one of the first gas chambers in Birkenau called the red and white houses. The victims awaited death in a forest in Birkenau.
John Paul II beatified Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in 1987. Eleven years later, she was elevated to the altars. Edith Stein is the first Jewish woman to convert to Catholicism and be canonised.
The lesson presents profiles of priests and clerical students, nuns, and the clergy of other Christian churches imprisoned by the Germans in Auschwitz. The stories of later saints and blesseds are also described, including Father Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Furthermore, various aspects of religious life in the camp, led by prisoners at the risk of their lives, are also shown.