As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, Stein recognized that the destiny of the Jews “would also be mine.”
The Vatican on Sunday marked the life of a Jewish-born saint who was murdered during the Holocaust.
Highlighted as a “Saint of the Day” on the Vatican News website, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was born Edith Stein into a Jewish family in 1891, but became an atheist at the age of 14.
Despite being a woman and a Jew in Germany, Stein extensively studied philosophy and hoped to become an academic. After meeting a friend whose husband had recently died, however, she had a mystical experience in which her “unbelief collapsed.”
After reading St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, Stein converted to Catholicism in 1922 and eventually became a Carmelite nun, but remained involved in Jewish issues. As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, she wrote, “I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that … the destiny of these people would also be mine.”
Realizing that because Nazi anti-Semitism was racial and not religious, she would be a target of it. Stein decided to present herself as a sacrifice, saying, “Every time I feel my powerlessness … to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust.”
As persecution intensified, she fled to Holland, once writing, “I never knew people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this.” When the Nazis came for her, Stein told her sister, “Come, we are going for our people.” She was murdered at Auschwitz in 1942.
When she was beatified as St. Theresa in 1987, Pope John Paul II said, “We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein … a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds … and also the synthesis of the full truth about man.”