by Constance Roques and Cristiana Dobner
On August 9, 1942, exactly 75 years ago, Edith Stein died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
In the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano of August 8, 2017, Cristiana Debner evokes in “three names and three dates” this courageous woman, who refused to be helped to be freed and who said: “The world is made of contradictions . . . But the end will not be made of these contradictions. Only great love will remain. How could it be otherwise?”
Here is our translation of the article in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano:
The last stages of Edith Stein’s existence are summarized in three names and three dates.
Amersfoot, August 2, 1942: the driver of the tank that Edith and Rosa (her sister) were forced to get into, deported, from the convent when reprisals followed the Dutch bishops’ letter against Nazism, took the wrong way and so they arrived at the camp late at night.
Westerbork, where they were transported during the night of August 3-4 and which was described thus by Etty Hillesum: “On the whole, there was a great throng at Westerbork, almost like around the last wreck of a boat that the shipwrecked grip on the point of drowning. Sometimes one thought that it would be simpler to be finally deported than to have to witness always the fears and despair of thousands upon thousands of men, women, children , invalids, the crazy, new-borns, the sick, the elderly who, in an almost uninterrupted procession, paraded along our helping hands.”
Auschwitz, number 44074, with the laconic and bureaucratic communique: “August 9, 1942, in Poland, Stein died, Edith Therese Hedwige, born October 12, 1891 at Breslau, resident at Echt.” The gardener of the Echt convent, a journalist friend and a young former deportee were next to her in her last moments. So they can present themselves as eyewitnesses of the processes that opened the way to Beatification and examined the life and testimony in face of the death of the phenomenologist that became a Carmelite.
Edith Stein can thus be appreciated directly: “She spoke with humble assurance, to the point of moving those who heard her. A conversation with her . . . was like a voyage in another world. At that time, Westerbork no longer existed . . . She said to me: “I would never believe that men could be like that and . . . that my brothers should have to suffer so much!’. When it was no longer a doubt that she must be transported elsewhere, I asked her if I could help her and (seek to free her); . . . she smiled again and begged me not to do so. Why make an exception for her and for her group? That would not have been right to take advantage of the fact that she was baptized! If she had not been able to share in the fate of the others, her life would have been ruined: “No, no, not that!”
The journalist Van Kempen found himself before a “spiritually great and strong woman.” During a conversation, he smoked a cigarette and asked her if she also wanted one.” She answered me that at one time she smoked and at another, when a student, she has also danced.”
The youth who survived noted a particular aspect of Edith: “She was very courageous; she gave her answers just as she was. When the SS blasphemed, she didn’t react, but she remained the same in herself. She had absolutely no fear.”
Wielek, a Dutch functionary, reported a conversation in which “with assurance and humility,” Edith Stein said: “The world is made of contradictions . . But the end will not be made of these contradictions. Only great love will remain. How could it be otherwise?”