Edith Stein, who was canonized as a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church after converting and being murdered in Auschwitz, was recognized on Sunday as a “Saint of the Day” on the Vatican News website.
Stein was born in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), Lower Silesia, into an observant Jewish family. She was the youngest of 11 children and was born on Yom Kippur. Her father
died when she was young and she later studied at the University of Breslau. There she became interested in Catholicism, eventually converting in 1922 and becoming a Carmelite nun, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI, denouncing the Nazi regime and asked the Pope to openly denounce the regime. “Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself ‘Christian’,” she wrote. Her letter received no answer, and it is not known for certain whether the Pope ever read it.
The Church transferred her to the Netherlands to avoid the growing Nazi threat in Poland. Along with two hundred and forty-three baptized Jews living in the Netherlands, Stein was arrested by the SS on 2 August 1942. Stein and her sister Rosa were imprisoned at the concentration camps of Amersfoort and Westerbork before being deported to Auschwitz. It was probably on 9 August that Stein, her sister, and many more of her people were killed in a mass gas chamber.
The beatification of St. Teresa Benedicta as a martyr generated criticism. Critics argued that she was murdered because she was Jewish by birth, rather than for her Catholic faith, and that, in the words of Daniel Polish, the beatification seemed to “carry the tacit message encouraging conversionary activities” because “official discussion of the beatification seemed to make a point of conjoining Stein’s Catholic faith with her death with ‘fellow Jews’ in Auschwitz.”
The Vatican News wrote: “Edith made herself a ‘holocaust,’ the Old Testament term for a sacrificial offering destined entirely for God.”