Edith Stein, a German Jewish convert to Catholicism, born into an observant Jewish family but an atheist by her teenage years, was baptized on January 1, 1922, and received into the Discalced Carmelite Order as a postulant in 1934. Although the Order relocated her out of Germany to the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution, Sr. Edith Stein in 1942 was arrested, along with other Jews from the Netherlands including Anne Frank, and was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where she died in a gas chamber. She was canonized as Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (her monastic name) by Pope John Paul II in 1998. In April, 1933 (during Holy Week), she wrote a prophetic letter to Pope Pius XI, in which she denounced the Nazi regime and asked him to denounce the regime as well, “to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name.” She wrote:
“As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. Now that they have seized the power of government and armed their followers, among them proven criminal elements, this seed of hatred has germinated.
…but through boycott measures – by robbing people of their livelihood, civic honor and fatherland – it drives many to desperation; within the last week, through private reports I was informed of five cases of suicide as a consequence of these hostilities. I am convinced that this is a general condition which will claim many more victims. One may regret that these unhappy people do not have greater inner strengthen to bear their misfortune. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.
Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself ‘Christian.’ For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to stop this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn’t the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors. And isn’t this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation?
We all, who are faithful children of the Church and who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer. We are convinced that his silence will not be able in the long run to purchase peace with the present German government. For the time being, the fight against Catholicism will be conducted quietly and less brutally than against Jewry, but no less systematically. It won’t take long before no Catholic will be able to hold office in Germany unless he dedicates himself unconditionally to the new course of action….” (Signed) Dr. Edith Stein
Edith Stein’s letter was written as the Reich Concordat was being negotiated by Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII, and Vice-Chancellor Franz Von Papen. The Concordat was signed in July, 1933. Her letter received no official reply from the Vatican, and it not known for certain whether Pius XI ever read it. Secretary of State Cardinal Pacelli, however, wrote a reply in German on the pope’s behalf and sent it to Edith Stein’s abbess, stating:
“With special thanks I have confirmed to Your Grace (the abbess) the reception of your kind letter of April 12 and the attached document (Edith Stein’s letter). I leave it to you to inform the sender (Edith Stein) in an opportune way that her letter has been dutifully presented to His Holiness (Pope Pius XI). With you, I pray to God that in these difficult times (God) may, in a special way, protect His Holy Church and grant all the children of the Church the grace of fortitude, and generous mentality, which are the presuppositions of our final victory. With the expression of my special estimation, and with my intimate wishes for the entire Archabbey, I am, Your Grace (the abbess), very devotedly, (Signed) Eugenio Pacelli.”
When Edith Stein was beatified in Cologne on May 1, 1987, the Church honored “a daughter of Israel,” said Pope John Paul II, “who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness.” Although canonized a saint, she died a Jewish martyr, not a Christian one. Sadly, her prophetic letter, written in 1933, was not heeded by the Vatican.