Tuesday, August 9, 2011
August 9 -- Feast of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
I visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC last week. It is, of course, a stunning achievement as a museum, irrespective of one's interest in the subject. [Aside: The American Indian Museum of the Smithsonian wound up being the best museum experience, though the American History Museum had more material that interested me than any other. The Holocaust Museum ran a close second in both categories.]
You might have guessed by now that Saint Teresa Benedicta was a victim of the Holocaust. If so, you guessed correctly. Which, if she had wanted to extend her earthly life, was more than Saint Teresa did.
First, she was born Jewish (Edith Stein), but converted to Catholicism. She had found Judaism unsatisfying as a teenager, but did not immediately jump to another religion. Instead, she studied philosophy and phenomenology, earning a doctorate in 1916 at age twenty-five. Sometime after that, witnessing the strong faith of some Catholics she knew, that she began reading about Catholicism. She "read herself into the faith," which I guess means that she had learned about the beliefs (pursued the Catechism) without instruction from anyone. Impressive, but she did have a doctorate in philosophy. She was baptized in 1922.
Now this was the first of what I'll call guessing wrong. Faith, of course, should rate higher than safety, so I'm not REALLY saying she was wrong to become a Catholic. And 1922 was eleven years out of Hitler's elevation to Chancellor, so she'd have to have been pretty savvy to see that coming, but jumping from Jewish to Catholic would hardly prove a good way to get out of the Nazis' cross-hairs.
Okay, so much for her first guess. She became a Carmelite nun and taught in both Speyer and Munich, but the anti-Jewish laws forced her to resign both positions. Sensing something in the wind, she fled in 1938. Okay, she might have bolted a little earlier, but nuns are obedient and stay where they are assigned, so she didn't so much flee as leave when she was reassigned to.... the Netherlands.
You can guess the rest as easily as she probably did. Gaffled after the Netherlands got rolled, she was sent to Auschwitz with her sister Rose, where she was murdered and cremated.
Posted by Tom Major at 4:00 AM