23rd October 1998
Foul taste over a Jewish ‘saint’
As the SS led her from her convent in occupied Holland on August 7, 1942, she told her sister, Rosa: “Come. We are going on behalf of our people.”
Two days later she was killed in one of Auschwitz’s four 6000-capacity gas chambers, along with 693 other Catholic Jews.
In her own heart and in the eyes of the Nazis, Edith was a Christian who remained a Jew. When she spoke of “our people” she was not referring to Catholics. When she was killed it was not solely for warning Pope Pius XII of the impending Holocaust – it was for being born Jewish.
The Pope took his warning, not from her words but from her death. He saw what happened to people who did not fear the Nazis sufficiently, and throughout the war he remained respectfully fearful. There was no disapproval at the Vatican until Hitler was dead.
Edith Stein had not been fearful or respectful. The 51-year-old Carmelite nun who was born in Breslau on Yom Kippur had united Protestant and Catholic churchmen in protests against the mass deportation of Dutch Jews to the death camps. She had pleaded for an audience at the Vatican – and been refused. She had demanded a papal encyclical, or holy press release, to attack the Nazis – and been refused.
As she called out “on behalf of our people” to Rosa, Edith Stein knew she was not being persecuted as a Catholic martyr.
But a Catholic martyr is what the Vatican has made her.
Edith Stein has been canonised, declared a saint, in a process which began with her beatification just 11 years ago, in 1987. That is quick work, even by the standards of Pope John Paul II, who has created more saints than any of his predecessors this century. A single miracle has been credited to her – the healing of a terminally ill two-year-old in Boston whose mother prayed to Edith Stein. The Vatican is not inclined to go into detail about such things, but it is hard to believe that the mother did nothing except pray to Edith Stein. So the miracle may not be entirely Edith’s.
For a dying child to regain life is marvellous. For this marvel to be cynically seized upon, and assigned as a Regulation Sanctifying Miracle, leaves a foul taste.
The requirement for miracles is treated like an entrance exam for candidates to the sainthood. Edith Stein was ushered past the examining board like an Oxford undergraduate whose father is an old friend of the Vice-Chancellor.
But the taste gets fouler. Two weeks before Edith got her wings, Alojsije Stepinac, wartime Archbishop of Zagreb, started out to sit the same examination: the Vatican beatified him. Stepinac died under house arrest in Argentina 30 years ago, a convicted Nazi collaborator who allegedly smuggled gold from the teeth of concentration camp victims.
The Vatican says Stepinac was framed by Tito. It also claims he was murdered, by poison slipped into his tea, which means he can be declared a martyr. Being a martyr scores the same points as a miracle. Stepinac, who fled to Argentina on a Red Cross passport supposedly supplied by Rome, is well on his way to sainthood.
Edith Stein was a convinced Christian, a remarkably intelligent woman whose deep study of theology and philosophy had caused her to renounce Judaism. No one should try to foist her old religion upon her. She died declaring that she wanted to carry the cross of Christ, meaning she wanted to shoulder the sins of the world – including the sins of any Nazis who repented. By her beliefs, she died to save people like Alojsije Stepinac.
But she did not die for the political convenience of the Vatican in the Nineties. Her memory has been manipulated by a world power which failed to protest when millions were being murdered – which failed to protest even when Edith Stein was taken from her convent.
The word ‘saint’ has become debased. A better word exists for Edith. It is simply ‘Good’.
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