The Passion of Edith Stein: Camp Westerbork

so far I have been able to pray gloriously

At midday August 6, St. Edith Stein and the prisoners at Westerbork were stripped of their valuables, gold, silver, money, down to the smallest change, and were led to a huge wooden building to have their particulars registered. For the next four hours, they filed through the building from table to table filling in forms about their personal effects and circumstances. Incidentally, there was in the same building a kitchen, used on occasion for concerts.

After the registration was completed, each was photographed seated on a stool holding a slate in one hand on which his or her prison-number had been chalked. The sentiment of being in prison became overpowering at that moment.

Although the photos of St. Edith and Rosa Stein have not survived, these photos from Israel’s great Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, give us a clear idea of the indignity that they endured that day. That St. Edith was able to maintain a sense of “calmness and composure” through it all is a testament to veritable ‘grace under pressure’ in every sense of the term.

It was from Westerbork on August 6 that St. Edith wrote her last letter; it was addressed to her prioress at the Carmel of Echt, Mother Ambrosia Antonia, OCD. It reveals that Schwester Teresia Benedicta, who simply signed her letter with the familiar and affectionate, B. had no idea what the prisoners’ next destination might be, or exactly when they might depart, beyond “early tomorrow”. St. Edith, for all of her feminine genius and consummate scholarship, was caught completely unaware in this distressing situation. This gives us another clear indication of the cruel campaign of obfuscation and misinformation carried out by the National Socialists who operated Camp Westerbork. In her letter, St. Edith requests that personal items be sent:

J.M.

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 6, 1942

Dear Mother,

A Mother Superior from one of the convents arrived last evening with suitcases for her child and now offers to take some short letters along. Early tomorrow a transport leaves (Silesia or Czechoslovakia??).

What is most necessary: woolen stockings, two blankets. For Rosa all the warm underwear and whatever was in the laundry; for us both towels and wash cloths. Rosa also has no toothbrush, no Cross and no rosary. I would like the next volume of the breviary (so far I have been able to pray gloriously). Our identity cards, registration cards [as Jews], and ration cards.

A thousand thanks, greetings to all, Y.R.’s grateful child,

B.

<P.S.> 1 habit and aprons, 1 small veil

 

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For more information about conditions at Camp Westerbork, particularly as they concern Rosa and St. Edith Stein, confer the Association of Hebrew Catholics and Yad Vashem the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Learn more about Camp Westerbork conditions in general from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Holocaust Encyclopedia
Full text with annotations of Letter 342 to Mother Ambrosia is available from ICS Publications in the Collected Works of Edith Stein, vol. 5, Self-Portrait In Letters, 1916-1942

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