Quote of the day: 5 August

August 5

My dear ones,

A [Red Cross] nurse from [Amsterdam] intends to speak today with the Consul. Here, every petition [on behalf] of fully Jewish Catholics has been forbidden since yesterday. Outside [the camp] an attempt can still be made, but with extremely little prospect. According to plans, a transport will leave on Friday. Could you possibly write to Mère Claire in Venlo, Kaldenkerkeweg 185 [the Ursuline Convent] to ask for [my] manuscript [of the Science of the Cross] if they have not already sent it. We count on your prayers. There are so many persons here who need some consolation and they expect it from the Sisters.

In Corde Jesu, your grateful

B.

 

Saint Edith Stein
Letter 341 to Mother Ambrosia Antonia Engelmann, OCD, Echt
Drente-Westerbork Transit Camp, Barracks 36

5 August 1942


Who were “the Sisters” to whom Edith refers in her closing comment?

In Letter 340 to her prioress, Mother Ambrosia Antonia dated August 4, St. Teresa Benedicta states:

All the Catholics are together and in our dormitory, we have all the nuns (two Trappistines, one Dominican)… 

In our Quote of the Day for 3 August 2019, the eyewitness Dr. Lenig identified that there was a Trappist priest who offered Mass in the Camp; his six brothers and sisters who had all joined the same Order were with him.

Dr. Lenig, being Jewish, can be forgiven for not being aware of the difference between religious orders. The Trappistine abbey at Berkel-Enschot themselves confirmed that only two nuns were arrested on 2 August 1942: Mother Hedwigis (Lina Löb) and Mother Marie-Thérèse, also known as Theresia (Door Löb). The third sister was not a Trappist, but may have been Sister Judith Mendes Da Costa, who was from the Dominican community that managed the sanitarium Berg en Bosch in Bilthoven, Holland; she worked in administration there.

To learn more about the third Trappistine in the Löb family, Mother Veronika, O.C.S.O. (Wies Löb, Doors twin sister), who escaped deportation in August 1942 because she was ill with tuberculosis, consult the excellent research by Peter Steffen in Can a seamless garment be truly torn?: questions surrounding the Jewish-Catholic Löb family, 1881-1945.

Based upon Sr. Judiths journal from her years in Nazi internment, Steffen indicates that there were other religious in the camp, as well: this group of religious also included a postulant from the Good Shepherd Sisters, a Sacred Heart Sister, Sr. Miriam of the Franciscans of Saint Joseph (who was dressed as a nurse), and the Polish-German doctor,  Lisamaria Meirowsky,” who was a portress and doctor at the Trappistine Abbey (Steffen 2014, p. 423).

 

Westerbork barracks
Interior of prisoner barracks at the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands | The Holocaust Explained

 

Further, Sr. Judiths journal indicates that the two Carmelites and the two Trappistines kept to themselves in Barracks 36, creating a kind of cloistered environment of silence and seclusion, replicating their former way of life to every possible extent.

The Trappistines (Hedwigis and Theresia Löb) and the two Carmelites (Rosa and Edith Stein) stayed in their barrack, though, just as they had previously stayed within the enclosure of their monasteries. They got up quite early the next morning, as they were accustomed to in their monasteries, but they were not allowed to leave the barracks. Later they did some cleaning in the barracks and then in the afternoon they had to line up again for roll call (Steffen 2014, p. 424).

It was on the morning of August 5 that Edith, Rosa, and the Löb family learned their fate: they would all be sent to Auschwitz without reprieve.

The next morning, all the new arrivals had to report to the commandant. It was a really big group, and they all had to wait in a tiny little room until they were called, one by one, to go into the next room where they would find out whether or not they would be granted a reprieve or be put on transport. Many came out of that room disappointed, and there was already talk of all reprieves being rescinded. The Löb brothers and sisters were not granted a reprieve.

Edith Stein and her sister Rosa underwent the same fate as the Löbs. Sr. Judith saw Edith leaving the commandant’s small office: she looked “really pale but resigned, and she was still comforting her fellow sufferers.” Lucie Bromberg had contact with Edith Stein several times while they were in Westerbork and she regarded her as being really silent, calling her a “Pietà without a Christ” (Steffen 2014, pp. 424-425).

 

Pieta_Helen V. Mackay 1932
Pieta: Jesus Christ with outstretched legs supported by the Virgin Mary, Helen V. Mackay, 1932 | Wellcome Collection

 

STEFFEN, P. (2014). Can a seamless garment be truly torn?: questions surrounding the Jewish-Catholic Löb family, 1881-1945. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=4546377_0.
Excerpt from Edith Stein's Self-Portrait in Letters, 1916-1942, Sister Teresa
Benedicta of the Cross, Discalced Carmelite, translated by Josephine Koeppel
(The Collected Works of Edith Stein, vol. 5)
Copyright © 1993 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc. 
Published by ICS Publications, Washington DC

Quote of the day: 3 August

The testimony of Dr. Lenig

 

I met Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, known in the camp as Edith Stein, on the 2nd of August 1942, in the transit camp at Amersfoort, in barracks No. 9, if I am not mistaken.

[Nota Bene: Other sources clarified that Edith and Rosa arrived at Camp Amersfoort on August 3 after processing in Roermond]

On that Sunday all Catholics of Jewish, or partly Jewish, ancestry were arrested by the German hangmen’s helpers as a reprisal for a pastoral letter that had been read from the pulpits of all Dutch churches the previous Sunday. They were taken away and at first assembled at Amersfoort before being deported from there to the gas chambers and crematoria…

 

Amersfoort-Camp-entry
Entrance, Camp Amersfoort | faceme / Flickr

 

When your Sister, together with about three hundred men, women and children had been driven behind the barbed wire fence of the camp, they had to stand for hours on the barrack-square, where they could watch, just as a pleasant welcome, a roll call that had been in progress for two or three days. It was to punish the entire camp, so far as I rememberone of the starving internees who had “stolen” some dry bread that had been thrown away. That is to say, some of them were still standing, the rest had collapsed and were being variously mishandled to get them on their feet again.

Among those still standing I noticed an inflexible opponent of the Third Reich, Ministerial Director Dr. Lazarus, who, like the new arrivals, was a courageous and avowed Catholic. Nor can I forget how the day was one long series of kickings and beatings, although these were tolerable.

More upsetting was the condition of most of the women… It was at this moment that Edith Stein courageously showed her commitment.

It must be mentioned that, to begin with, all were released who had been brought in by mistake, Protestants, Greek (Bulgarian) Orthodox, etc., and then the monotony of camp life set in. Roll calls and nightly deportations.

With diligence, they read the Imitation of Christ that someone had smuggled in; a Trappist faithfully said Holy Mass for themhis six brothers and sisters who had all joined the same Order were with him [the Loeb family], all prepared for transport. Holy Communion was distributed diligently, and despite the harassment by the SS, every one of this flock destined for death steadfastly sang the Confiteor daily, until the last of them had gone their way…

 

Loeb Family Trappists Koningshoeven Abbey website
The martyrs of the Loeb family, Dutch Trappists who were deported from the Netherlands on the same date and in the same transport as Edith and Rosa Stein. Read the Trappist generalate’s tribute to the Loeb family martyrs here. | Photo credit: Koningshoeven Abbey

 

It was also very moving to see the response of this brave flock of believers when they heard that there were priests somewhere in the camp; immediately they gave up some of their meager rations, their tobacco, their money, etc., that were now useless to them but might help the priests to placate their torturers and so hope to experience the day of liberation.


 

Doctor Fritz Lenig  (Friedrich Moritz Levinsohn) was a native of Gelsenkirchen, Germany;  he was a physician, entrepreneur, and a refugee in the Netherlands like Edith, Rosa, and so many others. He had been arrested and was interned at Camp Amersfoort at the same time that the transport arrived carrying the Carmelite Stein sisters and the Trappist Loeb family, as well as the Dominican Sister Judith Mendes Da Costa and other Catholics of Jewish ancestry.

Saint Edith Stein’s first biographerher Cologne novice mistress and prioress Mother Teresia Renata Posselt, O.C.D.indicates that after the war the Sisters in Cologne, Echt, the friars at the Discalced Carmelite General Curia, as well as family and friends of Edith worldwide were anxiously searching for news of the whereabouts of Edith and Rosa. As far as the Order, family, and friends were concerned, the Stein sisters were still considered to be missing persons and everyone held out hope for their return:

“Neither the office of the Father General of the Carmelite Order in Rome, nor the relatives in America, nor the Carmelite convents in either Germany, Holland or Switzerland were able to discover any trace of them.”

An unexpected article published in l’Osservatore Romano at the Vatican in 1947 prompted a new flurry of activity and inquiries. Written in a very authoritative tone, the biographical article entitled “From Judaism to the University and Thence to Carmel” indicated that Edith and her sister were beaten, imprisoned, and then killed “either in a gas chamber or as some think, by being thrown down into a salt-mine.”

Mother Teresia Renata states that the source of the announcement was untraceable. Nevertheless, coming from a publication as authoritative as l’Osservatore Romano, the news item was reprinted in diocesan newspapers around the world despite errors in Sister Teresa Benedicta’s biography.

 

Mother Teresia Renata Posselt - Edith Stein Archiv
Mother Teresia Renata Posselt, O.C.D. | Edith Stein-Archiv

 

The Cologne Carmelites decided to send a circular letter, as is the custom of Discalced Carmelite nuns; except they decided to distribute thousands of copies across the globe to enlighten, edify, and correct any previous misstatements concerning Edith and Rosa.

As a direct result of the dissemination of that circular letter, the noted German physician, Professor Max Budde from Gelsenkirchen, contacted the nuns in Cologne to tell them that one of his friends from Gelsenkirchen days, Dr. Fritz Lenig was at Camp Amersfoort when Sr. Benedicta and Rosa arrived, but he had been able to escape death.

The nuns in Cologne wasted no time in contacting Dr. Lenig.

The excerpt published here presents the salient points of Dr. Lenig’s response to the inquiry from the Carmel of Cologne concerning the whereabouts of Edith and Rosa, in particular as it pertains to their arrival at Camp Amersfoort on the 3rd of August 1942.

 

Posselt, Teresia Renata. Edith Stein: The Life of a Philosopher and Carmelite (p. 212). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.
Judith Mendes da Costa - Yad Vashem photo
Sister Judith Mendes da Costa, OP
Judith Mendes da Costa - record detail
The Yad Vashem record of Sr Judith Mendes da Costa, OP

After the August 2 arrest of St. Edith and her sister Rosa Stein, the police van drove them from the Carmel of Echt to the police headquarters in Roermond, Holland. Later the same day, they were transported to the Amersfoort transit camp, arriving after midnight August 3.

On that Sunday, August 2nd, the Nazis rounded up about 300 Hebrew Catholics throughout Holland, bringing them to Amersfoort, from the north and the south of the country. The transport from Roermond in the south was composed of two police vans; the one in which St. Edith and Rosa traveled included six other female religious, also converted Jews. These included Sister Judith Mendes da Costa, a Dominican nun who was an administrator in the Dominican sanitarium Berg en Bosch in Bilthoven, Holland.

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