Edith Stein and Companions, On the Way to Auschwitz

Auschwitz and Catholic Jews | Dr. Ralph McInerny | Foreword to Edith Stein and Companions, On the Way to Auschwitz, by Father Paul Hamans

Once, in monasteries, religious houses, and seminaries, the Roman Martyrology was read in the refectory before meals. Each day some of those who had given their lives in witness to the faith were commemorated by name, and often the tortures they underwent were described. Each day’s entry ended with a sentence beginning “et alibi aliorum plurimorum sanctorum…. ” And elsewhere many other saints. … This tradition continues in some monasteries.

We may feel sad for all the anonymous martyrs gathered into that commodious final sentence, but that would be a mistake. They are all entered in the Book of Life, and the names of each are known to God. For all that, it is important for us, not for them, that the names and sufferings of some be explicitly known by us. The saints are put before us as models of the Christian life, and martyrs are the ultimate models. We need to know more about some of them.

In this remarkable book, Dr. Paul Hamans, Father Hamans, has undertaken the onerous task of compiling biographies, often accompanied by photographs, of many of the religious and laity who were rounded up from their various convents and monasteries and homes on the same day as Saint Edith Stein, August 2, 1942; most of them were taken to the Amersfoort concentration camp and from there put on trains to Auschwitz, where the majority, soon after their arrival at the camp, were gassed and buried in a common grave between August 9 and September 30, 1942. They were all Catholic Jews, and their arrest was in retaliation for the letter of the Catholic bishops of the Netherlands that was read from the pulpits of all churches on July 26, 1942.

Over the past few years, in striking contrast to contemporary acknowledgments and the magnificent book of Jewish theologian and historian Pinchas Lapide, many authors have accused the Church of silence during the Nazi persecution of the Jews. None of the counterevidence to this shameful thesis has had any effect on the critics. The experience of Jews in the Netherlands, particularly Catholic Jews, is eloquent witness of what could result from public condemnation of the Nazis. The victims whose stories are included in this book were told that they were rounded up in direct retaliation of the condemnation of the Nazi “final solution” by the Dutch bishops.

Elsewhere, as was once acknowledged and celebrated, the Church in many ways, and in many countries, provided the principal help to European Jews. Indeed, the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII, is credited by Lapide with saving the lives of some 860,000 Jews. These efforts were effective largely because they were not accompanied by noisy public declarations. With the appearance of the mendacious play of Rolf Hochhuth,The Deputy, in 1963, the tide turned, and a series of progressively more intemperate accusations against the Church and Pius XII began to appear. Some Jews reacted to mention of the non-Jewish victims of the Nazi persecution as if it were in some way an effort to diminish the tragedy that had befallen the Jewish people under the reign of Hitler. There were even objections from some Catholics when Edith Stein was canonized and characterized as a martyr. Their argument was that she was put to death as a Jew, not as a Catholic. And some sad souls objected to acknowledgment of what had happened to Catholic Jews like Edith Stein and her companions. This book is an indirect reply to such criticisms and will speak to all who have ears with which to hear.

That the ultimate sacrifice of the Catholic Jews arrested in the wake of the Dutch bishops’ protest should become a cause of controversy is a sad indictment of these last days. But it cannot touch the nobility and holy resignation with which they met their end. Pondering the people commemorated in this book should be an occasion, not for argument, but for edification. Father Hamans has put us in his debt for having taken on the enormous task of making them flesh-and-blood persons for his readers. During the ordeal, one nun wrote to her superior that they had all become numbers to their captors. Lists had been drawn up with diabolical bureaucratic efficiency by the Nazis, which is why the arrests were made so promptly.

Thanks to this book, they are no longer mere numbers. Like those mentioned in the Martyrology, their names have been restored. But, again, the importance of that is largely for us. They would have been content, like perhaps millions of others, with the collective mention of the army of martyrs in the Te Deum Laudamus:

Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.

Ralph McInerny
University of Notre Dame
September 2010


Edith Stein and Companions On the Way to Auschwitz

by Father Paul Hamans

• Also available as an E-Book

On the same summer day in 1942, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and hundreds of other Catholic Jews were arrested in Holland by the occupying Nazis. One hundred thirteen of those taken into custody, several of them priests and nuns, perished at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. They were murdered in retaliation for the anti-Nazi pastoral letter written by the Dutch Catholic bishops.

While Saint Teresa Benedicta is the most famous member of this group, having been canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1998, all of them deserve the title of martyr, for they were killed not only because they were Jews but also because of the faith of the Church, which had compelled the Dutch bishops to protest the Nazi regime. Through extensive research in both original and secondary sources, P.W.F.M. Hamans has compiled these martyrs’ biographies, several of them detailed and accompanied by photographs. Included in this volume are some remarkable conversion stories, including that of Edith Stein, the German philosopher who had entered the Church in 1922 and later became a Carmelite nun, taking the name Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Several of the witnesses chronicled here had already suffered for their faith in Christ before falling victim to Hitler’s “Final Solution”, enduring both rejection by their own people, including family members, and persecution by the so-called Christian society in which they lived. Among these were those who, also like Sister Teresa Benedicta, perceived the cross they were being asked to bear and accepted it willingly for the salvation of the world.

The speech that was never given

Below is the speech that was never given by Lech Kaczynski:

Image by Tomasz Walenta

Dear Katyn Families! Ladies and Gentlemen!

In April 1940 more that 21 thousand of Polish prisoners of war in KGB camps and prisons were murdered. This crime of genocide was carried out by the will of Stalin, on express orders of the supreme authorities of the Soviet Union. The alliance of the Third Reich and the USSR, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and the aggression against Poland initiated on the 17th September, 1939 found its terrifying culmination in the Katyn massacre. Citizens who formed the backbone of the Polish Republic’s civil society, unbending in their service to their country, were killed not only in the forests of Katyn but also in Twer, Kharkov and other known and still unknown massacre sites. Simultaneously, the families of the massacre victims as well as thousands of other civilians from the pre-war Eastern provinces of Poland were deported into the remote depths of the Soviet Union, where their untold sufferings signed the road of the Polish Golgotha of the East.

The most tragic station on this road was Katyń. Polish officers, clergymen, civil servants, policemen, border guards and prison officers were exterminated with neither hearings nor sentences. They were victims of a war that had never been declared. They were murdered in contravention of all laws and conventions of the civilized world. They were stripped of their dignity as soldiers, Poles and human beings.

Trenches of death were meant to conceal the bodies of the dead and the truth of the atrocity forever. The world was never to know. The families of the victims were denied the right to mourn in public or to weep and honor the memory of their loved ones. Earth covered all signs of the atrocity and lies were to erase it from human memory altogether.

Concealing the truth of Katyn – as part of the design of those who perpetrated this crime – became one of the fundamental tenets of Communist policy in post-war Poland: the founding lie of the People’s Republic of Poland. During its years, a very high price would be imposed for the very memory and truth of Katyń. However, the families and friends of those who had been murdered and other courageous people remained faithful to this memory, defended it and handed it down to the generations that followed. They preserved it through the whole period of successive Communist governments and then entrusted it to their countrymen in the new, free and independent Poland. We therefore owe our gratitude and utmost respect to all of them, especially the Katyń families. In the name of the Republic of Poland, I express my deepest thank you for having rescued such an important dimension of our Polish experience and identity through your defense of the memory of your loved ones.

Katyń became a painful wound of Polish history and poisoned relations between Poles and Russians for many decades to come. Let us allow the Katyń wound to finally close over and heal! We are on that road. As Poles, we appreciate the actions taken by Russians in the last few years. We should proceed on that road, which is bringing our two nations closer to one another. We must not stop or back-track.

All the facts of the Katyń crime must be exhaustively established and clarified. It is important that the innocence of the victims be legally confirmed and that all the documents pertaining to this atrocity be disclosed. That the Katyń liedisappear for ever from the public domain! We call for these actions first and foremost out of recognition for the memory of the victims and the suffering of their families. But we also call for these actions in the name of shared values which form the basis of trust and partnership between neighbouring nations throughout Europe.

Let us together pay homage to the murdered and let us pray for them. Praise to the heroes! Honour to their memory!