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.
University of Notre Dame
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.