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Edith Stein

Edith Stein, after her reception into the Carmelite Order Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942), canonized under the latter name in 1988, was a philosopher, feminist, Carmelite nun, and martyr who died at Auschwitz.

Stein was born October 12, 1891 in Breslau, Silesia, (Germany), now Wroclaw, Poland into an Orthodox Jewish family. In 1904 she renounced that faith and became an atheist. At the University of Göttingen, she became a student of Edmund Husserl, whom she followed to the University of Freiburg as his assistant. In 1916, she received her doctorate of philosophy there with a dissertation under Husserl "On The Problem of Empathy". She then became a member of the faculty in Freiburg.

While she had earlier contacts with Roman Catholicism, it was her reading the autobiography of the mystic St. Theresa of Avila on a holiday in 1921 that caused her conversion. Baptized on January 1, 1922, she gave up her assistantship with Husserl to teach at a Dominican girls' school in Speyer (1922-1932). While there she translated into German St Thomas Aquinas' De veritate (On Truth) and familiarized herself with Roman Catholic philosophy in general. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Münster, but anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazi government forced her to resign the post in 1933.

She entered the Carmelite convent at Cologne in 1934 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. There she wrote her metaphysical book Endliches und ewiges Sein which tries to combine the philosophies of Aquinas and Husserl.

To avoid the growing Nazi threat, her order transferred her to the Carmelite convent at Echt in the Netherlands. There she wrote Studie über Joannes a Cruce: Kreuzeswissenschaft ("The Science of the Cross: Studies on John of the Cross").

However, she was not safe in the Netherlands--on July 26, 1942 Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest of all non-Aryan Catholics there. Edith and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.

Pope John Paul II beatified her on May 1, 1987 and canonized her on October 11, 1998, thus turning her into a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.