WHO REMEMBERS ABOUT EDYTA STEIN?

AGNIESZKA BUGAŁA

In the former camp Auschwitz-Birkenau there is no trace of Edyta Stein, no visible information that the patron of Europe St. Teresa Benedykta of the Cross, a Jewish woman, was gassed to death in one of camp chambers and burnt in a crematory oven. – On the area of the Remembrance Place, there is no tablet devoted to Edyta Stein – says Bartosz Bartyzel, a press spokesman of the Museum.

Let’s begin from the end

Writing: www.auschwitz.org/muzeum/informacja-o-wiezniach/imieniainazwiska Edyty Stein in a search engine, we receive two laconic pieces of information: a birth date and what means of transport she arrived at the camp by, assuming transport letters from Westerbork as the basis.

Edyta was arrested on 2 August 1942 together with her sister Róża. Deportation took place in the worst sanitary conditions, in hunger, in closed wagons in which latches were opened only on the railway ramp in front of the crematorium. On 9 August 1942 she was murdered in a gas chamber. She did not even receive a camp ID number.

When SS-men were leading sisters out of their convent, Edyta said to Róża: ‘Come, let’s go to suffer for our nation’. Till today a lot people have been wondering whom she had in her mind: the Jews or the Germans?

Lubliniec remembers

In Lubliniec the 10th jubilee anniversary of giving the patronage of St. Teresa Benedykta of the Cross to the town was celebrated. In the town there is a Society named Edyta Stein and also: schools of her name, a parish church and a museum. Despite the fact that Edyta was the only child of eleven children of the Stein family….she was not born in Lubliniec. What connected the saint with the town? Her childhood and holiday spent there – portraits of her grandma Adelheid Courant, a big rich house and an iron shop attached to it. Many brothers and sisters, whose names she was learning by heart. A cupboard with drawers full of raisins, almonds and bitter chocolate. Laughter, jokes. Her grandpa’s face full of tenderness and goodness. But, although she had spent only her holiday here, there were searches of traces of her.

In 1984 the late Fr. Jan Urbaczka began to organize meetings and retreats in the church of St. Mikołaj, about life of Edyta and her relations with the town. He was looking for people who remembered the Courant family, awakened and encouraged some people to act, and today a tablet with a photo of Edyta, in her Carmelite habit, greets visitors arriving at the town, as well as information that the patron of this place is St. Teresa Benedykta of the Cross. The custodian of remembrance about Edyta is Mr. Sylwin Bechcicki – it was him who showed me all places years ago, being related to Edyta and her family.

23 years of everyday life

But it is Wrocław which is related to Edyta the most. A few addresses – after her father’s death, the family of the saint was still moving home, when mum of August was trying to cope with poverty. A nineteen-century tenement house at 38 Nowowiejski Street, which was a property and a house of the Stein in the years 1910 – 39, and after long efforts it became a headquarter of the Society named Edyta Stein (from the initiative of people gathering around Fr. Jerzy Witko SDB), as it was only at the end of a long list. Schools which she attended, university, a synagogue at Włodkowice, addresses of her friends, finally her youth – an exceptional time, struggles, decisions, prayers in the church of St. MIchał Archanioł and reluctance to the synagogue. A tram stop at the corner of the Streets Nowowiejski and Wyszyński, where she got on a tram to go to the railway station and from there to her new house, a monastery in Koln – in order not to return to Wrocław anymore. All this is remembered by tenement houses in Wrocław, worn out stairs of the university building, niches in windows and ‘a wide, straight Domstrasse’ (Katedralna Street).

Who remembers ‘the princess’?

‘An old grey building at the Oder (recently painted yellow ‘in the style of the epoch’) became dear to me soon. In the free time, having found an empty lecture hall, I used to like to sit on one of wider window boards, fulfilling deeper niches in the wall, and I used to work there. From that height I could look at the river and the university bridge, which was abuzz with life, and it seemed to me that I was a princess in a castle’ – Edyta Stein wrote about the Wrocław University in the ‘Autobiography’.

But Wrocław did not proclaim Edyta Stein a patron of Europe, its patron. It did not indicate routes of visiting places related to her (like tiny Lourdes which marked traces of St. Beradetta), and in the whole city there are only three tablets: in the building of the University, on Nowowiejski Street and at the entrance to the church of St. Michał Archanioł. The website of the Wrocław University does not boast with its prominent student, writing data of Edyta in the search machine does not being any results. There is no parish church under invocation of her in the big archdiocese of Wrocław. Even a small street named Edyta since 1989 has been marked with the tablets of invalid information: Beatified Edyta Stein, although it will have been 20 years since the canonization soon. Clerks explain that they will not change the name not to expose inhabitants to extra expenses of changing data in documents. Despite the fact that this is one of the shortest streets in the city….

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 31/2018 (5 VIII 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl