Rorate Caeli

Echt, August 2, 1942 - Sr. Benedicta is arrested with her sister
Her last letter: "Send me the next volume of the Breviary"

70 years ago, the crackdown on Jewish-born Catholic converts reached deep inside the silent walls of the Carmel of Echt (Limburg, Netherlands under German occupation). The new wave of persecution had been the swift response of the occupying forces to the public reading of the Pastoral Letter of the Dutch Episcopate (see previous post). 

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D., (known simply as Sr. Benedicta in her Carmel) had been trying, in a brave and Christian way, to protect herself and her sister, who had joined her in Echt, from what seemed inevitable - she had already managed to secure them places in Carmelite houses in Switzerland. But the order of events overwhelmed her plans.

From the biography provided by the General House of the Discalced Carmelites:


The Cross was at the centre of Edith's whole spiritual life. But particularly as the persecution of the Jews grew daily in intensity, at the Carmel of Echt she placed herself unconditionally at the foot of the Cross. On Passion Sunday 1939 she sought permission to offer herself "to the Sacred Heart as a victim of expiation for true peace". On June 9 she wrote her Last Testament, ending with the words: "From now on I accept the death God has reserved for me, joyfully and with perfect submission to his most holy Will. I pray the Lord to accept my life and death to his honour and praise.... as expiation for the unbelief of the Jewish people". ...

What caused the sudden explosion of hate, and the plan to exterminate the Dutch Jews, was the Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Jong of Utrecht, read in all the churches of Holland on July 26, 1942. It voiced the Church's protest against the deportation of Jews. The reaction of the SS. was immediate. All baptised Jews, priests and religious sisters of Jewish origin, were arrested and sent to the concentration camp. Among them were Edith and Rosa. Two SS officials arrived at the monastery of Echt, giving Sister Benedicta only five minutes to get ready. ...

In the night of August 2-3, the sisters arrived at Amersfort dispersal camp. Then during the night of August 3-4 the Jewish prisoners with many others were moved to Westerbork camp, set in a district completely uninhabited in the north of Holland. From here Edith was able to send a note to the Prioress of Echt Carmel, through the mother of a religious sister who had arrived at the camp with luggage for her daughter. Dated August 6, the note was a brief request for woollen stocking and two blankets, and some woollen clothes for Rose. Particularly relevant was the final sentence, "Tomorrow a convoy is to leave for Silesia or Czechoslovakia??"


The last letters written by Sr. Benedicta show her concerns during the last weeks of her life, including in her days of confinement in deportation camps in the Netherlands.


Letter to the Prioress of Carmel Le Paquier, Switzerland

Echt, July 24, 1942

My dear Reverend Mother,

Today we received your good letter. I thank you with all my heart for being willing to accept me as a member of your dear family—yours and that of all my dear sisters. I am unable to tell you how touched I am by your goodness and even more that of the Good God. You will understand it even better after you have heard the history of our lives and that of our family. We will now see if it is possible to get permission to leave the Netherlands. But it will probably take much time—months I suppose. I shall have to be content with such a promise.

Our dear Reverend Mother and my sister Rosa will add a few lines. Again, a thousand thanks, my dear Reverend Mother, and the expression of my respectful love in Jesus Christ. 

Your very little and humble, unworthy,

Sr.Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, OCD
_____________________________________ 



Letter to Auguste Perignon, a former teaching colleague in Speyer, Germany 

J.M.

Echt, July 29, 1942

Pax Christi! 

Sincere thanks for your kind note. R.I.P. for your dear brother. You will be grateful that he has found release. Since you are informed about us, I need only tell you the latest: Switzerland wishes to open its doors to my sister Rosa and myself, since the only cloistered monastery in our Order in that country — Le Paquier in the Canton Fribourg – will receive me, and a Convent of the Third Order Carmelites an hour away, my sister. The two houses have certified, to the aliens’ office of the police, that they will provide for us for our lifetimes. The big question remains: will we be given permission here to leave (the country). In any case, it will probably take a long time. I would not be sad if it did not come. After all, it is no slight matter to leave a beloved monastic family the second time. But I will accept whatever God arranges. Will you please tell them in Speyer and Kordel about this and ask for prayers?

To you and all who continue to think of me, cordial greetings. 

In Corde Jesu, your
Teresa Benedicta a Cruce
_____________________________________ 



Letter to her Prioress at the Echt Carmel

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 4, 1942

Dear Mother and Sisters,

During the past night we left the transit-station A. [Amersfoort] and landed here early this morning. We were given a very friendly reception here. They intend to do everything possible to enable us to be freed or at least that we may remain here.* [*In the margin at this point in the letter is written, “Aug. 5: Is no longer possible.”]

All the Catholics are together and in our dormitory we have all the nuns (two Trappistines, one Dominican), Ruth [Kantorowicz], Alice [Reis], Dr. [Lisamaria] Meirowsky, and others are here. Two Trappist fathers from T. [Tilburg, Holland] are also with us. In any case, it will be necessary for you to send us our personal credentials, our ID cards, and our ration cards. So far we have lived entirely on the generosity of others. We hope you have found the address of the Consul and have been in touch with him. We have asked many people to relay news to you. The two dear children from Koningsbosch [Annemarie and Elfriede Goldschmidt] are with us. We are very calm and cheerful. Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within. Sincerest greetings to all. We will probably write again soon.

In Corde Jesu, your B.

When you write, please do not mention that you got this.
Rosa Stein

[Enclosed with this letter was a note to the Carmel from her sister Rosa and a message to the Swiss Consulate in Amsterdam that said, “Enable us as soon as possible to cross the border. Our monastery will take care of travel expenses.”]
_____________________________________  



Letter to her Prioress at the Echt Carmel

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 5 (1942)

My dear Ones, 

A R.C. [Red Cross] nurse from A. [Amsterdam] intends to speak today with the Consul. Here, every petition 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 [August 7]. Could you possibly write to Mother Claire in Venlo, Kaldenkerkeweg 185 [the Ursuline Convent] to ask for our manuscript [of The Science of the Cross] if they have not already sent it. We count on your prayers. There are so many persons who need some consolation and they expect it from the Sisters.

In Corde Jesu, your grateful

B.
_____________________________________  



Letter to her Prioress at the Echt Carmel

JM

Drente-Westerbork, Barracks 36, August 6, 1942

Dear Mother,

A Mother Superior from one of the convents arrived last evening with suitcases for her child and now offers to take some short letters along. Early tomorrow a transport leaves (Silesia or Czechoslovakia??).

What is most necessary: woolen stockings, two blankets. For Rosa all the warm underwear and whatever was in the laundry; for us both towels and wash cloths. Rosa also has no toothbrush, no Cross and no rosary. I would like the next volume of the breviary (so far I have been able to pray gloriously). Our identity cards, registration cards, and ration cards.

A thousand thanks, greetings to all, 
Y.R.’s grateful child,
B.

[P.S.] 1 habit and aprons, 1 small veil.

This was Sr. Benedicta's last letter.

[Online source for the letters, corrected or streamlined when needed: Why I am a Catholic blog]

11 comments:

Romanitas said...

Sr Benedicta's concern for Rosa's devotion in the last letter particularly strikes me as a exposition of the nun's sanctity. Ora pro nobis, Soror Benedicta!

Erik said...

A great Saint of the Catholic Church. Does anyone know if the SSPX recognizes her canonization? I believe they recognize Saint Maximillian Kolbe, Saint Padre Pio, but I wasn't sure where they stood with her canonization as they reject other ones done since Vatican II. It doesn't really make sense to me to accept some but reject others which were all publically solemnized by the Church.

OnEaglesWings said...

Whom the SSPX recognize and whom not is not the point... the goal of the Church is not to get caught up in evaluating every case presented either... thus it should not become a preoccupation of the SSPX.

The saintly example of Sr Benedicta is what we all need to take to heart; be ready to meet our Maker at a monent's notice. Indeed, death often comes like a "thief" day or night.

R-C thanks for sharing this particular true story.

Sr Benedicta's handling of the matter is most praiseworthy! Dear sister, pray for us!

Unknown said...

Unlike a beatification, a canonization is an infallible act. The SSPX has no choice but to accept them.

poeta said...

Not to go too far off topic, but the SSPX have expressed reservations about the canonization of Josemaria Escriva, on the grounds that the traditional infallibility of canonizations was protected by the adversarial process. The office of Promotor Fidei ("devil's advocate") was abolished in 1983, making subsequent canonizations questionable in the eyes of the SSPX.

Malta said...

Very profound! I don't know how you guys at Rorate find these inspiring pieces, but thanks for the thankless work you do!

Jordanes551 said...

The adversarial process is not necessary for canonisation to be infallible. If it were, the process of canonisation could never have changed over the centuries and should have been invented in the earliest days of the Church.

Prof. Basto said...

I don't know how you guys at Rorate find these inspiring pieces, but thanks for the thankless work you do! .

I second that.

Crouchback said...

Moved to tears.......

St Benedicta and companions Pray for us.

NBW said...

Thank you for the post on Sr. Benedicta.

Ora pro nobis Sr. Benedicta.

Texana said...

NC,
Thank you for this post!St Benedicta is so dear and caring in the worst of times. Could we please pray in some way for the Christians in Syria, Libya, and Iraq who are facing death through torture and massacres? My heart breaks for them and for the descecration of their churches at the hands of those supported by our taxdollars.
No need to post my comments--just wanted to ask for a way to join our prayers. God bless.