The Unknown Doctor Who Tried to Save Edith Stein

By Barb Ernster –

Saint_Edith_SteinSt. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is better known as Edith Stein, the famous German philosopher who was gassed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. Stein was born into a devout Jewish family and became an atheist at age 13. She was drawn to the Catholic Faith after reading the works of St. Teresa of Avila, and was baptized a Catholic in 1922.

An intellectual giant, she spent a number of years teaching, lecturing, writing and translating, becoming very well-known even after her conversion. Just a year after taking a position at the Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster in 1932, the Nazi Aryan law forced her to abandon teaching. She entered the Discalced Carmelite cloistered community at Cologne-Lindenthal in 1933, and received the Habit of Carmel on Easter Sunday, April 21, 1935.

Already in the early 1930s the Nazi government was on a mission to purify the German race. The Gestapo went to monasteries and religious orders to search out and arrest those with Jewish heritage. The increasing persecution made it dangerous for Stein and her sister, Rosa, also a Catholic convert, to stay in Germany.

In books and articles written about Stein, it is often mentioned that she was smuggled across the border to the Carmelite Convent in Echt, Holland. Germany had not yet invaded the Netherlands and it was assumed the two would be safe there. This happened on the night of New Year’s Eve, 1938, and the man who courageously sought to save her was Dr. Eric Eischhoff.

Eischhoff was a cousin to the father of Pat Loosen, a friend of the Blue Army who recently donated a 2nd class relic of Edith Stein to the National Blue Army Shrine. The relic is a piece of the wedding dress worn by Stein during her final Profession of Vows. Pat learned the story of Dr. Eischhoff from his daughter, Dorothy, who visited Pat at her home in Oklahoma in 1986. The two families had established a close relationship in Europe in 1954, and Pat stayed in contact with the Eischhoff daughters after their parents passed away.

As Dorothy Eischhoff related, her father was the personal surgeon to the Carmelite sisters in Cologne. He visited them monthly from his private practice just a block away to see if they needed medications or care. On one such occasion he came when the Gestapo was there to search for Jews. Edith Stein’s name would have been on the list from the University. Dr. Eischhoff, a Catholic, understood this and instinctively told the chief of the Gestapo that there was an epidemic at the cloister, so they left and said they would come back.

“He just happened to walk over that day. It was providential,” said Pat. “The cloistered nuns just lived the ancient rule of Teresa of Avila and would not have known about the fierceness of the Nazis. Dr. Eischhoff told Mother Superior that they needed to take Sister Benedicta out of there because the Gestapo would come back and search for her. That’s how he happened to be the one to take her and Rosa to Holland in 1938.”

The two were safe until 1942 when they were captured and taken to Auschwitz. Within a week they were killed in the gas chamber. Stein most famously said to Rosa, “Come, we are going for our people.”

A Small Tribute to Dr. Eischhoff

Dr. Eischhoff died in 1957, his story largely unknown. Pat learned of a plaque honoring him in a field near the hospital where the former convent stood.

“The nuns left Cologne after the bombings and there is an empty lot there now, but there is a metal plaque that says it is the former residence of the Carmelite of Cologne and Dr. Eric Eischhoff had assisted in getting Edith Stein out of the convent. There is also documentation from the nuns in Holland that detail how they tried to get Edith Stein into Switzerland, but the Gestapo interceded and took her away. She thought they were coming with her transfer papers. I don’t think she realized the amount of danger she was in even in Holland,” said Pat.

A Surprise Gift at Edith Stein’s Canonization

IMG_1772The second miracle which verified Edith Stein’s canonization was attributed to a young girl from Boston named after Stein. Two-year-old Teresa Benedicta McCarthy suffered irreparable liver damage after taking Tylenol by accident and would die without a transplant. The family began praying to Edith Stein, and on March 11, 1987 Teresa was suddenly cured. The head of pediatrics, a Jewish doctor, testified to the Congregation to the Causes of Saints that there was no way to explain her recovery.

Pat Loosen attended Stein’s canonization on October 11, 1998 while in Europe for a pilgrimage. She went early and was standing with some family members of Teresa Benedicta, not knowing who they were.

“One individual came over and we were talking about Edith Stein, and she had this authentic relic of her dress. I don’t know why it was given to me, but I had such a devotion to Edith Stein because of her courage and her natural gift of always seeking the truth. The Catholic Church provided her the answer.”

Pat gave the relic to the Blue Army Shrine, and had previously given a relic of the true Cross and a piece of the crown from the crucifixion. “I wanted them to have my relics because they will be appreciated and honored at the Shrine.”

The Blue Army Shrine is grateful for these gifts and for the intercession of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a humble and courageous woman who knew how to embrace the cross with great joy. Her feast day is celebrated on August 9.

“And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been,
and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons
you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is,
put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him.” Edith Stein

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  1. I love reading about saints and this story was a good one

  2. It is so uplifting to hear about saints living in our own time. We can learn so much about devotion to Jesus.

  3. Many thanks for the beautiful story of Edith Stein.

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