Wacław Długoborski

Edith Stein’s Political Activism 1918–1919

“We are at a turning point in spiritual life’s development and we should not complain that this crisis is lasting longer than it suits some,” wrote Edith Stein to her sister on 6 July 1918. “You can also sense it in political and social battles where the clashing reasons differ completely from the catchwords and slogans which people relate to them. Good and evil, discernment and error are mixing in all directions,” but she closes the letter optimistically, “I am convinced that the course of events… will bring an auspicious ending.”1 Did she have in mind some other plans to “improve the world,” including, at the forefront, the increasingly popular (even in Germany) Bolshevik plan, or the situation on the war fronts, which still gave centralized nation-states some kind of hope at that time? In the middle of June 1918, the Austrian Piave Offensive got underway. A month later the Germans initiated their Marne Offensive. This was no longer a time when the Steins marked their maps with flags (as in 1914), charting the progress of German armies waiting until they “enter” Paris. That enthusiasm had long since ebbed, society was just as tired as the soldiers. Everyone was awaiting the end of the war, although they realized that it would not be as triumphal for Germany as it still seemed possible at the beginning of the year, after peace treaties were forced upon the Russians and the Romanians. Similar opinions were held by politicians such as Walter Rathenau, whose famous article “Sicherungen” Edith recommended to Erna as worthy reading.2

Rathenau, a lawyer of Jewish extract, an economist and philosopher, cocreator of the AEG corporation’s might as one of its directors and shareholders, was a representative of the state and army in matters related to the war economy. Because of his responsibilities in that position as a colleague of Hindenberg and Ludenforff he had to unambiguously inform them during July of 1918 that the entry of the United States into the war gave the Allies such an enormous material advantage that the Germans had no chance of finishing the war victoriously. This subtle intellectual and patron of the arts, who found spare time to attend the theatre and to write theatre reviews in the midst of a maelstrom of official activities, was aware – in a way perhaps unique among all the figures of the establishment of the time – that in the face of the coming calamity Germany needed not only economic renewal, but also political renewal. A remedy was needed for the coming time of increasing social crises, something that would alleviate the bipartisan party division by strengthening the stream of democratic-leftist politics at the expense of national-liberal politics, thereby creating a third power which could in some measure become an equal of the social-democratic party.

During the period leading up to the War, both established political currents were losing their relevance. Whereas during the eighties of the XIX century they both gained nearly 20 percent during elections to the Reichstag. During the elections of 1907 and 1912 they gained not much more than 10 percent. This was especially acute in the case of the democratic-leftists, who fractured into two different parties. Rathenau wanted to change this state of affairs, especially because of the challenges faced by the government and society as a result of the military crisis. There were many challenges, such as the loss of colonies, territorial losses on the eastern and western borders of the country, the threat of post-war reparations, partial demilitarization, the one-sided burdening of the country for the outbreak of war, and blaming of the army for wartime atrocities. Along with the pastor Friedrich Naumann – who had been popular before the war, even in worker milieux – who argued in his book Demokratie und Kaisertum: Ein Handbuch für innere Politik for what we would now call a welfare-state, Rathenau strove to concentrate all liberal power around the Demokratischer Volksbund.3 Its aims were presented by Rathenau and Naumann on 16 November 1918 in Berlin. They were accompanied by speakers such as Ernst Troeltsch, the author of the famous The Ideas of 1914 (which Edith Stein read enthusiastically at the beginning of the war) and the leader of the Christian worker-unions, Adam Stegerwald.4

Their initiatives coincided with similar initiatives by Theodor Wolff, the editor-in-chief of the liberal Berliner Tagesblat, who on the same day announced a manifesto for a new liberal party the Deutsche Demokratischer Partei (DDP), signed by, among others, people like Otto Nuschke and Hjalmar Schacht (whose later political fates differed wildly). Neither the Volksbund nor the Deutscher Demokratische Partei succeeded in most of their attempts to gain the support of big names like Albert Einstein, however, the DDP got Max Weber on their side, but he died a year and a half later.5 After much hesitation, Rathenau also joined them, and above all Naumann who was shortly designated as their chairman (but he died even sooner than Weber, in the summer of 1919). Furthermore, many parliamentarians of the Liberal-Democratic faction of the recently dissolved Reichstag, along with several parliamentarians of the National-Liberal fraction also joined them.6 The majority of them however, under the leadership of Gustav Stresemann, reformulated their old formation, and de facto kept German liberalism fractured. This was especially painful for the DDP in Lower Silesia and Breslau where both liberal parties gained roughly the same amounts of votes (Stresemann 137,6 thousand votes – 15,3 percent; Democrats 139,2 thousand – 15,5 percent).7

The founding meeting of the Democratic Party in Breslau took place on 12 December 1918, three weeks after the founding congress in Berlin. Its executive committee included, among others, Fräulein Dr Stein.8 Her mother also joined the party, as did her sister Erna, and after his return from Russia – although after some hesitation – Erna’s fiancé, Hans Biberstein. “In Germany he encountered two political parties: the republican and the imperial… he couldn’t understand why nobody wanted to belong to the latter.” Yet, he had to follow in the footsteps of his fiancée and his future mother-in-law, “because by expressing support for the political Right, he could not, as a Jew, count on any sympathy.”9 Edith Stein also might have entertained hesitations, because she underwent a curious political evolution during her university studies. She recalled, “At home we only read liberal newspapers, which was supposed to counterbalance the official gung-ho patriotism served up in school.”10 Then come the famous, oft-cited sentences, “I was liberating myself from liberal ideas in which I grew up and I came to a positive view of the state, close to conservatism, however, I still stayed away from the particular brand of Prussian conservatism.”

She felt, “gratitude for the state,” which gave (also to Jews), “an academic right of citizenship, which ensured… a free access to humanist studies,” and also privileges that went along with a student identity card. She also valued, “the loving care of the state for its distinguished children,” which awakened in her the wish to “pay back the nation and state later through her professional work.”11 We should add that it would be a sacrificial service if the country should happen to be in a state of war. Edith and many of her Jewish female friends volunteered as nurses, or even expressed readiness to work in wartime industry. Jewish male students and academics willingly joined the army, which German society saw as the crowning achievement of the process of assimilation, opening up what Stefan Zweig called “A Golden Age of Security” for Jews in Germany.12 At the beginning of the war in this “Golden Age” there was even an expedited granting of German citizenship to Jews from Russia and from those parts of Poland still under its control who volunteered for the Army.13

And yet this golden age had its shadows and boundaries. What’s more, the sacrifice of the blood of Jewish soldiers and officers quickly fell from memory and was replaced with an accusation against “Jews and Marxists” who were blamed for Germany’s calamities, the well-known stab-in-theback legend (Dolchstoßlegende), about which Hans Biberstein would later complain. And yet, he was one of the Jews, who like his fiancée and Edith, profited from the riches of the “Golden Age.” This Age protected Germany from an excessive influx of Jews from the “East” by erecting hardships in the way of people who wanted to become citizens of the Reich even if they met all the criteria, and also, or especially, where naturalization depended (as in Breslau) on the opinion of local German Jews. Naturalized Jews coruled Breslau thanks to a three-tiered Prussian electoral law giving their representatives (even though they made up only six to seven percent of the population) the possibility of designating 30–40 percent of the electors, along with the possibility of filling up more than 30 percent of the seats in the city council. They constituted the richest group of citizens with an average annual income of 5,2 thousand Marks, while for Protestants it only reached 1,5 thousand Marks, whereas for Catholics, not much above 1 thousand Marks.14 Among the richer Jews, a striving to ensure higher education for their children was noticeable. There was a passing from Wirtschaftsbügertum to Bildungsbürgertum, which meant in simpler terms, a passing from the bourgeoisie to the intelligentsia. As Hannah Arendt stresses, the sons of wealthy Jews, “deserted their fathers’ careers for the liberal professions or purely intellectual pursuits they had not been able to afford a few generations before,” thus in Germany and Austria, “the birth of a Jewish intelligentsia, now proceeded at a fantastic pace.”15

The Stein family was also part of this trend. When Augusta, a widow, put her husband’s former wood-selling business back on its feet, that made it possible for her two youngest children, Erna and Edith, to graduate from an elite lycée (Viktoriaschule) and take up higher studies. We should add that in their and the remaining three elite lycées of Breslau, children from Jewish families constituted 35 to 45 percent of students during the 80’s of the 19th century. This percentage only began to decrease during the first years of the 20th century.16 How many young Jews were able to gain a higher education thanks to their parents’ wishes, how much it was tied to striving to rise in the social ranks and counteract anti-Semitic stereotypes, finally, how much of it had to do with the tradition of “intellectualism” rooted in Judaism is hard to judge. It is also hard to work out which of the factors played a role in Edith Stein’s life, together with her clear ambition to lead and shine in all the circles in which she participated. “I was not used to being hurried by anyone. At home nobody dared stand up to me. My female friends surrounded me with love and admiration.”17 Within her family she was seen as someone “who did not handle setbacks well.”18 It seems to me that these were qualities which weighed on her assessment of her own political activities. Humility only came with her conversion to Catholicism.

Edith began her studies in Breslau, but it was only in Göttingen, thanks to Adolf Reinach (who perished November 1917 in Flanders) that her indisputable philosophical talents began to shine. She was known for her “ease in apprehending and unique ability to penetrate others,” to “understand them immediately,” but also for her love of history, which she almost picked as her course of study in Breslau. This is because history as an academic discipline was tied together with, “her great desire to participate in the political events of the present as in a history which is forming itself.”19 Let’s remember this calling. Did she not treat her engagements in the DDP a bit like a laboratory of social-political experiences, and therefore, not very seriously? On the other hand, she treated her attitude toward the Prussian state seriously; both the Prussia of the past, of the Friedrichs and Bismarck, and contemporary Prussia – she considered herself to be its subject. In Breslau she attended lectures about the history of Germany between 1763 and 1806, which were critical of its main protagonist, Friedrich the Great. They were taught by the young, “sharp and cutting,” as Edith put it, thirty-year-old Johannes Ziekursch (1876–1945) who had National-Democratic convictions. He came from a generation that was proud of “the new German nation in which they grew up,” yet their attitude differed from, “a blind divinization of the prevailing conditions and the narrowness of the Prussian point of view.”20 He practiced a historiography which debunked the so-called “Legend of Friedrich” by attacking it in its weakest points: the politics of the ruler toward the Silesian bourgeoisie and toward Silesian peasants – in books that have managed to retain their scholarly worth.21

Should we assume that Edith Stein belonged to this National-Liberal intellectual formation, proud of modern Prussia, yet critical toward its past? The same Edith who probably felt a certain satisfaction when she found out that Ziekursch, her former professor, was, together with her, part of the fifty-person political committee of the DDP in Breslau.22 Then, toward the end of 1918, did she change her position toward Prussia? Was her doubt planted by a different distinguished historian, the Anglophile and Prussophobe, Max Lehmann? Edith shone for him with a paper on the programs of German parties in the Parliament of 1849 which Lehman was ready to take as her thesis. Lehmann had the aura of a former student of Leopold von Ranke, whose memory and work Edith treasured. She said that she was “proud,” that thanks to Lehmann, “she became a spiritual grandchild of Ranke.” Yet he antagonized her with his anti-Prussian attitudes. “Since every one-sidedness rouses me to render justice to the other side… thus I became aware of the nature of being Prussian and reinforced my sense of being Prussian.”23

Did this mean that Edith moved from the nationalist-liberal position toward conservatism? I think it does. This is attested to by her attitude toward the Prussian state during the war: she praised the concept of Mitteleuropa. She was for the economically integrative version of Mitteleuropa as expounded by Bethmann, Hollweg and Rathenau, all of whom she read. She was against the expansionist tendencies of Heinrich Class and the Pan-German League who emphasized the future German settling of the East.24 The Act of 5 November 1916 was welcomed by Edith as a substantial step toward solving the Polish question and gave her hope for postwar reforms thanks to which “my dear Prussia will become more German and at the same time… more Central European.” She was enchanted by the Prussian state, “and its self-conscious nation, which is disciplined in its actions.” She also expressed trust in the German government, “which through focus and humility is trying to discern where the course of events in the world is heading.” This was coupled with an anti-American philippic against Wilson’s pronouncements from December 1916.25 She extended her aversion to American democracy to other Western democracies (with perhaps the sole exception of Britain) all of which will find expression in her postwar work about the state (1922),26 which drew inspiration from authoritarian states, in which “the function of subjects (Untertanen) – as opposed to ‘citizens’ – is to acknowledge the government and to listen to its commands.” The government on the other hand was seen as, “the central organ in which is concentrated the state-creating will,” and it should, “direct the actions of the whole (des Ganzen)27 by creating impulses for those actions, and eventually to give decrees to carry them out.”28

Was the breaking apart of the Prussian-German state in November of 1918 the factor which undermined the trust which Edith had for this state? “She became convinced that the old system outlived itself,”29 and that influenced a change of political stances that caused her to embrace the liberal-democratic mentality that was previously foreign to her. Was it, as Hanna Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz would have it, a symptom of her, “lostness amidst the World War and the crisis of Germany?” Was her “desire to give women a vote and victory in the elections in Upper Silesia” part of those symptoms?30 The last argument should be made more precise: during December 1918 there was widespread worry (also in the Stein family) that Upper Silesia would be lost. Thus the DDP followed the lead of other German parties in this matter, and through rallies mobilized young people for the fight,31 but the decision about the referendum fell finally in June 1919 in Versailles. However, there was much talk about the women’s right to vote, the favourite topic of Edith Stein’s talks and activities as early as her studies in Breslau,32 but it was forgotten when she went to Goettingen and Freiburg – perhaps because she seemed to have a philosophical career standing open in front of her at the side of Husserl? Yet her relations with Husserl, as she wrote to Ingarden toward the beginning of 1917, did not turn out all that well, especially because he was, “on principle,” against habilitating women;33 two years later he, “turned it down ad limine.”34 Did she return to Breslau in the autumn of 1918 only because, as she suggested in a letter to Ingarden, she was worried about a revolutionary outbreak? And also for the comfort of her mother who “in those turbulent times was bothered by the consciousness that I am experiencing them so far away from those closest to me.”35 But maybe she was tired of the suffocating atmosphere in the Husserl household where she was an academic secretary, almost like an intellectual servant, of the Master. She was already on her way to Silesia on 12 November, and two weeks later she joined the DDP.36 Amidst the personal romantic disappointment with Ingarden (cf. the only one of her letters with the invocation Liebling37) and the academic disappointment with Husserl,38 was throwing herself into the maelstrom of politics for this intellectually active, but emotionally over-sensitive woman, the best solution for the situation?

Perhaps she saw the DDP, much like her future brother-in-law, as protection from the increasing anti-Semitic sentiments in Germany. This party definitely did not want to be anti-Semitic since it featured personalities like Wolff, Rathenau and the Bismarck’s former banker Bleichröder. The party had eight or perhaps ten Jews in the fifty-person presidium in Breslau, it had a proportion that better reflected their role in the life of the city than their over-representation in the City Council (see above). Edith must have been glad that in her fight for women’s voting rights and for their increased participation in political life, she was accompanied by six other women in the presidium. Among them was Paula Ollendorf (1860–1938), the vice-president of the Breslau branch of the Jewish Association of Women. She was both the first woman chosen for the Town Council in Breslau and the wife of Isodore Ollendorf, the leader of the liberal faction in that Town Council. Ollendorf also fought for full equality for Jews – teachers and students – in the school system.39 She must have also been happy about the party’s unambiguous stance on women’s voting rights; to which she contributed with her election agitations. She was probably less satisfied with the results of the elections to the National Assembly (19 January 1919), in which the Lower Silesia wing of the Party found itself below the national average (15.5 percent and 18.6 percent respectively). It probably did even worse in Breslau.40 Outside of Breslau, instances of anti-Semitism within the party itself were alarming; instances such as the rejection of Rathenau’s candidature to become a representative of the DDP from the Regierungsbezirk Liegnitz.41 There was also the rejection of a proposal of including within the power structures of the party a representative of the Central Committee of German Jews in order to battle anti-Semitism more effectively,42 despite the fact that plenty members of the Central Committee could be found within many regional presidia or other structures of the DDP, and not only in Silesia.

Details of the party’s actions within this province, also Edith Stein’s engagement, are nowhere to be found in any of her biographies. Gerl-Falkowitz only mentions that Stein, “investierte zeitweise viel Arbeit.”43 Andreas Uwe Müller and Maria Amata Neyer devote only a page to all this,44 they limit themselves only to what they find in Stein’s letters to Ingarden and a copy of a campaign call to women that did not come from Silesia and was probably not authored by Edith Stein. On the other hand, the publisher of the letters, Maria A. Neyer, who has already been mentioned, suggests that Edith started to withdraw from active participation in politics after the January elections to the National Assembly. But this does not square with the letter to Ingarden from 16 September 1919, where she clearly says, “political activity totally swallowed up several months of my life.”45 The activity probably dates back toward the end of November 1918 (there was a letter to Ingarden dated 30 XI, elections to the presidium of Breslau were held on 12 XII), plus a survey of the local press46 suggests that she remained in politics until at least May or July of 1919. Therefore Edith’s statement about politics swallowing up several months of her life seems to reflect the truth. Why did she not abandon this activism even though she was “disgusted” by it and she “lacked the proper (psychological) tools: a resilient conscience and a thick-skin”? Did this activity only consist in participating in “big meetings” and lecturing “in the provinces.”47 Or was this perhaps just the sulking of a Fräulein Doktor for whom not everything was falling into place (which was something she was not used to)? But after all, during her studies in Breslau she was engaged in a lot of social work; Müller and Neyer list at least five societies and organizations that she participated in actively.48 The most important of these were the organizations under the influence of one of her professors, the psychologist Willam Stern, that is, the Breslau Pedagogical Group, the Union for School Reforms49 and the Prussian Association for Women’s Voting Rights, which was so important to her that she did not hesitate to work with socialists whom she always disliked.50 Within the party she could count on working with young people and women, that is, within circles that had interested her before the war. To what degree were her expectations fulfilled?

She wrote to Ingarden about her political engagements – entering the DDP and the possibility of joining its leadership – for the first time on 30 November. Ten days later, with detectable enthusiasm, she wrote about “a meeting of young democrats, whom we’d like to engage in our party,” and also about the party’s secretary, Edith’s “main ally… a young professor full of energy and temperament,” he was able to “carry along crowds.”51 Since the detailed proceedings of the Breslau DDP are lost, we are given over to searching through laconic mentions of the party in the local press. We cannot establish the name of the secretary, nor do we know if the planned 10 December evening get-together for young people actually happened. It appears from the evidence we have, that it did happen two months later at the behest of Edith, which she could not have counted – if we remember her earlier expectations – as a personal success.52

On the other hand, she did achieve success in the form of being put in charge – along with professor Bultmann and Pastor Gottschick – of a youth group dedicated to exploring problems in religious studies and philosophy. Actually, five such groups came into being, the remaining were devoted to foreign policy, public education, political and social economy, and “citizen education.” They were correlated with two so-called Rednerschulen, devoted to developing oratory and debate skills. These self-improvement courses of the democratic youth started in March and met weekly. We don’t know the level of Edith’s engagement in them, nor how specific groups conducted their business, of which, as we might guess, the most popular was the one devoted to foreign policy. This is because the whole DDP, just like the rest of society, was interested in “the reasons for the breakdown of Germany.”53

The combining of philosophy with religion marked for Edith the development of new interests and convictions. She already expressed them during her campaign appearances, where she stressed the role of “religion as the foundation of a new form of nation-state.”54 She took up a similar stance two years later in her book about the nation-state, where in the concluding passage for Staat und Religion we read, “In the first place every person is subject to the Highest Ruler, which cannot be altered by any earthly governance,” and she interprets rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s as “the institutions of the state and the obedience due to it in accordance with the will of God, or at least when it comes to what is tolerated by God.”55 Here we must take a look at the DDP’s relationship with the Church. This party attempted to move away from the liberal-democratic tradition predating 1914, which was unwilling to cooperate with, or was outright hostile toward religion and the Church. Yet, the new party was criticized for not going far enough, for example on 1 January in Breslau. That is when the DDP was accused of dishonesty, and it was singled out for not supporting the Church from the onset of the party’s existence. The person delivering this critique was none other than Edith Stein. She called for full tolerance “for exercising religious practice,” critiqued the dependence of the Church on the state, from which it should be freed.56 The party also made positive pronouncements with regard to teaching religion in school. This was yet another bone of contention within the various factions of the liberal-democratic camp before 1914. We read in one of the DDP pre-election announcements in Breslau, “Depriving young people of a religious education for a bland teaching of morality would constitute a rape of the soul and mind of the child. This is why the German Democratic Party demands that we keep religious education in schools,” however, without the supervision of spiritual authorities over this education, as was the case up till then. “Along with the overwhelming majority of the German nation,” the party called for an “enlivening and deepening” of religious feeling, and demanded that the state not only recognize religious communities, but also finance some of them. When we take Edith’s leaning within these matters, as demonstrated by her oversight of the religious-philosophical section of the youth organization of the DDP, the versatility of her studies, and, above all, her intellectual potential, it is hard not to see her as the co-author of the document State, Church, School with much more probability than the work Democracy and Women ascribed to her by Müller and Neyer.57

If truth be told, women’s rights were something about which Stein voiced her opinion many times, and giving women voting rights was supposed to be, according to Gerl-Falkovitz, one of her main reasons for joining the DDP.58 However, she had many rivals within this field, both in Breslau and within the highest ranks of the party’s hierarchy. Paula Ollendorf presented her lecture “Women Entering Politics,” both in Breslau and in the provinces. Margareta Bernhard, a doctor of law and member of the party’s leadership (des geschäftsführenden Vorstandes) from Berlin59 came to Breslau on 12 January with her lecture “Women in the New Germany.” Actually, if I were to look for the author of speech attributed to Stein, I would point to Bernhard and other prominent women from the party. Within the whole Reich there were thirty-three separate fliers addressed to women before the elections with a circulation of about five million copies, whereas there were only thirty fliers dedicated to general issues. However, their circulation was about twice as great as the ones about women.60

A reporter from the “Breslauer Zeitung” adequately summarized the above-mentioned lecture by Edith Stein61 which she probably gave in some neighborhoods of Breslau, in the provinces62, probably for different audiences (10 January for women) and in various versions, all of which were answers to the question, “Why should women join the German Democratic Party” and fight for equal political rights within it? Given the opportunity she did not stop herself, despite the fact that election day was approaching, from talking about other points of the party program, including President Wilson’s idea of a League of Nations from which she had distanced herself just a year before the speech.63 She saw the DDP as a proverbial “third power,” capable of joining the social-democrats and national-liberals of Stresseman and stopping the country from dividing into different states, or confessional communities. She also spoke against excessive demands from the workers for wage increases and against the nationalization of industry, admittedly, without going beyond the party program in these matters which were mostly foreign to her. Other election speakers from the DDP with an academic education spoke about these matters much more competently, and the range of topics covered by them was also wider.64 However, in Edith’s case, or at least from what we know from a meeting on 6 January, her statements about the state and Church sounded both more personal and more convincing. They also interested the local newspaper much more than the topic of her main lecture – the DDP and the political engagement of women.

The problem itself interested the party greatly and it devoted an unsigned article to the problem in the first issue of “Der Volkstaat.” There were also articles about it in the weekly of the DDP. In the second issue of “Der Volkstaat” there was a debate about a resolution from Berlin wives of officers sent to the National Assembly who protested against giving women the right to vote.65 The first signed statement of Breslau DDP activists about this topic was an article by Edith Stein “About the Matter of Politicizing Women,” published in the fourth issue of the weekly.66 This was actually her first published article (until then she had written and published “only” her doctoral thesis), and the first one devoted to the political and social situation of women and their place in society. She wrote many more articles of this type, especially at the beginning of the 1920’s.67

Within this flood of political work and the tasks which increased daily during the election season, Edith reached for the future, asking what else needed to be done within politics. She asked as a member of a party, which in her region did not succeed in getting women elected to the parliament, and even within city councils women were the exception. This was caused by a lack of appropriate candidates. “The political type of woman (Typus der politischen Frau) must still shape itself,” much like the model of a woman who is a political leader. The problem was that those who would vie for such titles lacked political experience and knowledge. “During the period of transition in which we find ourselves we are forced to lean upon women who are gifted politically who are ready to give up their current professions for the sake of politics (i.e. political activism).” Further on, she linked this to her engagement in the youth groups of the DDP, with her study groups and oratory schools68 encouraging people to gain a “fundamental political education,” then to “deepen” it. She also advised the heads of the party to search for political talents.

Further on Edith complained that among the “daughters of good families (höhere Töchter),” and she considered herself to be one of them, “we will not find any of the leaders that we need there, in any case not among any of them which until now have not troubled themselves with anything important in their lives.” Then there is a plea to them to make politics the object of their studies (we should add, just like Edith did to some degree) and to make it “their profession.”69 I do not know whether echoes of the speech “Politics as a Profession (Politik als Beruf),” delivered on 21 January 1919 by Max Weber in Munich,70 reached her. Weber was a scholar highly respected by the DDP. When reading this speech we get the impression that his initial definition of politics as, “directing or influencing the direction of political institutions, that is… the state,”71 somehow influenced the conclusion of Stein’s article. Political education, according to Weber, should serve the politician not only “to enrich their own personality,” but also, and above all, it should prepare him “to serve the state,” that is, to govern at a time when “along with the appearance of a professionally trained bureaucratic class there also appeared… politicians who specialize in governing.”72

It is hard to shake off the impression that the few months of Edith’s activity within the DDP taught her pragmatism, which she also utilized in the matter of pulling women into politics, for example, through educating a “cadre” of politically engaged women, or those who treat politics as their profession.

From this perspective, the environment in which women who perform political functions will differ from men who perform similar functions, because they will concern themselves with matters pertaining to women and they will work among women. She does not treat politics as a man’s profession, nor does she wonder over what women can bring to the profession.

These kinds of reflection will only come after 1922, after her conversion to Catholicism, which will turn her attention toward the difference between the spiritualities for men and women, “the spiritual stance that corresponds to the natural profession of women: obedience, trust in relation to men, and participation in his life that will develop his personality and will facilitate the realization of the tasks he has to fulfil.”73 Starting with these presuppositions, Edith took up her own classification of professions from the angle of their compatibility with the spirituality of women and their place in society. We will not find “politics” among them, unless we count it together with “modern social professions,” or as Geisteswissenschaften.74 We can obviously take such a classification as naïve, but in some way it reflected the views of some Catholic circles, and above all it reflected Edith’s views.

She also had practical reasons for this stance, because she was writing during the worldwide economic crisis (1929–1933), when an increasing number of women were taking up professional work in order to find financial resources to support themselves and their families. “While the Church used to react to these kinds of perspectives restrictively, Catholic organizations and women’s societies demanded an explanation of these matters that would be both scientific and would be grounded in the teachings of the Church. Edith seemed to be especially predisposed to all of this. Both through her professional life and fundamental philosophical knowledge, achieved upon the soil of phenomenology, about the human person.” It is hard to disagree with the author of these words, who devoted a several hundred page book to the problem of women’s professions and women’s work in Edith’s Stein’s writings. Her work liberates us from devoting more space to these matters, which are marginal to her overall activity during the years 1918–1919.75 Even though she published and lectured about women toward the end of the 1920’s and the start of the 1930’s, she strove not to engage herself directly (as in 1918 and 1919) in political activities. She did, however, react to the first signs of racism and fascism, and quite prophetically, against the wave of anti-Semitism that swept Germany after Hitler came to power.76

It is difficult to tell whether her work during the elections, the article about women and politics and her service within the youth group exhausted the extent of Edith’s participation in the DDP. The presidium of the party must have evaluated her positively, because Dr Stein was nominated to the fourth seat (it is difficult to judge whether there was some hierarchy attached to where one was placed) among fifteen delegates for the first DDP convention in Germany, the other fourteen were chosen from the regency.77 The convention lasted from 19 July until 22 July and its proceedings were closely followed by “Der Volkstaat.”78 However, without a detailed list of delegates from Silesia we cannot be sure whether Edith went to Berlin and participated in the proceedings. We know that of the Silesians, the only person to deliver a speech was Professor Obst. It was a controversial speech about the relations between workers and employers.79 Even if Edith did take part in the convention (she never mentions it anywhere), she would not have had much leeway, because matters pertaining to equal rights and the political activity of women were not part of the proceedings. What’s more, there was a vote against creating separate women’s groups (Frauenausschüße),80 and Edith’s rank within the party was too low to give her a voice in other matters.

By the autumn we will no longer find Edith in the ranks of the DDP, as she was too busy with her fight, as a woman, and even perhaps then as a Jew, to gain her habilitation.81 In a letter to Ingarden she recalls, “Goettingen… rejected… Prospects for Cologne still have not… dissolved.”82 Only in passing does she mention to Ingarden anything about the political activity which totally absorbed several months of her life and found echoes in two of her works:83 the work about the state we cited earlier, and a work we did not cite, “The Individual and Community,” both of which appeared in 1922.84 This was political activity that we could trace only by what third parties might have to say, and only minimally through what Edith said. Thus, it is difficult to judge what experience from those several hectic months were reflected in her works, which if we apply today’s criteria, qualify as political philosophy. It is not only my opinion that in the second of these works politics and philosophy are dominated by an analysis of “the unintentional and inconceivable… suffering of a defeated nation,” meaning the German nation which was condemned “to meandering, bitter reflections about its own future.”85

How can we answer Maria Neyer’s question, “What pushed Edith Stein to withdraw from active political action?… Throughout her whole life she was fascinated particularly by the development of the political situation and she did not understand how it was possible not to value the role of politics.”86 Perhaps it had something to do with a failed rivalry within the Breslau DDP, where the meetings of the newly developed Women’s Group (Frauenausschuss) were headed by the already mentioned Paula Ollendorf. Perhaps Edith felt that she was overlooked when she was not appointed to the editorial board of the women’s insert “Die Frau im neuen Deutschland” in “Der Volkstaat,” which appeared in September 1919?87

Perhaps she was taken aback by the rising anti-Semitism in Breslau, which was connected with the democratization of the Prussian election laws? The so-called “triple-class” voting laws were replaced by more egalitarian laws, which led to a fall in Jewish votes, and also the liberal vote – within the City Council the fall was from 30–40 percent to around 5 percent. There were subterfuges against Jewish teachers within Parent Boards in schools. There also appeared in Breslau the radically anti-Semitic German National People’s Party (Deutschvölkische Freiheistpartei).88 There was also a propagation – the whole Breslau DDP spoke out against it – of anti-Semitism by those in favor of “Pan-Germanism.”89 This manifested itself in defaming the memory of Jewish soldiers and officers Dolchstoßlegende (see above), and the increasing confidence of those who stood for discriminating against Jews.90 A process was beginning which, according to van Rahden, made Breslau – an apparent bastion of left-wing liberalism before the War – into a city which in the elections of 1932 had the highest percentage of voters, roughly 43 percent, voting for the National Socialists. Whereas, the DDP changed into the Staatspartei and gained merely one percent of the vote in Breslau and in the rest of Germany. What’s more, the Jews, who had been its main supporters, looked elsewhere and leaned mostly upon the Social-Democrats.91 Thus, when we consider the letter of Edith to Pius XI from 20 April 1933, which was recently made available to scholars and historians, where she writes that there is a wave of events “which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbour. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews,” then there is no doubt that she had in mind events occurring in her home town.

  • 1 E. Stein, Autobiografia w listach 1916–1942 [Self-Portrait in Letters], trans. I. Adamska, Kraków 2000, p. 43.
  • 2 It first appeared on l July in “Frankfurter Zeitung”; later reprinted in W. Rathenau, Zeitliches, Berlin 1918, p. 71–84.
  • 3 F. Naumann, Demokratie und Kaisertum: Ein Handbuch für innere Politik, Berlin 1900.
  • 4 C. Schölzel, W. Rathenau, Eine Biographie, Paderborn 2006, p. 263.
  • 5 On 19 November 1918 Einstein felt that he needed to release a special statement saying he did not support any of these political initiatives; B. Scheideler, Albert Einstein in der Weimarer Republik. Demokratisches und elitäres Denken im Widerspruch, „Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte” 3 (2005), p. 400.
  • 6 L. Albertin, Deutsche Demokratische / Partei Staatspartei, [in:] Quellen zur Geschichte des Parlamentarismus und der politischen Parteien, vol. 5: Liberalismus in der Weimarer Republik, Düsseldorf 1980, p. XI-XIV.
  • 7 M. Orzechowski, Wyniki wyborów do parlamentu Rzeszy, Sejmu pruskiego na Śląsku w latach 1919–1933 [Results of Parliamentary Elections to the Parliament of the Reich in Silesia, 1919–1933], „Studia i Materiały z Dziejów Śląska” 7 (1966), p. 497.
  • 8 Cf. “Breslauer Zeitung” from 12 XII 1918; also, Edith Stein’s letter to Roman Ingarden from 30 XI 1918 in: E. Stein, Listy do Romana Ingardena [Letters to Roman Ingarden], trans. M. Klentak-Zabłocka and A. Wajs, Kraków 2003, p. 165.
  • 9 E. Stein, Dzieje pewnej rodziny żydowskiej i inne zapiski autobiograficzne [Life in a Jewish Family], trans. I. Adamska, Kraków 2005, p. 287.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 205–106.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 235.
  • 12 H. Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York, 1973, p. 50.
  • 13 T. van Rahden, Juden und andere Breslauer. Die Beziehungen zwischen Juden, Protestanten und Katholiken in einer deutschen Großstadt von 1860 bis 1925, Göttingen 2000, p. 287n.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 88.
  • 15 H. Arendt, The Origins…, op. cit., p. 52.
  • 16 T. van Rahden, Juden und andere…, op. cit., p. 179 and 181.
  • 17 E. Stein, Dzieje…, op. cit., p. 243.
  • 18 S. M. Batzdorff, Edith Stein – meine Tante. Das jüdische Erbe einer katholischen Heiligen, Würzburg 2000, p. 103.
  • 19 E. Stein, Dzieje…, op. cit., p. 235.
  • 20 Ibid., p. 234 and 247.
  • 21 J. Ziekursch, Das Ergebnis der Friderizianischen Städteverwaltung und die Städteordnung Steins, Jena 1908; and J. Ziekursch, 100 Jahre schlesischer Agrargeschichte. Vom Hubertusburger Frieden bis zum Abschluß der Bauernbefreiung, Breslau 1915.
  • 22 “Breslauer Zeitung” from 12 XII 1918.
  • 23 E. Stein, Dzieje…, op. cit., p. 341–342.
  • 24 Cf. F. Fischer, Krieg der Illusionen. Die Deutsche Politik vom 1911–1924, Düsseldorf 1978, esp. p. 650nn, also F. Fischer, Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland 1914/18, Düsseldorf 1977.
  • 25 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 46 and 59.
  • 26 E. Stein, Eine Untersuchung über den Staat, Halle 1924, as a supplement in “Jahrbuch für die Philosophie” 7 (1922). This was a journal edited by E. Husserl.
  • 27 Edith Stein interprets this concept in a latter part of the work.
  • 28 E. Stein, Eine Untersuchung über…, op. cit., p. 88–89.
  • 29 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 165.
  • 30 In the introduction to the new edition of letters to Ingarden; Ibid., p. 30–31.
  • 31 Cf. „Breslauer Zeitung” from 12 I 1919.
  • 32 E. Stein, Dzieje…, op. cit., p. 236.
  • 33 Ibid., s. 236.
  • 34 Ibid., p. 180.
  • 35 Ibid., p. 286.
  • 36 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 163 and 165.
  • 37 Ibid., p. 94–95.
  • 38 See my notes about this in: W. Długoborski, Edyta Stein – próba portretu politycznego [Edith Stein: An Attempt at a Political Portrait], “Pro Memoria” 19 (2003), p. 8–9.
  • 39 M. Łagiewski, Wrocławscy Żydzi 1850–1944 [The Jews of Breslau 1850–1944], Wrocław 1994, p. 10; T. van Rahden, Juden und andere…, op. cit., p. 115n, 233n and 238.
  • 40 Liberalismus in der…, op. cit., p. 820; M. Orzechowski, Wyniki wyborów…, op. cit., p. 497.
  • 41 C. Schölzel, W. Rathenau, Eine…, op. cit., p. 265.
  • 42 The full name of the organization was: “Centralverein Deutscher Staatsbürger JüdischenGlaubens”. Cf. Liberalismus in der…, op. cit., p. 23.
  • 43 H.-B. Gerl, Unerbittliches Licht. Edith Stein – Philosophie, Mystik, Leben, Mainz 1999, p. 194.
  • 44 A. U. Müller, M. A. Neyer, Edith Stein. Das Leben einer ungewöhnlichen Frau. Biographie, Düsseldorf 1998, p. 127–128.
  • 45 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 180.
  • 46 I am thankful to Dr. Krzysztof Popiński from the Academy of Economics for conducting this survey.
  • 47 Ingarden’s letter from 27 XII 1918; E. Stein, Autoportret z listów…, op. cit., p. 172–173.
  • 48 Ibid., p. 49–50.
  • 49 K. Popiński, Organizacje studentów Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego w czasach studiów Edyty Stein [Student Organizations at Breslau University During Edith Stein’s Time], [in:] R. Zajączkowska (ed.), Edyta Stein patronka Europy [Edith Stein: Patron of Europe], Wrocław
  • 2002, p. 56–57.
  • 50 E. Stein, Dzieje…, op. cit., p. 236.
  • 51 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 165 and 171.
  • 52 “Breslauer Zeitung” from 12 II 1919.
  • 53 Cf. Die Jugendvereinigung der Deutschen Demokratischen Partei. Abteilung Breslau, [in:] “Der Volksstaat” 2 (1919), p. 5.
  • 54 As in the lecture on 5 January 1919 in Breslau: „Die Deutsche Demokratische Partei fußt auf dem Grundsatz, daß die Religion auch die Grundlage des neuen Staates bilden müße, denn die Ziele der neuen Zeit seien nur zu verwirklichen durch werktätige Nächstenliebe”; cited in “Breslauer Zeitung” from 8 I 1919.
  • 55 E. Stein, Eine Untersuchung…, op. cit., p. 117–118.
  • 56 “Angestrebt werde lediglich die Loslösung der Kirche von der Herrschaft des Staates, niemals aber eine Behinderung in der Religionsausübung”; cited in “Breslauer Zeitung” from 8 I 1919.
  • 57 A. U. Müller, M. A. Neyer, Edith Stein. Das Leben…, p. 81.
  • 58 Cf. note 26 above.
  • 59 “Breslauer Zeitung” from 12 I 1919.
  • 60 “Der Volksstaat” 20 (1919), p. 1.
  • 61 Ibid., p. 8.
  • 62 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 173.
  • 63 Same as note 21 above.
  • 64 In several of the next issues of the “Breslauer Zeitung,” starting with number 13 from 8 January until number 22 from 13 January, you can find more than ten reports from pre-election meetings of the DDP in Breslau and in the provinces.
  • 65 Eine Faueneingabe gegen das Frauenwahlrecht, “Der Volksstaat” 2 (1919), p. 3.
  • 66 Zur Politisierung der Frauen, von Dr. Edith Stein (Breslau), “Der Volksstaat” 4 (1919) from 25 III 1919, p. 5–6.
  • 67 Collected in the 13th volume of her works: E. Stein, Die Frau. Fragestellungen und Reflexionen, ed. S. Binggeli and M. A. Neyer, Freiburg 2000; the text presented here was not known to the editors.
  • 68 Cf. note 45 above.
  • 69 “In Zukunft… muß dafür gesorgt werden, daß die Politik von vornherein zum Studium gemacht und als Beruf ergriffen wird”; as in note 59 above.
  • 70 M. Weber, Polityka jako zawód i powołanie [Politics as a Calling], Kraków 1998, p. 55–110.
  • 71 Ibid., p. 56.
  • 72 Ibid., p. 68.
  • 73 E. Stein, Das Etos der Frauenberufe, Augsburg 1931, p. 13.
  • 74 Ibid., p. 15.
  • 75 K. Westerhorstmann, Selbstverwirklichung und Pro-Existenz. Frausein in Arbeit und Beruf bei Edith Stein, Paderborn 2004, p. 217.
  • 76 W. Długoborski, Edyta Stein – próba portretu…, op. cit., p. 16–17.
  • 77 “Breslauer Zeitung” from 27 V 1919.
  • 78 From number 20 dated 26 VII 1919 until number 26.
  • 79 “Der Volksstaat” 21 (1919), p. 4.
  • 80 “Die Frau im neuen Deutschland” (insert for women of “Der Volksstaat”) number 2 from 19 XI 1919.
  • 81 The fate of Edith as a woman who lost her battle to attain habilitation is covered in: E. Boedeker and M. Meyer-Plath, 50 Jahre Habilitation von Frauen in Deutschland. Eine Dokumentation über den Zeitraum von 1920–1970, Göttingen 1974, p. XI and 5–6.
  • 82 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 182.
  • 83 Ibid., p. 179–180.
  • 84 See note 24 above.
  • 85 Sr. Teresa Renata, Edyta Stein. Siostra Teresa Benedykta od Krzyża, filozof i karmelitanka [Edith Stein: Sister Benedicta of the Cross: Philosopher and Carmelite], Paris 1987, p. 54.
  • 86 E. Stein, Autoportret…, op. cit., p. 174.
  • 87 Number 2 from 16 XI 1919, edited by Rosa Urbach. I was not able to find a copy of issue number 1.
  • 88 T. van Rahden, Juden und andere…, op. cit., p. 320–321.
  • 89 Der Antisemitismus der Alldeutschen, “Der Volksstaat” 28 (1919), p. 2.
  • 90 Antisemitische Zuverlässigkeit, “Der Volksstaat” 37 (1919), p. 3–4.
  • 91 T. van Rahden, Juden und andere…, op. cit., p. 321–322.

Translated by Artur Sebastian Rosman

Wacław Długoborski: Born 1926, Professor of Economic and Social History. Until 1996, he was the head of the Department of Economic and Social History at the Wrocław University of Economics and curator for research at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. He himself was a prisoner of Auschwitz (No. 138871).

The co-author of this paper is Dr Krzysztof Popiński from the Academy of Economics in Wrocław.

The article has been published in: God and Auschwitz. On Edith Stein, Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit, and God in the Twilight of History. Edited by Fr Manfred Deselaers, Fr Leszek Łysień and Fr Jan Nowak. UNUM Publishing House, Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim, Krakow 2008. P. 19-38.