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Wacław Długoborski – Edith Stein s Political Activism 1918–1919

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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.
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