5 questions

Lella Costa: “A lesson in dignity from Edith Stein”

Lella Costa (photo Lorenzo Piano - from mismaonda.eu)
29 August 2020

What did Edith Stein leave us?

“The regret of having lost her too soon: today we need her profound thoughts to understand the present and above all the times that await us”. So answers Lella Costa, an actor, writer, feminist, and civil rights activist to the human and religious parable of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born Edith Stein. It is to her that she dedicated her book Ciò che possiamo fare - La libertà di Edith Stein e lo spirito dell'Europa [What we can do - Edith Stein’s freedom and the spirit of Europe] (Solferino), in 2019, which bring to the fore the salient parts.

What did you know about this extraordinary person before writing the book?

“Very little apart from Edith’s immense dignity, the courage and the atrocious paradox of her end: born a Jew, raised an atheist and then her conversion to Catholicism, she was massacred at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her martyrdom synthesizes the destruction of all violence and discrimination”.

Are you a believer?

“No, and my not being a believer is a form of total openness: I do not judge, I love to share a path with people who have deep religious convictions, and who do not therefore consider me a stranger. The proposition for me to write the book was almost a gamble, the searching for a different point of view”.

In your opinion, what does Edith Stein-Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross represent in our history?

“The excellence of female thought: she possessed a boundless intelligence, rigor, the capacity to go deeper, and she knew how to make empathic even the highest, most difficult philosophical language empathic. Her life demonstrates the senselessness of gender discrimination: a century ago the refusal to admit her to academic activity was an omen of the obscurantism of later times”.

What is the message she can convey to women today?

“The need to defend the dignity of women, the duty of commitment, pity towards others. Even though she recognized women as wives and mothers, Edith cared about the struggles for the recognition of women’s contribution to society, and for this reason she was compared with suffragettes and feminists”.

And what can she offer Europe of which she is the patroness?

“An extraordinary lesson in tolerance, dialogue, inclusion. Edith was a bridge between two religions and two cultures: born Prussian, she saw her land become Polish. Her death as a martyr is a warning that certain horrors should not be repeated. If the entire academic body of Göttingen had not opposed her university career as a woman, who instead supported Martin Heidegger as heir to the chair of the philosopher Edmud Husserl, perhaps history would have taken a different course”.

By Gloria Satta