Edith Stein’s Phenomenology and Christian Philosophy
Edited By Mette Lebech and John Haydn Gurmin
Edith Stein’s Concept of Empathy and the Problem of the Holocaust Witness: War Diaries of Polish Warsaw Writers
← 56 | 57 →RACHEL FELDHAY BRENNER
ABSTRACT: It is quite plausible to imagine that when fleeing Germany in 1939, hiding in Holland, and boarding the train to Auschwitz, Stein directed her thoughts to the concept of empathy she had analyzed many years before in her doctoral thesis. She was watching and experiencing the complete negation of the theory. The Nazi ideology, which excluded the Jews from humanity, undermined the notion of empathy. The unprecedented phenomenon of the Final Solution posited a problem of empathy for the witness. This paper investigates the witness’s capacity to maintain the notion of the victims as subjects in the reality of their dehumanization as a subhuman species sentenced to mass murder. The occupation diaries of Polish Warsaw writers provide a unique opportunity for an empirical assessment of empathy in time of terror. We will never know what Stein thought and felt about empathy when facing the horrific moral disintegration of her world and her personal fate. However, the event of the Holocaust highlights the frailty of empathy. It therefore impels the need for ethical education in a world which has witnessed the horror of the genocide.
Ironically and tragically, history put Edith Stein’s doctoral dissertation, On the Problem of Empathy, to the ultimate test.1 The humanistic ideals, grounded in the Enlightenment principles of the equality and dignity of human beings’ ← 57 | 58 →Weltanschauung, which informed Stein’s investigation of empathy, were shattered by the edict of the Final Solution, of which, in yet...
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