Vatican daily has Jewish historian comment on Bush and Auschwitz
Apologies aren’t easy, especially for the infallible.*
During his visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, President George Bush saw aerial photos of the Auschwitz death camp taken by American planes during World War Two and was quoted as saying: “We should have bombed it.” This presented an interesting challenge to the Pope’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Critics have long accused Pope Pius XII of failing to help Jews during the Holocaust and his successors of failing to say mea culpa in apology. German-born Pope Benedict heard the same in May 2006 after he avoided the issue during a visit to Auschwitz. So how should the Vatican daily report what looked like an indirect apology (the first of its kind?) by the U.S. president?
The Sunday edition showed the way. L’Osservatore, a once-bland broadsheet livened up under its new editor Giovanni Maria Vian, invited the Jewish historian Anna Foa to write a front-page commentary on “The Missed Bombing” (text in Italian). She writes: “A president of the United States, George W. Bush, has admitted publicly what many historians and a part of public opinion have been saying for years: that in 1944, the Americans should have bombed Auschwitz.” Foa noted that, as early as 1942, information about the death camps had reached “the Red Cross, the neutral countries, the Holy See, the chancelleries of the Allies. Many of these reports were not believed at the time. But in 1943, all governments knew.”
Bombing Auschwitz could have slowed or stopped the slaughter there, especially of the half a million Hungarian Jews deported in the summer and autumn of 1944, but the Allies did not do it. Not because bombing would not be useful, Foa writes, but for “a more general reason: saving the Jews did not have priority in the overall management of the war.” Bombing the train tracks leading to Auschwitz or even the gas chambers themselves “would have broken the silence that settled over the death camps, given the war an incomparable ethical motivation and forced all of Europe to know” what was happening there.
“Now, at Yad Vashem, an American president has accomplished the same gesture that brought Willy Brandt to his knees in the Warsaw Ghetto: saying “mea culpa”. Brandt for the crimes of Nazi Germany, Bush for the mistaken choices of his country.”
The Roman orator Cicero often gave examples in threes. Has this Roman historian left out a third “B”?
(* Yes, bloggers, I know the pope is not supposed to be infallible all the time, only when he speaks in matters of faith and morals. But who can deny that Auschwitz is a moral issue? A question for Catholic theologians — if Benedict apologised, would he be speaking in matters of morals and therefore infallibly?)