FaithWorld

Jews remind Vatican of darker side of Pius XII anniversary

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen in Rome, 6 Oct 2008/Alessandro BianchiJust as the Vatican is gearing up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII, two Jews have spoken out to recall the darker side of his papacy. Their tone is neither shrill nor polemical, unlike many articles and books that have appeared over the years accusing Pius of being “Hitler’s Pope” and not doing enough to save Jews from the Holocaust. They do not seem keen to pick an argument with the Vatican just as it is preparing to hold what may be its most open defence of the controversial pontiff. But they raise difficult questions that remain even after Pope Benedict insisted his predecessor “spared no effort” to save Jews during World War Two.

Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (photo above), the first Jew to address a Vatican synod, told the Roman Catholic bishops there that Jews “cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise their voice in the effort to save our brethren but chose to keep silent and helped secretly. We cannot forgive and forget it and we hope that you understand.”

The chief rabbi of Haifa in Israel, 80, was less diplomatic a few hours earlier in an interview with our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella: “We feel that the late pope (Pius) should have Cover of Hitler’s Pope, a critical study of Pius XII by John Cornwellspoken up much more strongly than he did … He may have helped in secrecy many of the victims and many of the refugees but the question is ‘could he have raised his voice and would it have helped or not?’ …

“We, as the victims, feel yes. I am not empowered by the families of the millions of deceased to say ‘we forget, we forgive … I have to make it very clear that we, the rabbis, the leadership of the Jewish people, cannot as long as the survivors still feel painful agree that this leader of the Church in a time of crisis should be honored now. It is not our decision. It pains us. We are sorry it is being done.”

Cohen said only God knows if Pius spoke out enough against the Holocaust: “God is the judge … he knows the truth.”

Rome looks at Pius XII papacy as death anniversary nears

pdf_scantest.jpgOn October 9, Pope Benedict will lead the Roman Catholic Church in marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII. There is a lot of interest in what Benedict will say in his homily about his predecessor, arguably the most controversial pontiff of the 20th century because of what he did or did not do to save Jews during the Holocaust. On October 21, the Vatican will open a photographic exhibition on his papacy and on Nov 6-8, two pontifical universities in Rome, the Lateran and the Gregorian, will jointly sponsor a conference on his papacy.

An indication of what Benedict might say on October 9 can be found in his address on September 18 to the Pave the Way Foundation, a mixed Jewish-Catholic group based in the United States and headed by Gary Krupp, a Jew who is also a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great.  Pave the Way held a unique three-day symposium in Rome in the days leading up to their audience with the pope at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

New York Times article in Pave The Way dossierThe title of the symposium was “Examining the Papacy of Pope Pius XII”. It was attended by, among others, panalists such as Sister Magherita  Marchione, an American nun who is feisty despite her 86 years and who has written extensively in defence of Pius, Fr. Peter Gumpel, the Jesuit who is the relator of the cause for Pius’ sainthood, Eugene J. Fisher, who was in charge of Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) from 1997 to 2007, and Andrea Tornielli, an Italian journalist who has  has written extensively on Pius XII and whose most recent biography on the pontiff was released last year.

Prince Ghazi fears the worst if interfaith tensions flare

“Christians and Muslims routinely mistrust, disrespect and dislike each other, if not popularly and actively rubbish, dehumanize, demonize, despise and attack each other.”
Hmmm … this doesn’t sound like your usual speech at a conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“With such an explosive mix, popular religious conflicts, even unto genocide, are lurking around the corner.” Um, er … the gloves are really off.

“God forbid, a few more terrorist attacks, a few more national security emergencies, a few more demagogues, a few more national protection laws, and then internment camps, if not concentration camps, are not inconceivable in some places.”

First rabbis since Holocaust ordained in Poland

New rabbis read Torah at Chabad Yeshiva in Warsaw, 30 June 2008/Kacper Pempel“The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win,” said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. “Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world,” he said. “People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis … We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow.”

Read our feature “Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis” here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today’s Poles. “I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted,” he said.

Fear, by Jan GrossJan Gross’s book Fear argues that anti-Semitism remained prevalent in Poland under the communist regime after 1945. In a sign of the continued sensitivity of the subject in Poland, state prosecutors investigated whether the book had slandered the Polish nation but finally decided not to press charges.

Another Pius XII controversy as Vatican prepares commemoration

An image depicting Pope Pius XII is displayed at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem April 15, 2007This November, the Vatican will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of wartime Pope Pius XII. There will be a photo exhibition and a conference on his teachings. That’s the official agenda. Although not be part of the program, there will also be controversy.

Vatican officials at a news conference presenting the initiatives appeared to be making a pre-emptive strike against what will most likely resurface during in November — the seemingly never-ending debate about about what Pius did or did not do, what he did or did not know about the Holocaust and whether he could have done more.

“Pius XII never failed to make his voice heard in a clear and explicit way in different circumstances, when needs called for it, and when there was precise information on facts and their consequences could be seen,” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University.

Give Hagee a chance, says McCain ally Lieberman

McCain and Lieberman at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, 18 March 2008/poolThink the uproar over John Hagee’s comments about Hitler, the Holocaust, the Bible and John McCain’s rejection of his endorsement is over? Hardly.

U.S. news networks have been abuzz with the latest twist to the saga — a Hagee endorsement (of sorts) from renegade Democrat-turned-independent Senator Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman, who is Jewish, said in a statement posted on his website on Wednesday that “I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works.”

Catholic-Mormon tension over LDS baptism of the dead

Salt Lake Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, 28 May 2007/Lucy NicholsonThe issue of Mormon proxy baptisms has resurfaced with the news that the Vatican has written to Catholic dioceses around the world telling them not to provide parish records to the Genealogical Society of Utah. As the Catholic News Service reported last week, the letter calls proxy baptism using these records “detrimental” and says the Vatican did not want Catholic parishes “to cooperate with the erroneous practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. Mormons use genealogical data to find names of people to baptise posthumously, a practice the Roman Catholic Church rejects on theological grounds.

The LDS Church has not yet replied, but the comments section of the Church-owned Deseret News has erupted with hundreds of entries. Many are from Mormons who cannot understand why anyone would object to their baptism of the dead. Several criticise the Vatican for withholding the data, arguing it actually belongs to the general public. Other blogs have also been commenting for (mostly Mormon — see here, here, here, here, here) and against (mostly Catholic — see here, here, here, here, here). There are also critical comments from Mormons and ex-Mormons (see here, here, here).

Most of this commentary misses the point. There is no way either side is going to agree on proxy baptisms; different religions exist precisely because they disagree on fundamental issues. It is also futile to argue about religious freedom, because obviously both Churches have the right to practise their faith. The idea that one religion’s teachings give it a right to another religion’s data is also a non-starter.

Why do Jews want Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” published in Germany?

Mein Kampf in English translation, Educa Books, 2006It sounds counter-intuitive. German Jews want Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — the 1925 book that spells out his plan for a Nazi state and gives expression to his extreme anti-Semitism — to be published in Germany. The Central Council of Jews in Germany would be ready to help edit the new edition and pressure the Bavarian state government (which owns the rights and blocks publication) to issue it. As our Berlin correspondent Dave Graham reported, Stephan Kramer, the Central Council ‘s general secretary, made the suggestion in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio (here are the DLF text report and audio in German).

Kramer said things had changed since Bavaria banned its publication in the initial post-war years as a way to thwart a revival of Nazi ideology. “Through the Internet and other media, the book is widely available abroad. Especially in far-right wing circles, there has been what you might call a romanticising of the book Mein Kampf, so I personally and we in the Central Council now feel a publicly available version of Mein Kampf with critical commentaries would now be much more helpful. It would make clear to readers who access it what crude stuff was written there,” he said.

Meanwhile in Austria, work has begun on a spoof biopic of Hitler called — what else? — “Mein Kampf.” It’s based on a play of the same name by the late Hungarian-Jewish playwright George Tabori and will premiere in Germany next year.

Rotterdam to mark Holocaust Day with local survivor’s book

OnbestelbaarResidents of Rotterdam will find something unusual in their mailboxes next week — a book by a local Dutch Holocaust survivor recalling the wartime Nazi occupation of their city. Isaac Lipschits wrote it as a letter to his mother and entitled it Onbestelbaar (Undeliverable). That’s the “return-to-sender” message the Dutch Post Office stamps on letters whose recipients cannot be found. The author’s mother is untraceable because she was murdered in Auschwitz on January 15, 1943.

The publisher Uitgeverij Verbum plans to send 250,000 free copies of the book to all Rotterdam households — and make it available as a PDF download on its website — on January 24, three days before the international Holocaust Day marking the liberation of the death camp on January 27, 1945. It took the initiative with three Dutch groups devoted to honouring Holocaust victims and opposing racism — the Loods 24 Committee, the Netherlands Auschwitz Committee and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

With this free distribution of the Holocaust book, the sponsors want to encourage Rotterdamers to read the 76-page book and think about anti-Semitism and discrimination,” the Dutch news agency ANP wrote. “Rotterdam Mayor Ivo Opstelten will hand over the first copy of the book at City Hall to the author during the Auschwitz Memorial 2008 ceremony on January 23. Opstelten has also written the foreword to Onbestelbaar.”

Vatican daily has Jewish historian comment on Bush and Auschwitz

Apologies aren’t easy, especially for the infallible.*

President Bush visits Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, 11 January 2008During 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.

Pope Benedict enters Auschwitz death camp, 28 May 2006/Pawel KopczynskiBombing 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.