FaithWorld

Israeli envoy to Vatican voices rare praise of wartime Pope Pius XII

(Pope Pius XII in an undated file photo/Osservatore Romano)

A leading Israeli official has praised Pope Pius XII for saving Jews during the Nazi occupation of Rome, a surprise twist in a long-standing controversy over the pontiff’s wartime role. The comments by Mordechay Lewy, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, were some of the warmest ever made by a Jewish official about Pius. Most have been very critical of his record.

Lewy, speaking at a ceremony on Thursday night to honor an Italian priest who helped Jews, said that Catholic convents and monasteries had opened their doors to save Jews in the days following a Nazi sweep of Rome’s Ghetto on October 16, 1943.

“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” he said in a speech. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true,” he said.

In an indication of just how sensitive the subject of Pius is among Jews, Lewy was quickly assailed by a group of Holocaust survivors. Elan Steinberg, vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called Lewy’s comments unsustainable. “For any ambassador to make such specious comments is morally wrong. For the Israeli envoy to do so is particularly hurtful to Holocaust survivors who suffered grievously because of Pius’s silence,” Steinberg said in a statement. He said Lewy had “disgracefully conflated the praiseworthy actions of elements in the Catholic Church to rescue Jews with the glaring failure of Pope Pius to do so.”

The question of what Pius did or did not do to help Jews has tormented Catholic-Jewish relations for decades and it is very rare for a leading Jewish or Israeli leader to praise Pius. Many Jews accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked quietly behind the scenes because speaking out would have led to Nazi reprisals against Catholics and Jews in Europe.

Witch hunt or wise move? Cannes ponders expulsion over Nazi “joke”

(Director Lars Von Trier arrives on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Melancholia" in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, May 18, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

Witch hunt or wise decision? That was the question on the lips of movie-goers, critics and executives at the Cannes film festival after the sudden expulsion of Danish director Lars Von Trier. The annual cinema showcase is the world’s biggest and well-known as a haven for provocative voices like Von Trier’s. But organizers clearly decided the 55-year-old director had overstepped the mark when he jokingly told the world press on Wednesday that he was a Nazi who sympathized with Hitler.

And while the festival cracked down on Von Trier within 24 hours, revoking his accreditation, reaction was more divided from the crowd on the famous palm-lined Riviera waterfront. “I’m against the decision. Everyone here is on two hours’ sleep and anyone can say something stupid at a press conference. He apologized and that was enough,” said 20-something filmmaker Christophe Monsourian.

German pope prays at World War II Nazi atrocity site in Rome

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(Pope Benedict XVI visits the Ardeatine Caves Memorial in Rome March 27, 2011/Grzegorz Galazka)

German-born Pope Benedict prayed on Sunday at the site where Nazis killed 335 Italian men and boys and denounced one of the worst atrocities of World War Two as “the most horrendous form of evil”. Benedict visited the Ardeatine Caves on Rome’s southern outskirts and prayed there together with Rome’s chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni. Seventy-five of the victims were Jews.

In his brief comments at the haunting underground site, Benedict, who was a member of the Hitler Youth when membership was compulsory and later served a German anti-aircraft artillery, called it a “painful memorial of the most horrendous form of evil”.

French far-right star compares praying Muslims to Nazi occupiers

prayers (Photo: Muslims in Perpignan pray in public after a Muslim youth was murdered, May 28, 2005/Georges Bartoli)

Marine Le Pen has put paid to the idea she would put a softer face on France’s National Front for elections in 2012 with anti-Muslim comments that have aroused a storm of criticism. Le Pen, the likely next far-right challenger for the French presidency, compared overflowing mosques in France with the Nazi occupation — remarks indicative of a drift to the right in parts of Europe that could let the National Front eat into support for the ruling conservative UMP party in 2012.

Le Pen, the frontrunner to succeed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the party, made the comments on a television show last Thursday with about 3.4 million viewers watching. On Monday she dismissed any suggestion of a gaffe. “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis,” she told a news conference, adding she was merely saying out loud what everyone thought privately.

le pen 1Given support of 12 to 14 percent in recent opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is regarded as more electable than her father, who was convicted in 1990 for inciting racial hatred. But her remarks suggest that far from moderating the party line, she will go all out to outgun conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the slice of the French electorate that opposes high immigration.

250 years of integration vs debate over Muslims in Germany

judgePercy MacLean can call on 250 years of experience to weigh up how immigrants integrate in Germany. Since his Scottish ancestor arrived in 1753, the family has produced mayors, members of parliament and even a Nazi.

Today, the 63-year-old MacLean, a chief judge in Berlin’s administrative court, says Germany risks losing the openness that allowed his family to flourish for generations because of a divisive national debate over the integration of Muslims. (Photo: Percy MacLean at his office in Berlin November 25, 2010/Tobias Schwarz)

In an interview with Reuters, MacLean said tendentious arguments now being aired publicly contained the seeds of what could spawn the kind of right-wing populism and xenophobia Germany witnessed in the run-up to the Holocaust.

Iran Nazi website reopens, raising issue of anti-Semitism

ahmedinejadAn Iranian Internet site for devotees of Nazi Germany has been allowed to reopen after being blocked briefly by government censors, a news website reported, raising questions about the official attitude to anti-Semitism.

The site, irannazi.ir, says it is the home of the “Historical Research Society for World War Two and the Third Reich.” According to conservative news website TABNAK it was blocked temporarily but then reopened, saying the suspension had been due to complaints by Iranian Jews. (Photo: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva April 20, 2009/Denis Balibouse)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has many times denied the Nazis’ extermination of millions of Jews during World War II. Ahmadinejad angered Israel and its allies by calling the Holocaust a “myth” and a “lie” and has predicted the end of Israel as a state.

Jewish leaders dismayed over Pius XII comments in pope book

piusJewish leaders reacted with dismay Sunday to comments in Pope Benedict’s new book that his wartime predecessor Pius was a “great, righteous” man who “saved more Jews than anyone else.”

Many Jews accuse Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked quietly behind the scenes because speaking out would have prompted Nazi reprisals against Catholics and Jews in Europe.

In his book to be published Tuesday, called “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Sign of the Times,” the German pope says Pius did what he could and did not protest more clearly because he feared the consequences.

Germans atone for Holocaust with “stumble stones”

stolpersteine 1 (Photo: “Stumble stones” in Berlin’s Wilmersdorf district November 7, 2008/Fabrizio Bensch)

The metal plaques, called Stolpersteine, or “stumble stones,” are set into the ground at my father’s ancestral home in this picturesque village south of Frankfurt.

The squares, 10 cm by 10 cm (4 inches by 4 inches), are barely conspicuous, but the words etched in brass seem to cry out for memory of the home’s last five Jewish inhabitants.

As autumn sunlight bounces off the plaques, I recall a time nearly 75 years ago when the five, all relatives including my father, were driven from here by Nazi anti-Semitism. Four fled Germany; the fifth died in a concentration camp.

Pope, ending his British trip, recalls Nazi terror in WW2

london in blitzPope Benedict on Sunday expressed “shame and horror” over the wartime suffering caused by his German homeland and said he was moved to mark the 70th anniversary of a key air victory with Britons. (Photo: London during the Blitz/U.S. National Archives)

On the last day of a four-day visit to Britain that drew the biggest protest march of any of his foreign trips, the pope also beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism.

The pope was seen off from the airport by Prime Minister David Cameron who said Benedict had challenged the “whole of the country to sit up and think” about issues such as social responsibility during his four-day state visit.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s sermon on Cardinal John Henry Newman

newman (Photo: Pope Benedict at a beatification Mass for Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham, September 19, 2010/Darren Staples)

Pope Benedict declared the 19th century English Cardinal John Henry Newman blessed — the first step on the road to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church — at a ceremony in Birmingham on Sunday.

Here are excerpts from his sermon:

“…This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms…”

“… In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.