A Polish Reaction
to the Vatican Document on the Shoah
From the Warsaw Voice: March 29, 1998 No.13 (492)
The Vatican Holocaust document We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah, although seven
years late in coming, the Catholic Church"s exercise in self-criticism has been welcomed as
an incentive for dialogue.
Another milestone in Christian-Jewish relations has passed as the Vatican published its
documents on the Holocaust entitled, "We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah." Yet
Christians and Jews seem to differ as to the purpose of the text: whether it should denounce
past mistakes on the part of the Church, facilitate dialogue between the two faiths or serve
as material for sermons.
The document says the Church regrets mistakes made by some of its "sons and
daughters" throughout the history of the Church. The Church"s attitude served as the
ideological basis for the creation of anti-Judaism through mistaken interpretations of the
New Testament. It concludes by expressing the hope that the Shoah tragedy will never be
repeated and that Christians will remember their Jewish origins.
Pope John Paul II promised such a document seven years ago. The Vatican"s Committee for
Religious Contacts with Judaism, headed by Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, published the
document on March 16. "Apparently this type of reflection takes a long time," says
Stanislaw Krajewski, co-chairman of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. But, for
Poles, the fact that it has been delayed for so long has been eclipsed by the document"s
content. "It is an extremely important document; its preparations took a long time, but
what really matters is that it has finally arrived," Prof. Jan Kracik, a clergyman and
a scholar with the Papal Theological Academy (PAT) in Cracow, told the Voice. Some observers
also pointed out that, despite its length, the document looks unfinished because the
considerations on genocide are not directly linked to the Holocaust.
The general attitude of the Jewish community is that not everything can be covered in
detail by a single document. "Several difficult issues have been left out,"
Krajewski notes. "But this is not all-encompassing-it is an invitation for everybody to
take part in a discussion," he adds. This view is shared by some Jewish intellectuals
from abroad. "I think it is a very broad statement. I do not think it has to cover all
bases, that one statement has to describe everything that has happened that is not
right," Rabbi Joseph H. Ehrenkranz from the U.S.-based Center for Christian-Jewish
Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, told the Voice. "I
think it is a good statement and I am not critical of what it did not say-I am very happy
for what it did say."
What was perceived as good about the document is that it confirms the importance of the
Holocaust in the history of the Church as an event which was allowed to happen in a
nominally Christian society. The core issue here is that the Church states it has to repent
. "And when you repent it means you did something wrong. What are you repenting for? So
it acknowledges that the Church made mistakes," Ehrenkranz explains.
One of the most controversial issues that failed to be covered in the document is the
proposed condemnation of Pope Pious XII for his alleged passiveness in the face of growing
anti-Semitism before the war. But Cassidy"s document points out the Pope managed to save the
lives of numerous people. Ehrenkranz says the issue is far too complex to be tackled right
away. "It is not important to me to condemn a person from the past; I think it is
important that the Church is repenting," he stresses.
"This is an important example for Christians in their attitude toward Jews. It is a
long-needed act of repentance, since throughout the history of the Church its attitude
toward Jews has been one of its darkest issues," editor-in-chief of the
liberal-Christian Znak monthly Jaroslaw Gowin told the Voice.
The text is directed toward members of the Roman Catholic Church who lack information and
awareness on Christian-Jewish relations and aims to fulfill a pedagogical function.
"From the point of view of a parish priest it is a vast, new resource," says Jzefa
Hennelowa, deputy editor-in-chief of Tygodnik Powszechny, an influential liberal-Catholic
"It is important to call a spade a spade, to take a position on the matter and then
move on, leaving history behind," Kracik says." This form of "auto-vetting" is
unavoidable, and is better carried out by ourselves than by others," he adds.
We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah