A Polish Reaction to the Vatican Document on the Shoah

From the Warsaw Voice: March 29, 1998 No.13 (492)



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   weekly.


"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.  

Tomasz Oljasz


We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah