Israel Holocaust memorial amends text on Vatican

JERUSALEM Sun Jul 1, 2012 9:44am EDT

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's national Holocaust memorial has amended its account of Pope Pius XII's actions during World War Two, after the original text upset the Vatican by implying he did too little to try to rescue Jews from the Nazis.

Yad Vashem, the museum and memorial in Jerusalem, said on Sunday its new display acknowledged that the pope's defenders say his neutrality in the war gave church members more freedom and allowed them to carry out some secret rescue activities.

But it said the text mentioned that critics still saw Pius as guilty of doing too little, calling it a "moral failure".

The panel in the museum now also quotes from the pope's Christmas radio address in 1942 in which he refers to "hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or ethnic origin" were killed. But it notes he did not explicitly name the Jews.

A Yad Vashem spokeswoman said the display was amended due to new research findings and that it now "better shows the complexity of the issue".

The original text at Yad Vashem was a terse chronicle of the opportunities Pius missed to confront or speak out against the Nazis and mentioned his role before becoming pope in 1939 in the church reaching an agreement with the German government. These elements remain in the new text.

The history of the wartime pontiff has long been a point of contention between Catholics and Jews. Defenders of the pope have said he did everything possible to help Jews, while critics have portrayed him as being indifferent and even complicit in the deaths of six million Jews across Europe.

Yad Vashem, which contains the largest archive of data on the Holocaust, also urged the Vatican to open its archives "so that a clearer understanding of the events can be arrived at".

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Pravin Char)

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German Catholics and the Holocaust

Catholic bishops in Nazi Germany differed in their responses to the rise of Nazi Germany, World War II, and the Holocaust during the years 1933-1945.

Cardinal Adolf Bertram, ex officio head of the German church from 1920-1945
Archbishop Konrad Gröber of Freiburg was known as the “Brown Bishop” because he was such an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazis. In 1933, he became a “sponsoring member” of the SS. In 1943, Grober expressed the opinion that bishops should remain loyal to the “beloved folk and Fatherland”, despite abuses of the Reichskonkordat.[46] After the war, however, he claimed to have been such an opponent of the Nazis that they had planned to crucify him on the door for the Freiburg Cathedral.

Bishop Wilhlem Berning of Osnabrück sat with the Protestant Deutsche Christen Reichsbishop in the Prussian State Council from 1933 to 1945, a clear signal of support for the Nazi regime.

Cardinal Adolf Bertram ex officio head of the German episcopate also had some affinity for the Nazis. In 1933, for example, he refused to intervene on behalf of Jewish merchants who were the targets of Nazi boycotts, saying that they were a group “which has no very close bond with the church.”

Bertram sent Hitler birthday greetings in 1939 in the name of all German Catholic bishops, an act that angered bishop Konrad von Preysing.[46] Bertram was the leading advocate of accommodation as well as the leader of the German church, a combination that reigned in other would-be opponents of Nazism.[46]

Bishop Buchberger of Regensburg called Nazi racism directed at Jews “justified self-defense” in the face of “overly powerful Jewish capital.”

Bishop Hilfrich of Limburg said that the true Christian religion “made its way not from the Jews but in spite of them.”

Bishops von Preysing and Frings were the most public in the statements against genocide.[47] According to Phayer, “no other German bishops spoke as pointedly as Preysing and Frings”.[47]

Cardinal Faulhaber asserted that “History teaches us that God always punished the tormenters of…the Jews. No Roman Catholic approves of the persecutions of Jews in Germany.”

During the war, the Fulda Conference of Bishops met annually in Fulda.[46] The issue of whether the bishops should speak out against the persecution of the Jews was debated at a 1942 meeting in Fulda.[48] The consensus was to “give up heroic action in favor of small successes”.[48] A draft letter proposed by Margarete Sommer was rejected, because it was viewed as a violation of the Reichskonkordat to speak out on issues not directly related to the church.[48]

[edit] Knowledge of the Holocaust

According to historians David Bankier and Hans Mommsen a thorough knowledge of the Holocaust was well within the reach of the German bishops, if they wanted to find out.[49] According to historian Michael Phayer, “a number of bishops did want to know, and they succeeded very early on in discovering what their government was doing to the Jews in occupied Poland”.[50] Wilhelm Berning, for example, knew about the systematic nature of the Holocaust as early as February 1942, only one month after the Wannsee Conference.[50] Most German Church historians believe that the church leaders knew of the Holocaust by the end of 1942, knowing more than any other church leaders outside the Vatican.[51]

Jul 01, 2012 10:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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