CHRISTIAN TODAY CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
28 July 2016
The cross erected at Auschwitz in June 2008, with Block 11 behind.
An influential rabbi from the United States has called on Pope Francis to close down a Catholic church at the Nazi death camp where many hundreds of thousands of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust were murdered.
Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote to Pope Francis before he flew to Kraków in Poland for World Youth Day and his visit to the death camp to protest the existence of a Catholic church at the “largest Jewish cemetery in the world”.
The church is at the extermination camp built in the Second World War to further Hitler’s genocidal goal of eradicating the Jewish people.
Weiss is founder of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and also heads the Coalition for Jewish Concerns.
The letter was sent through the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, according to Algemeiner.
Dear Pope Francis,
On the eve of your visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I ask that you visit the church at Birkenau, whose existence is in clear violation of the 1987 agreement between Roman Catholic cardinals and Jewish leaders.
The agreement stipulates in clear language that “there will be no permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.”
I have attached an article I wrote that appeared online in the Washington Post on this issue.
I have deep respect for people of all faiths, symbols and places of worship of all faiths, but a church does not belong at the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.
It was Pope John Paul who demanded that the nuns leave the convent at Auschwitz One. I ask that you find similar courage and close the church at Birkenau, and have it moved elsewhere.
In his Washington Post article, published last year to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, Weiss wrote that as time passes, there will soon be no living survivors left to witness to what happened there.
“We cannot allow evidence of the atrocities of the Holocaust to be co-opted by other groups for other purposes.”
He recalls how Jews worldwide were “appalled” when, in 1984, Carmelite nuns took over an Auschwitz building that had once stored the Zyklon B gas that Nazis used to murder Jews and were even granted a 99-year lease to convert the building into a convent. Around the same time the Catholic church was established at Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, in what was once the Nazi commandant headquarters.
In 1989, Weiss was among the group of seven activists who climbed over the fence surrounding the Carmelite convent in a peaceful protest.
“Polish workers inside the convent poured a bucket of water mixed with urine on us, as nuns watched from the windows,” he wrote. In 1993, Saint John Paul II ordered the nuns to leave and the convent was closed but the parish church remains.
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Weiss and other activists did a sit-in protest at the Birkenau church.
He wrote: “After a standoff with church officials that lasted throughout the day, we were arrested and taken to a police station, where a doctor summoned there asked that we strip. Flabbergasted, I blurted out, ‘You mean you haven’t stripped enough Jews in this place?’ We were held for several hours before being released. Our protest and arrest won no concessions from the church or Catholic hierarchy.”
Weiss added: “The church remains, and its very existence at this sacred Jewish space is inappropriate, misleading and a violation of Shoah memory….It’s up to people of moral conscience to raise a voice for the sake of Holocaust memory and declare loud and clear: A church has no place at Auschwitz II.”
He also wants the large crosses in front of and on top of the building to be removed.
Pope Francis will be the third Pope to visit Auschwitz.
Of the 1.1 million people murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau or who died of disease or malnutrition, of which nine in ten or more were Jewish. More than 1800 Polish Catholic priests also died in Nazi Concentration Camps, according to historian Sir Ian Kershaw, with 3000 clergy killed in all.