"To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against G-d and man, is almost impossible — and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany."
"In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to G-d: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"
-Pope Benedict XVI at Auschwitz, Sunday, May 29, 2006.
His Holiness visited Auschwitz Sunday....walking like an ordinary penitant seeking absolution through the gate with its mocking inscription `Arbeit Macht Frei' (`labor liberates'). I don't use that language lightly.The present Pope lived the nightmare firsthand. He was an unwilling member of the Hitler Youth and was drafted into the German army towards the end of WWII. And for him to come to Auschwitz in this way and confront those old demons head on took extraordinary courage.
Auschwitz itself is deceptive in its placid facade. It's a small town like many others in that part of Poland. The camp itself, like most of the Nazi death camps, is just outside of town, but close enough to town so that no inhabitant could be unaware of what occurred there. Among other things, it's close enough for the smell of burning flesh to have been easily discernable to the townspeople down wind.
The memorial has inscriptions in the 22 languages of the dead. Behind the memorial, there's a small forest of black birches and poplars. To one side are the remains of bombed brick walls, a watchtower and a dark pool with ashes in it. It is indeed a place where words fail...but also a place where birds sing and children play.
But the Pope, after walking through the gates, spoke...in a cold wind with rain drizzling down on him.
The destruction of the people of Israel is essentially the will to destroy G-d, he said: "By eradicating this people, those purveyors of violence wanted, deep down, to kill the G-d who had called upon Abraham, who had spoken on Mount Sinai and established the still valid principles of humanity there....If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the G-d who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that G-d finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone — to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world."
And he continued: "Ultimately, the destruction of Israel was intended as an unearthing of the foundation upon which Christian faith rests, and as its replacement by a new, artificial faith in the rule of man, the rule of the strong."
Some people have criticized the Pope for glossing over the role of the Church in creating the institutionalized anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. It's not just a coincidence that every one of the Nazi death camps was situated in Catholic Europe.
I think they miss the point.
We live in an age where academics and heads of state make a fetish of denying that the Holocaust occurred, or minimizing its scope. As the survivors of the Holocaust die off, it becomes easier and easier to conveniently forget what happened.
By linking the fate of the Jewish people to Christianity, Pope Benedict was making an important point in view of the threat of radical Islam in Europe, the embrace of `anti-Zionism' by some Europeans as a way of dealing with the continent's guilt over the Holocaust and the threats of a new Holocaust by people like Iran's Ahmadinejad.
He was acknowledging a common threat, and a common destiny for Christianity and the Jewish people.
The Pope obviously remembered quite well, though he did not spell it out explicitly that Hitler and the Nazis had many willing accomplices throughout Europe, both in carrying out the actual slaughter of the Jews in Europe and in aiding and abetting it simply by denying that it was occurring...even with the smell of burnt flesh wafting through the air.
G-d did not make the Holocaust, the Shoah. It was a work of man. And perhaps designed as a warning for the future....and so horrfic because of man's tendency to forget, paving the way for it to happen again.
The Pope underlined this by mentioning "new catastrophes" that threaten: the "abuse of G-d for justifying blind violence against innocents," one of several references to Islamic terrorism, and, "on the other hand, the cynicism that doesn't know G-d and mocks faith in him," an obvious reference to the secular Left that has largely either capitulated to Islamic terrorism or prefers to remain unaware.
Pope Benedict is aware that the battle for Europe has begun. This was a speech not only about the past, but about the future.