the most difficult issues between the Vatican and Israel is the allegation by
many Jews that Pope Pius XII - now up for beatification - did not do enough to
prevent the Nazis from killing millions of Jews during World War II. The Holy
See says the matter is not on the agenda during this visit to Israel by Pope
Benedict XVI. The pope visits Israel's Yad Vashem holocaust memorial on Monday
where he is to pay tribute to the victims. The Vatican's response to the
Holocaust is on the minds of many during the pontiff's visit.
Painful reminders still exist
Yisrael Lau, 72, sits in his Tel Aviv office, flipping through the pages of a
book. He comes across the black and white photo of a blond, curly-haired
"The only picture we found before the war, my picture as a baby
of one-year-old," the rabbi said. "We found it by an aunt, my father's sister.
My father sent it to her when I was one year old. And this is the only picture I
have until the age of eight [after] my liberation from Buchenwald."
is the only reminder he has of his life before the Nazi invaders sent him and
all of his family aboard cattle cars to the death camps, where both of his
parents were murdered. He has told this story countless times, yet his eyes
still well up with tears when he remembers seeing his mother for the last time.
"My mother was on the same train with us. We came to Czenstochov, a
labor camp, my brother and myself, all the men," the rabbi said. "And [where]
the women and the children went, we didn't know. After the war, I discovered
that she passed away of torture, diseases, and starvation in the last days of
the war, in a concentration camp in Germany, Ravensbruck."
Lau is now
the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv.
saved Rabbi's life
He remembers it was a non-Jew who saved his
life at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
"A Russian officer from the
city of Rostov, was a prisoner of war, [by the name of] Fyodor. He adopted me,"
Rabbi Lau explained. "He stole potatoes to cook for me a soup every day. He made
a cover of wool for my ears. He made it not for himself. A non-Jewish soldier,
Fyodor, he made it for a Jewish child. He knew I'm Jewish."
many Jews in Israel, he harbors resentment against non-Jews at large, accusing
European Christians, and especially the Roman Catholic Church, of sitting idly
as millions were slaughtered.
museum reflects resentment still harbored by some
is reflected at Israel's Yad Vashem holocaust memorial museum, where recorded
presentations tell more than a million people who visit the museum each year
about atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews.
One exhibit has
been the subject of much controversy. It discusses some Jews' view of the
Vatican's role in the Holocaust. A caption on a plaque says the Pope at the
time, Pius XII, did not protest the atrocities either verbally or in writing,
implying the Vatican did nothing to help Jews.
Vatican: Pope Pius worked quietly to help
The Holy See counters the claim, saying Pius - with his own
Church under threat - worked quietly but courageously to help Jews.
Testimonies by some Holocaust survivors say the Pope's actions - like
ordering that fleeing Jews be hidden at monasteries, convents, and properties of
the Holy See - including Vatican City itself and the Pope's summer residence at
Castel Gandolfo confirm Vatican aid.
A 1943 U.S. intelligence memo said
"the Vatican has apparently for a long time been assisting many Jews to escape."
News reports at the time say the Pope made a number of calls for the
Nazis to stop their persecution of Jews.
After the war, a number of
prominent Jews, including future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and physicist
Albert Einstein, expressed their gratitude to the Pope and the Holy See for
their efforts to help Jews.
Historians say a 1963 fictional play called
the "The Deputy," by little-known German author Rolf Hochhuth, began to change
this perception by portraying Pius XII as a cold-blooded collaborator of the
Many Jews unaware about
changes in Catholic teachings
Today, many people in Israel -
including Rabbi Lau - are unaware of the evidence in favor of Pius XII. Others
are also not aware of the changes the Catholic Church has made in its teachings
since the Holocaust, known in Hebrew as the "Sho'ah."
Neuhaus at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem is a Jesuit priest of
Jewish heritage who also lost relatives in the Holocaust. He is a scholar on
"I think that possibly the most important
step forward has been the ability of the Catholic Church to look at itself
critically, to engage in a process of reevaluation and realize that after the
Sho-ah, which of course was not caused by Catholics, but perhaps could not have
taken place if there had not been such a widespread teaching of contempt for
Jews amongst Christians. After the terrible discovery of what the Sho'ah had in
fact been, there was a real awakening," he said.
Some feel church's actions are not enough
The church has pronounced anti-semitism a sin, stopped the old teaching that
Jews killed Christ, and taken other conciliatory measures.
The visit to
Jerusalem in 2000 by Pope John Paul II went a long way to repairing bad
feelings. Pope John Paul condemned the persecution of Jews by Christians
wherever and whenever it has taken place.
Many Jews, however, believe the
actions - while helpful - are not enough to quell their anger and grief. Some
within the Catholic church, like Father David Neuhaus, believe there is not much
more that can be done to fix the past.
"For many Jews, the fact that the
Holy Father and the bishops did not leave their churches to join the Jews there,
where they were, in the camps, being slaughtered, being burnt, only that would
have been enough," Father Neuhaus said.
Too painful to forget
As Rabbi Lau sees
it, nothing on Earth can ever repair the damage. He is asked whether he harbors
resentment toward the Christians of Poland today.
"I can only one
sentence add to our talk: I will never forget and I am not authorized to
forgive," he said.
For him, and for many others who remember the
Holocaust, the memory is too fresh and the pain too great, to close the chapter.