Pope Under Fire for Comments on Holocaust

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Pope Benedict XVI”s perceived lack of remorse for the Holocaust during a speech on Monday is causing a chorus of criticism from Israelis who think he glossed over the genocide and failed to apologize for what many Israelis believe was Catholic indifference during World War II.

According to an Associated Press report, the pope delivered an emotional address at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in which he said that the cry of those killed by the regime under which he grew up “still echoes in our hearts.” 

“May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten,” Benedict, not known for his emotional displays, said in hushed tones.

But only moments after he spoke, Yad Vashem’s top two officials criticized him for failing to use the words “Nazis” or “murder” in his speech. He was also criticized for not mentioning his German roots or the fact that he was forced to serve in Hitler’s Youth and the German army.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi defended the pope, saying he had mentioned his German roots previously, specifically when visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and at the Auschwitz death camp the following year.

“He can’t mention everything every time he speaks,” Lombardi told reporters in Jerusalem.

Still, Israeli newspapers were filled with critical reports of the speech today. “One would have expected the Vatican’s cardinals to prepare a more intelligent text for their boss,” said columnist Tom Segev.

“We’re talking about the pope, who is also a representative of the Holy See, which has a lot to ask forgiveness from our people for,” said Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin during an interview on Israel Radio on Tuesday. 

“And he is also a German, whose country and people have asked forgiveness. The pope spoke like a historian, as somebody observing from the sidelines, about things that shouldn’t happen. But what can you do? He was part of them. With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the baggage he carries with him,” Rivlin said.

Some survivors, however, welcomed the speech, even if they felt it didn’t go far enough. The “pope is not the president of a Zionist organization,” said Noah Frug, the head of a survivors’ group, to the Ynet Web site. “So why should we have any complaints toward him?” 

The Museum ceremony, which included a brief encounter between the pope and six Holocaust survivors, concluded with the pope signing the guest book and the singing of “Hatikva.”

“His mercies are not spent,” the pope wrote in the guest book, quoting from the Book of Lamentations.

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