Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yad Vashem's mistake - Rabbi Yoffie in the Jerusalem Post

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is Emeritus President of the Union for Reform Judaism in the USA and a long-time significant promoter of dialogue, listening and understanding between the Abrahamic faiths.  He is a regular blogger for the Jerusalem Post  and Huffington Post.  Rabbi Yoffie posted this response to Yad Vashem's rewritten text for Pope Pius XII and the Shoah in The Jerusalem Post yesterday.

Yoffie's comments are representative of many people who share the frustration of many historians who are waiting for the opening of the archives for the war years, and I take his comments very seriously.  I do not agree with the oft-expressed hope or belief that the archives will tell us everything.  I remain convinced that the broad or big picture is known and has been known for nearly fifty years and made more clear through the publishing of ADSS.  The opening of the archives for the 1939-1945 war will add detail and nuance, but not, I believe, alter the generally accepted history of the period.  Nor will it silence those who indulge in conspiracy fantasies and the like, or those who believe Pius should be canonised by the Catholic Church without further delay.

Yad Vashem's mistake.

The following are some uncontested historical facts about the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust:
Pius XII never condemned Hitler or the Nazis by name.
He never mentioned specifically the suffering of the Jews, though many people, both clergy and lay diplomats, pleaded with him to issue a public condemnation.
In October, 1943, the Jews were rounded up in Rome itself; the cattle trucks drove past St. Peter’s, with the tiny, shivering hands of the incarcerated children hanging through the slats. The Pope, sitting in St. Peter’s, still said nothing at all.
I mention these facts because I have just learned of the decision of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial, to change the wording of an exhibit on Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II. The changes were meant to soften the criticism of the original wording, which was neither inaccurate nor overly harsh to begin with. 
We are all familiar with the arguments put forward to explain the behavior of the Pope: that he feared a furious reaction from the Nazis if he were to speak out publicly; that Nazi retaliation might have made things worse for the Jews; that church interests in Europe would have been harmed, surely a legitimate papal concern; that the Pope encouraged help for the Jews in secret, and that this help was forthcoming in innumerable cases.
I have done my best to understand these points. They are weighty arguments, and the history of the period is not simple. But I keep coming back to those Jewish children in Rome, being transported past St. Peter’s, and I simply cannot understand the failure of the Pope to speak out. This failure is a great moral stain that can never be wiped away.
I write as someone who is an enthusiastic advocate of Jewish-Catholic dialogue and cooperation, and as someone who believes—and has publicly stated innumerable times—that more progress has been made in Catholic-Jewish relations in the last 60 years than was made in the previous two millennia. Led and inspired by John XXIII and John Paul II, the Church has taken vigorous and daring steps to promote a new relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people. Indeed, I doubt if we could find any other example in history of a church initiating a process of such profound repentance, acknowledging the sins of its members over a 2000 year period against the practitioners of the religious tradition from which it sprang.
But I remember the words of my teacher and friend, the late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg. Rabbi Hertzberg was both liberal in outlook and a fervent bridge builder; he believed that the values of the Jewish tradition and the realities of the modern world required that the Jewish people and the State of Israel cultivate strong relations with the Catholic Church, as well as with the Moslem world and all major faith traditions. Yet he was also a serious historian who had studied the actions of Pius XII during the Holocaust and had been repelled by them, and he had been infuriated by the refusal of the Vatican to open to scholars its archives of the period. 
By all means, he would say to me, let us look to the future and build strong ties with the Church. But, he warned me, let no one alter the historical record, and above all, don’t forget those children.
Rabbi Hertzberg, I believe, would not be pleased by the actions of Yad Vashem. If he were here, he would protest, and so do I.  

Rabbi Eric Yoffie


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