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Pope’s words at Auschwitz are troubling take on the Holocaust

On the surface, the Associated Press article in Monday’s paper, “German-born pope visits Auschwitz …” seems a sincere effort by the Pope to mourn the millions murdered during the reign of Hitler’s Third Reich. While I have no problem with the pontiff visiting the site of Poland’s most notorious death camp, I am confused and upset by Benedict’s message.

The Holocaust, or Shoah, as it is referred to in Hebrew, was certainly the brainchild of the Nazi regime. Culpability for the murders certainly must be placed upon Hitler’s minions. However, it is also certain that the disappearance of European Jews occurred under the noses of Europe’s Christians, and not unknowingly. Pope Benedict XVI’s words may be soothing to his fold, but I found them patently insulting to Jews.

If you were not able to read the article, here are a few of his words from Auschwitz: “In a place like this, words fail; in the end there can only be a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?”



First, Your Grace, it wasn’t God who remained silent, it was the citizens of Germany and the rest of Europe, millions of them Catholic, who were silent. And in their collective silence is their complicity. God’s tolerance of genocide is not what is remarkable here. It is human tolerance of the Holocaust that needs to be emphasized and addressed.

Whether intentional or not, the Pope’s words remove the onus of this historical nightmare from people and turn it into a divine mystery. This cannot be so. The sentiment of the Pope’s words seems to absolve the bystanders. Did God somehow fail to tell the non-Jews that exterminating a race of people was wrong?




I realize the dangers of any form of protest or defiance during the darkest days of Hitler’s reign, but if any one person in Europe could have tried to stem the flow of Jews into the camps, it was the Pope. When Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939, he had direct authority over a congregation of 400 million and could have tried to wield his considerable influence over his people from the Vatican, but chose not to. The 2000 report “The Vatican and the Holocaust” made by a team of Jewish and Catholic scholars proves Pius’ knowledge of the fate of Jews at the time. And yet, even as Rome’s Jews were being rounded up within sight of the Holy City, Pius failed to officially condemn the atrocities that the Nazis were perpetrating. So what do we make of Pope Pius XII’s silence?

If we follow a vein of the current Pope’s thoughts from Auschwitz a few days ago, it would appear that Pius’ lack of action was somehow attributed to God’s silence. Or further, and this is my point, it is at least inferred by Benedict XVI that the atrocities of the Holocaust were somehow beyond man’s control. His words are at least an implied abdication of human responsibility. This is a dangerous leap. Are we also to assume that the genocides in Armenia, Bosnia and Darfur are a result of God’s inaction, or a result of his tolerance?

I remember learning about the Shoah in high school in the 1980s. The pretext of our unit was the phrase “Never Again.” It seemed like we were making a promise. Somehow, if we learned about the Holocaust, we could prevent another from occurring. Yet, since my high school days there have been several genocides. So, when will never again mean never again?

In my opinion, the absence of such atrocities can only occur when leaders act not out of political necessity, but out of moral imperative. Shouldn’t the head of the world’s largest church be acting out of the latter?

Brian Hightower is a resident of Aspen. Each Sunday, The Aspen Times features the opinion of an area local or visitor in the “Soapbox” section. E-mail submissions to mail@aspentimes.com and limit them to 650 words.


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