Cross at Auschwitz

I have observed the misery of my people . . . ;
I have heard their cry. . . .
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them (Exod 3:7f).

 

12. Broken Image of the Cross at Auschwitz

Dr. Aaron Milavec


Forgetfulness is the way to exile.
Remembrance is the way to redemption.

-‑- inscription at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

 

 

I thought that I knew the horror of the crucifixion. But I was blinded. Then God sent me an anonymous Jewish father and his little son to remove the scales from my eyes.

It all began very innocently as a visit to museum of art on a cloudy Saturday morning in the summer of 1983. As it happened, I gravitated toward the section of the museum devoted to medieval and renaissance art. While I was lazily moving through the exhibit, a father with his young son caught my eye. I was watching them out of the corner of my eye because they had a very unusual way of relating to each other. The son periodically moved ahead a few pictures and then returned, wordlessly pressing close to his father. From time to time, the father would draw his son’s attention to some detail of what was before them and give him a short explanation. Suddenly, at a moment when the boy of ten was moving ahead, he stopped short. There, in front of him, was the life‑sized depiction of a man whose arms were outstretched on a board. His arms were outstretched because there were large nails piercing his hands holding them there. The artist had used bright red paint to depict the blood. The frightened boy drew back quickly, pressing himself to his father’s side. I clearly overhead him say, “Father, what’s that?” The father reassuringly touched his son and, in a clear, unimpassioned voice, replied, “My Son, that’s what Christians use to preach hatred of our people.”

These words left me frozen and numb. Then, after a few minutes of reflection, I became exceedingly sad. For over seven years, I had been in regular contact with religious Jews; yet, never, never, never had I heard such a tragically honest and clear confession of how sorely this image of Jesus divides us. For me, as a Christian, the symbol of Jesus on the cross evoked wonder and gratitude at God’s mercy in redeeming us from our sins. For this Jewish father, however, this same image stood as the instrument of pernicious propaganda meant to evoke hatred for his people.

In this essay, I first want to explore the historical route whereby the cross became a symbol of terror for Jews. Next I want to focus upon the troubled situation in Auschwitz, Poland, where modern-day crosses have deeply troubled contemporary Jews. Finally, I hope to present some theological reflections demonstrating an alternative appreciation of the cross.

The Emergence and the Effects of “Blood Guilt”

The first Christians did not hate Jews for, in fact, they were themselves Jews. The first Christians did not blame all Jews for the death of Jesus because this would be tantamount to blaming themselves. As long as the Jesus movement was solidly Jewish, it could not be anti‑Jewish. As the Jesus movement became overwhelmingly Gentile, however, a theological platform emerged whereby, through slow and progressive steps, the Gentile church was led, first, to blame Jews; then, to hate Jews; and, finally, to kill Jews.

Consider the issue of blaming Jews. On the basis of the Gospel records themselves, one can surmise that Jesus’ religious message polarized his contemporaries. There were Jews strongly for him and strongly against him. During the Galilean phase of Jesus’ ministry, the Synoptics present the Pharisees as Jesus’ chief antagonists. Nonetheless, conflict with the Pharisees did not endanger Jesus’ well-being. In fact, the Pharisees did not even exclude Jesus from their synagogues. According to Luke’s gospel, the Pharisees invited Jesus to dine with them even while they openly had some strong disagreements with him (Luke 7:36, 11:37, 14:1). Once Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, however, Jesus encountered a different sort of antagonist. The Synoptics present the temple authorities as having no stomach for debating with Jesus‑-they proceed immediately to ruthlessly plot to have Jesus eliminated. Within one week of Jesus’ disturbance in the temple, consequently, Jesus would be arrested by soldiers of the high priest and handed over to the Roman on the charge of insurrection. The crucifixion follows.

All in all, the Gospels identify only a very select number of Jews as bearing some responsibility for his death: Judas, the high priest and his advisory council, the crowd that shouted before Pilate, “Let him be crucified” (Matt 27:22). In all, maybe three hundred Jews.

Outside the Gospels, however, one finds sayings bent upon blaming every Jew who did not accept Jesus as responsible for his death. In the Acts of the Apostles, for instance, one finds Peter, in his Pentecost address, indiscriminatingly accusing his audience of foreign‑born Jews‑-“devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)‑-as having “crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of those outside the law [viz., Gentiles]” (Acts 2:23). This accusation is problematic, especially in view of the fact that most or all of these foreign-born Jews lived hundreds of miles outside of Jerusalem and have just traveled to the Holy City to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Nonetheless, Luke’s reconstruction of Peter’s sermon projects upon them the same accountability for the death of Jesus as those three hundred who were to some degree actually involved. Thus, the number of implicated Jews was mounting. Now three million Jews scattered throughout the known world at the time of Jesus are held accountable.

By the third century, Gentile Christians were routinely blaming not only all Jews living at the time of Jesus, but they were likewise blaming all the Jews living in their own century as well. The key text used to sustain this position was the words found exclusively in Matthew’s Gospel: “His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matt 27:25). These words were interpreted to mean that the Jewish crowd knowingly claimed responsibility for the death of Jesus both for themselves and for their children and their childrens’ children to the end of time. This notion came to known as “blood guilt.”

That those as yet unborn should be implicated in the guilt of their Jewish parents may seem strange to our ears today; yet, it is good to remember that at the same time this doctrine was being formulated, Christians were coming to the realization that the sin of Adam operated in quite the same way. True, Adam alone disobeyed God and ate the fruit of the forbidden tree; yet, the consequences of that sin were being passed down from generation to generation such that all the sons and daughters of Adam born into the world suffer the fallout of the primordial sin of their “father.” The doctrine of “original sin,” therefore, grew up in the same climate that was formulating “blood guilt.”

We are familiar with the consequences of original sin,[i] but many of us may have forgotten what Christians of the third century understood as the consequences of “blood guilt.” To begin with, Christians saw all the events connected with the Jewish War of 68‑70 C.E. as depicting these consequences. Josephus, an eye‑witness, reported the slow starvation, the piteous cries of infants starving in their mothers’ arms, the screams of men being tortured to death on crosses after having being caught while scavenging for food at night outside the city walls, the stench of dead corpses that had no place for burial, and even the acts of suicide and cannibalism. After a period of long starvation designed to soften the resistance of the Jewish zealots, the Roman war machines broke through the city walls and either killed or enslaved the million Jews that remained. Then the temple that had become the source and center of Jewish hope and practice for hundred of years was burnt to the ground. And all of this because a few hundred Jews had called out forty years earlier, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

The notion of “blood guilt” and “divine retribution” came to be the standard story line that Christian historians used in analyzing the fate of the Jewish people. Bishop Eusebius, the father of church history, consolidated this pattern[ii] in the early fourth century when he took it upon himself to trace the progress of the Christians from the time of Jesus to that of Constantine. Again and again, Eusebius drives home the point that every famine, every siege, every disorder plaguing the Jewish people was to be interpreted as follows: “Thus then the divine justice overtook the Jews in this way for their crimes against Christ” (Ecclesiastical History 2.5, 2.6, 2.7). His point was clear: These Jews were getting what they deserved.

Moving from Injurious Words to Injurious Actions

At first “divine retribution” was left entirely to God. But not for long. A Christian, it will be remembered, is schooled in the imitatio dei (the imitation of God). Thus, after hearing an inflammatory sermon, some impressionable youths might come away from church and harass this or that Jew and make jokes in the public taverns stigmatizing Jews. With the advent of the First Crusade in 1086, however, the poison gleaned in sermons and table talk had made many quite ready to take “divine retribution” into their own hands.[iii] Within feudal Europe, local wars were stopped in order to give precedence to the “holy war” which was being preached in all the churches. Every knave and petty Lord had the chance to fight, not for earthly princes, but for the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. Peasants everywhere stormed heaven for the success of the war effort and gave of their sons and their savings to supply the troops. All except the Jews that is! Some towns decided to rectify this by juridicly canceling any debt that a man might have to a Jew once he took the crusader’s vow to serve for two years. But other soldiers, spirited on by the holy songs, sermons, and blessings of the Christians who greeted them as they marched, began to rob and loot the barns and residences of the non‑contributing Jews they met along the way. When Jews resisted, the armed soldiers cut them down with their instruments of war.

Some pastors preached against this “unwarranted” looting and killing, and some civil officials tried to apprehend the culprits but even these efforts came to nothing in the face of the crude logic of wartime zeal. Citizens were saying, “It’s not right that the Jewish farmers and merchants get rich due to the higher prices of the war economy and yet contribute nothing to the war effort.” Soldiers were saying, “Why should we be risking our lives to fight the infidel Turk abroad when, right here, the infidel Jew continues to despise Christ right under our own noses?”

The bright-red cross painted on each of the crusader’s shields no longer depicted a Jew crying out to heaven, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 and par.) Rather the cross was now the symbol of triumphal power that was calculated to strike fear into the hearts of God’s enemies, Jews and Muslims alike.

It was just a matter of time before the broken cross, the swastika, would take up and secularize the anti‑Jewish poison that had seeped into the hearts of Christians out of the standard sermons and theological tracts. Anyone who heard Hitler’s speeches and read Mein Kampf knows full well that Hitler did not hesitate to quote the New Testament by way of enforcing Christ’s own attitude toward the “hypocrisy” and “blindness” of the Jews. Most Catholics and Lutherans in Germany, along with their pastors, were content, first, to have Jewish books removed from the libraries, then to have Jewish doctors, lawyers, and scientists removed from public service, and, finally, to have Jews relocated from their neighborhoods. Even before there was any thought of “the final solution,” therefore, Christians were already disposed to sacrifice Jewish interests and Jewish rights for reasons of “racial purity” and “national security.”

 Whether Hitler Might Have Gained Power in the U.S.A.

“But it could never have happened here in the U.S.A.,” I assured my Jewish friends. One, in particular, did not agree:

 In good times, Jews are tolerated and left alone. In bad times, Jews become easy scapegoats. Even here in the United States, the Nazi Party of America held frequent rallies in the 30s. At one such rally, Madison Square Garden was filled to capacity with supporters listening to racial policies lifted right out of Mein Kampf. Meanwhile, Fr. Charles Coglin, the so-called “radio priest,” was broadcasting every Sunday on stations from coast to coast his message blaming Jewish bankers for having brought on the Great Depression and for having destroyed the American way of life. If the soup lines had been longer and if F.D.R. had not mobilized a massive government intervention directed towards putting every able man back to work, we could well have had another Hitler here.

“Aren’t you overstating the case?,” came my rejoinder. “Can’t you acknowledge that our tradition of civil liberties are too strong and our religious denominations too vigilant to allow anything like the Nazi Party to come to power here?” My friend responded:

Where was our tradition of civil liberties and religious vigilance when Japanese‑Americans were rounded up and quietly removed to internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor? And where was our tradition of fair play and civil liberties when African‑American veterans returning from the grime and despair of war-torn Europe reentered the grime and despair of inner‑city poverty? Have you forgotten that, even in the liberal North, Blacks were systematically excluded from the post‑war boom that was taking place in the newly constructed suburbs being erected across America?

This last set of questions stopped my lips. I had no ready answer. In fact, upon searching my own heart, I now recognize that, had times been grim and hopeless here in the 50s as they had been in Germany during the 30s, I myself was already so poisoned against Jews due to my upbringing that I might well have given them up to hostile powers in the name of “national security” and “a new world order.” So, after some sober reflection, I now know that it might have happened here.

Polish Anti-Judaism before, during, and after the War

During the war, Christian nations and Christian peoples, with only a few exceptions, turned a deaf ear to the plight of the Jews. After the war, it was no different. Even in Catholic Poland where 95% of the indigenous Jewish population was liquidated in the death camps, the same deep animosities were still being felt. In 1987, for example, during the onset of warm weather in July, Polish workers were battling with Jewish demonstrators at Auschwitz. Each group accused the other of desecrating the memory of those who died in the concentration camp that had operated there. Instead of the camp becoming a place for shared grieving and healing, Polish Catholics were offended that Jews were trying to deliver the message that innocent Jewish blood was spilt there.

Auschwitz is a small town thirty miles west of Krakow, Poland. The Nazis built a large labor camp just outside the town in 1940. With time, the camp at Auschwitz pioneered the most efficient system of mass extermination ever devised and, subsequently, Jews and other undesirables from all over Europe were being shipped there in cattle cars as part of the “Final Solution.” Within hours of their arrival, the vast majority of those who survived the transport were gassed in the simulated shower room and their bodies were slated for cremation in the large ovens that burned human flesh night and day. All in all, somewhere between 1.4 and 1.6 million perished here, and more than 85% of them were Jews.[iv]

According to Professor Julius H. Schoeps, Director of the Salomon Ludwig Steinheim Institute for German-Jewish history, the Poles and the Nazis had much in common in their treatment of Jews prior to the war:

 The practice of antisemitism[v] in pre-war Poland matched that in Germany before the pogrom of 9 November 1938‑-perhaps with the sole difference that no formal anti-Jewish laws were needed for it. In Poland, too, there was massive discrimination against Jews in professional and business life. Physical maltreatment of Jewish pupils and students at Polish schools and universities was an everyday occurrence at the end of the 1930s. The professional associations of doctors, architects, and engineers expelled their Jewish members “with reference to Aryan regulations” which were unmistakably orientated on the paragraph in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and indicate that Polish society, too, had been infected by the bacillus of antisemitism.[vi]

Poland, during this period, had around 3.5 million Jewish citizens. In fact, Poland had the largest concentration of Jews per capita (16%) found anywhere in the world. The United States) had numerically more Jews, but they amounted to only 2% of the total population. Even in New York State, Jews only constitute 9% of the inhabitants. By contrast, 16% of the Polish population was Jewish, and the capital city of Warsaw was one-third Jewish. The Jewish population in Poland supported 30 daily newspapers and 400 cemeteries.

Before the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Poland actively supported both theological and social anti-Judaism. Cardinal Hlond, the Catholic Primate of Poland, issued a pastoral letter to the Polish people in 1936 which contained, in part, the following diatribe against the Jews:

There will be a Jewish problem [in Poland] as long as the Jews remain. It is a fact that the Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in freethinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism [Communism], and subversion. It is a fact that the Jewish influence on morality is pernicious and that their publishing houses disseminate pornography. It is a fact that the Jews deceive, levy interest [on loans], and are pimps. It is a fact that the religious and ethical influence of the Jewish young people on Polish young people is a negative one.[vii]

Thus, Polish Catholics were being encouraged by the their own supreme pastor to maintain a wholesale vilification of all Jews. Cardinal Hlond not only mimicked themes being preached by Adolph Hitler, in some ways he exceeded him. This helps explain why the Poles were so ready to collaborate with the Nazi campaigns against the Jews once the German occupation began in 1938. This also helps explain why, in Poland, one hears of so few stories of priests speaking out against the forced removal of Jews from all levels of public life. It also helps explain why, in contrast to other Catholic nations, so terribly few Polish Catholics sheltered Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Even Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, despite the many stories circulating to the effect that he risked his life to save Jews during the occupation,[viii] himself admitted that, as a college student and, later, as a seminarian and young priest, he did nothing. In the PBS two-hour special, “John Paul II: The Millennial Pope,” the following encounter was recounted by Marek Halter, a filmmaker, who met with the pope in 1986 with the intent of creating a film testimony to Gentiles who saved Jews during the war. He related the following:

I didn’t ask him if it’s true that he saved Jews, that he helped the Jews, what he did at that time of the war, really. I had testimonies, people, of Stanislaw Gibisch, other people, his Jewish friends, the son of the advocate, of the lawyer, Kluger. But I never ask him.

So when I arrived, he said, “Ah, here you are. You came from Paris.”

“You had a lot of Jewish friends,” I asked, “before the war?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said to him, “And all of them were killed?”

And he changed. He said, “Yes. It’s horrible. Right. They were killed.”

And I told him, “But some of them survived. They were saved.”

He said, “Danken Gott [German: “Thank God”].”

Then I asked him the really [tough] question, “And you, Holy Father, you did something for them?”

And then his face changed, and he said “I don’t believe I‑-no.” “No,” he said.

And I was so surprised because, in my mind, I believed that he’s going to tell me a story, a story that he was‑-he was preparing the false papers, passports for the Jews, because I heard that, because people told me about that. And he told me, “No,” so I was stopped. I didn’t knew [sic] what asking more.

And the‑-all my interview was stopped, was finished, finished only with this gesture. He took me in his arms like a brother with a very bad, guilty feeling. And I was very frustrated. Very frustrated.[ix]

Even after the war, there was no movement within Poland to revise its policy toward the Jews even though only a relatively few remained. In fact, anti-Judaism was strong as ever. On 11 Aug 1945 in Krakow and on 04 July 1946 in Kielce,[x] riots broke out and old-fashioned pogroms erupted by way of protesting the return of Polish Jews to their homeland. “In 1945 alone there is evidence that 353 Jews were killed by mobs, resulting in a mass flight of around 80,000 Polish Jews to the West.”[xi] In 1968, there was another mass exodus stimulated by a mass campaign officially sanctioned by the Polish government. Even after the destruction of the Berlin wall and the emergence of free political parties, Polish election campaigns were repeatedly marred by slanders claiming that this or that candidate was “Jewish” or that this or that party was “filled with Jewish sympathizers.” Campaign posters were defaced with the Star of David by way of driving home this point.

Polish Jews who found refuge in the United States have complained to me of the cold reception they received by neighbors and friends when they returned to visit their homeland during the 1990s. Poles living in Jewish homes claimed they had no knowledge of who had formerly lived there and showed no sympathy for the Jews who lost not only their homes but also their lives during and after the war. Alexander Kimel, a Shoah survivor and frequently visitor to Poland, makes this painful observation regarding his people:

It would seem that Poles, towards whom history has not been stingy about misfortunes, should be better able than other people to understand the Jews, who have suffered even greater misfortunes. Yet the very opposite is true. Our painful memories drive us away from the Jews, and painful Jewish memories drive the Jews away from us.[xii]

The truth remains that, prior to the war, 3.5 million Poles were Jewish, while today less than 10,000 Jews can be found remaining in Poland.

The Convent and the Cross at Auschwitz

Against this backdrop, one should not be surprised that Jews felt humiliated when a small community of Carmelite nuns refurbished the old theater located near the gate of the concentration camp and took up residence in 1984. The Nazis had formerly stored the canisters of poison gas, Zyklon B, in this theater. Being a group of contemplative nuns, the women refused to discuss their presence with the Polish press, saying, “We are here to pray, not to give interviews.”[xiii]

With time, however, protests began. Jews feared that if the Carmelites installed a permanent monastery in the former camp, future generations would forget that the Jews had been overwhelmingly numbered among the victims there. Jews never objected to Catholic nuns praying for the victims of the Nazis. “The real issue was the inappropriate location of the convent in one of the camp’s original buildings.”[xiv] Since Jewish-Catholic relations were soured everywhere due to the presence of the Carmelite monastery, representatives of the Roman Catholic hierarchy agreed to met with the World Jewish Congress in Geneva in an attempt to resolve the issue. On 22 February 1987, both sides signed an agreement which, among other things, stipulated that the Carmelite sisters would be installed in a new monastery built outside of the camp boundaries within two years.

On 22 February 1989, the Carmelite sisters were still in place and no construction had been started on the new monastery. Stanislaw Musial, secretary of the Commission of Poland’s Episcopate for Dialogue with Judaism, complained of administrative delays and declared that the bishops had just managed to buy land to construct a Jewish-Christian Holocaust education center and hoped to be able to buy land for the new monastery later that year.

Then, to make matters worse, the giant cross was erected near the convent. This was no ordinary cross. It was made of stout beams and towered nearly 23 feet in the air. This had been the papal cross erected in an open field at Krakow at the time when the newly elected pope, John Paul II, had made his historic visit to Poland and celebrated Mass there with a million of his countrymen. Supporters of the Carmelite presence in the camp had taken the papal cross from Krakow and erected it at Auschwitz by way of affirming what the pope said when he visited Auschwitz, namely, that here one found “the Golgotha of the modern world.”   The pope had also requested that “a place of prayer and penance” be built at the camp “to honor the Catholic martyrs and to atone for the murders.” Here, again, the transportation of the cross symbolized the pope’s blessing upon the Carmelite monastery that was established as a direct response to the pope’s wishes. More importantly, however, the cross was placed just a stone’s throw from Barracks 13 and was understood to be a memorial to honor the memory of Fr. Maximilian Kolbe:

Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16770 in Auschwitz‑Birkenau, 1941 August 14. When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected ten others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. One of the ten selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: “My wife! My children! I will never see them again!” At this Fr. Kolbe stepped forward and asked to die in his place. His request was granted.

The large cross commemorating just one Christian was difficult for Jews to swallow. At one point, Jewish protestors carried placards at the entrance to the camp that read, “Leave our dead alone!” and “Do not Christianize Auschwitz and Shoah!” Polish Catholics, on the other hand, were pleased that the giant cross asserted their claim that thousands of Catholics died at Auschwitz. For them, the cross redeemed the world, and the suffering of those at Auschwitz joined together with the infinite merits of Christ. Furthermore, the cross commemorated a Polish priest who willing gave his life that someone else might live. Finally, the cross chosen was the very one that reminded them that the pope in Rome was one of them and one with them in their struggle against the Communists. In the minds of most Poles, these were compelling arguments. Poles found it difficult to understand why foreign Jews were getting so worked up by a symbol that they did not share.

Jewish dissatisfaction could not and did not go away. Jews were asking themselves why the bishops had signed the Geneva Agreement if they intended to ignore it. Going further, Jews tried to explain how the cross (like the one at Auschwitz) had been used again and again to “preach hatred for our people” (as explained in the opening story). Furthermore, it made no sense for Jews to try to discover some “mysterious divine purpose” or some “redeeming grace” in the deaths of over a million Jews in this camp just because Christians wanted to sugarcoat the horrendous death of one Jew living two thousand years ago.[xv] Kolbe, meanwhile, was welcomed by Jews as a man of courage. However, this did not disguise the fact that he had also been the publisher of a Polish journal disseminating anti-Jewish articles. Thus, for informed Jews, care had to be taken not to allow the cross commemorating his heroic martyrdom to cover over his complicity with the ideology of the Nazis that made the Shoah possible.

In 1989, as the grip of the Polish government relaxed in order to give way to democratic reforms, the necessity for Catholic unity in the face of Communism also began to disappear. Now one heard the voice of Polish Catholics on both sides of the issues surrounding Auschwitz. For example, an editorial in the Solidarity newspaper Gazeta called for the Carmelites to immediately take up a temporary residence outside the camp. This position, however, was met with letters of protest.

As the Cold War dissipated, foreign Jews increasingly visited Auschwitz to mourn for their family and friends who died there and to recite the Kaddish (prayers for the dead) on their behalf. Reports about the monastery and the giant cross gained increased circulation. In the eyes of most Jews, it appeared as though Polish Catholics were trying to erase the memory of the Jewish deaths inside the camp. During this same period, many so-called “research centers” had emerged with the intent of scientifically revising downward the numbers of Jews who died or, in some instances, to deny outright that Jews were even singled out as victims in the first place.[xvi]

During this same period, visitors to Auschwitz were being informed by official tour guides that Auschwitz was specifically a “Polish tragedy”:

Piotr, the official guide, had just finished leading a tour of the Auschwitz death camp outside Krakow. He had described the prison work detail, the collecting of eye glasses, gold fillings from teeth, and other personal belonging from condemned prisoners, and the workings of the crematoriums where an estimated 1.6 million people perished. Until asked, Piotr never mentioned the words “Jews” or “Judaism,” even though most of the victims‑-an estimated 1,355,000‑-were Jewish. “This is a Polish tragedy,” he explained. “It wasn’t just Jews who died here.”[xvii]

True, more than 140,000 Catholic Poles suffered and died in Auschwitz. After the German Blitz-kreig of 1938, the Nazis terrorized the Polish people in order to make certain that no resistance movement would take hold and siphon off troops from the larger war effort to come. When the camp at Auschwitz was first built in 1940, its first occupants were the Polish intelligentsia and uncooperative civil servants. Gypsies, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jews followed. Beginning in 1942, the camp was greatly expanded and linked to forty feeder camps in order to implement the Final Solution. Jews from Poland and all over Europe were being shipped in cattle cars marked for immediate extermination upon arrival at the camp. Thus, in late 1942, the number of deaths from starvation, exhaustion, disease, beatings, and medical experiments was dwarfed by deaths from Zyklon B in the faked shower room. Prisoners fit for work were now fully occupied with removing the naked dead bodies from the shower rooms, extracting gold fillings, and then transporting them to a place where they were stacked like cord wood in anticipation of the everburning cremation ovens. All in all, nearly six million Poles died during World War II‑-half were Catholic, half were Jewish. At Auschwitz, 85% of the victims were Jews.

 Jewish Experience of the Cross Remembered

Late in 1989, the international edition of the Jerusalem Post published an article by Naftali Lavie in which he described his experience of the cross at Auschwitz:

Last month I stood with my immediate family‑‑my wife, my daughter and my three sons at the Block of Horrors in Auschwitz. . . . From a window on the second floor, a huge wooden cross, eight meters high, blocked my view. Behind it stood the Carmelite convent. . . .

Many Jews see the presence of a cross at Auschwitz as a provocation directed at the Jewish people, and as a desecration of the Holocaust. . . .

I still remembered the fears that haunted us as children [in Poland], as we tried to escape the presence of the cross. In our heavily Christian communities, Catholic funeral processions were always led by a young boy holding a long metal scepter with a cross on top. Behind the child the priest would march, reading the prayers. Any Christian passer‑by meeting the procession would remove his hat, bend his knee and bow to the cross. Jewish adults knew how to handle this situation, sometimes seeking shelter in doorways to avoid confronting the cross. Children were less experienced and were occasionally beaten when the procession passed by and they did not bend their knee before the cross. . . .

Those who raised the cross in Auschwitz perhaps meant to erase the uniqueness of what happened to the Jews in this evil place. But by doing this they have returned the symbol that has pursued us down through the generations to its proper place. There, within eyesight of the gallows on which the commandant of Auschwitz was hanged, stands the cross‑‑fitting reminder to the world of who is responsible for the most horrible crime since the beginning of time.[xviii]

The images here are very sobering. Whatever the cross has meant to Christians‑-during the crusades, during the Nazi era, during our funeral processions‑-it is evident that our symbols have brought and continue to bring fear and suffering to Jews. The very symbol of our redemption has meant, in practical terms, the loss of freedom and of grace for those who are, with Jesus, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. It was with some relief, therefore, that the 1990 “Declaration by the Jews and Christians’ Discussion Group” from the Central Committee of German Catholics took a courageous fresh look at this problem. In part, the document concluded as follows:

True, it is a tradition of Christian piety going back to the early history of the Church to erect the cross or a church at a place of martyrdom or over the graves of martyrs. But that tradition cannot be continued at Auschwitz. It would seem presumptuous because the dead at Auschwitz are not “our” martyrs, even though there were men and women among them who died as Christians. Furthermore, it would distort the fact that it was baptized people who became perpetrators. However understandable the longing of Christians to place the abysmal suffering of Auschwitz under the cross of Christ so that the light of hope from the Resurrection may radiate over this place of incomprehensible Godforsakenness and contempt for humankind, however great the seriousness with which the Polish people wish to make that site a symbol of their own martyrdom and renewal, Auschwitz must and for all time be preserved as the place where millions of Jews died, abandoned by an indifferent world and by the Churches, who, after all, live with the Jewish people in one and the same Covenant of God.[xix]

This statement is marvelously balanced. On the one hand, it evokes the tradition marking the appropriateness of the cross as a Christian symbol of hope and the role Auschwitz plays in Polish renewal. On the other hand, it acknowledges that Auschwitz stands historically as the site where, for the most part, Jews died “abandoned by an indifferent world and by the Churches.” They might have said, “abandoned by the Polish hierarchy and the greater part of Polish Catholics as well,” but it is better to wait for Poles themselves to arrive at this point.

Polish Sources Calling for Acknowledgment of Complicity

Already there are some voices within Poland not content to cover over Polish complicity in the ordeal of the Jews. On 11 January 1987, the Polish weekly Tygodnik Powszechny published a column by the Polish literary scholar Jan Blonski. He called for an end to the habit of making excuses by putting blame on political, social, and economic conditions. He was the first to say, “Yes, we are guilty.” Blonski especially noted the legacy of the post-war pogroms that took place in an era when Nazi collaboration was being everywhere repudiated. Thus, he boldly said:

 We could not even welcome the [Jewish] survivors and receive them honorably, even if they were embittered, confused, and perhaps also a burden on us. In short, instead of calculating and excusing ourselves, we should first examine ourselves, consider our sin and our weakness. This moral conversion, in particular, is absolutely necessary in our relationship to the Polish-Jewish past.[xx]

This column was met with hundreds of replies, most of them critical. The chief editor, Jerzy Turowicz, published representative letters with the remark: “We must note with shame that even if some authors deny it, these very letters prove that antisemitism is still widespread in Poland.”[xxi]

The Polish Catholic hierarchy made a weak statement in 1991 in which it, for the first time, formally condemned anti-Judaism and expressed “honest regret for all tendencies towards antisemitism which have taken place on Polish soil whenever and by whomever.”[xxii] Nonetheless, they apparently did not apply this to the then-current situation at Auschwitz, for the convent remained in place despite the Geneva Agreement of 1982 signed by the Polish bishops. The Polish hierarchy, in its 1991 condemnation of anti-Judaism thus backed away from taking steps to bring justice and fairness to a situation right under their own noses. With no resolution in sight, John Paul II took the unexpected step of personally intervening in 1994 and persuaded the Carmelite nuns to move to a site a few hundred yards outside the camp. By way of insuring that there would be no further foot dragging, John Paul II took the further step of agreeing to underwrite the cost of the new construction. Since the nuns had taken up their post originally due to what they regarded as an expressed wish from the pope during his historic visit, they were all too willing now to relocate in accord with a new expressed wish of this same pope. In addition, the nuns were able to regain their peace of mind without any loss of face since, in the minds of most Poles it was intolerable to back down before international Jewish pressure that seemed bent upon distracting the world from the martyrdom of Poland that occurred at Auschwitz.

Thus, the monastery was removed to another location but the cross remained.

Four years later, under pressure from the United States just prior to the Senate’s vote to admit Poland to NATO, the Polish government (made up of members of Solidarity) announced that the giant cross would be removed just as had the convent before it. The Primate of Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, however, openly insisted that the papal cross should and would remain. During this same period, Polish Catholics who had learned the power of symbolic protests during the Communist era began to plant small white crosses in the cemetery attached to Auschwitz as a further sign that Catholic victims had been buried there. In early August of 1989, one counted fifty such crosses. By late December, the number had grown to two hundred forty.[xxiii] To make certain that none of the crosses was removed, Kazimierz Switon, a former member of Solidarity, organized a popular watchdog campaign. Prime Minister Jerzy Burek was thus in a quandary because he had promised the Jewish community on several occasions that he would have the crosses removed. The government was also fearful that the children of Polish Jews killed at Auschwitz would make claims for the restitution of property wrested from their parents during the war. After intensive debate, the Polish Parliament found the compromise solution they thought was needed: the three hundred small crosses in the cemetery were to be removed but the large papal cross was to remain. Thus, in late May of 1999, the local police augmented by military soldiers removed all the white crosses from the cemeteries.

A few weeks later, John Paul II was visiting Warsaw. During a live televised ceremony, Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz, made a surprise personal appeal directly to the pope to please remove the large cross at Auschwitz. Evidently his appeal was denied for, to this day, the rough beams of the cross dominate the landscape at one end of the camp.

Three Theologians Probe the Broken Symbolism of the Cross

Given the ambiguity of the symbolism of the cross, what must be done? Various Christian theologians have presented different answers.

Mary Boys, in her essay, “The Cross: Should a Symbol Betrayed Be Reclaimed?,” begins by making a significant distinction: (a) the cross used “as the symbol of the power to embrace suffering that is part and parcel of the human condition” and (b) the cross used “as a symbol of resistance for those suffering as a result of human sin.”[xxiv] Borrowing from the experience of Kathleen Talvacchia in El Salvador, Boys makes reference to the brightly colored crosses that “honor the cost of choosing to live and resist oppression, while expressing hope for the transformation of the suffering.”[xxv] (Talvacchia:29). In Latin America, the “death squads” target union organizers bent upon introducing safe working conditions and catechists bent upon persuading the poor that God stands with them against the systemic evils of their society.[xxvi] The cross, in this instance, stands powerfully against those perpetrators who believe that workers who witness the tortured and mutilated bodies of their leaders will move back in horror and resign themselves to resuming their timid and defeated postures in favor of the status quo. The cross symbolizes further that God is not indifferent to the deaths of those cut down by ruthless power but that “we do not suffer alone, that God is with us and suffers with us.”[xxvii] (Talvacchia:29).

The evaluation of Boys has much to recommend it. In the first place, this image harmonizes well with the Jesus of the synoptics wherein both he and his disciples understood their suffering as an immediate and direct consequence of their prophetic function within their society (Matt 5:10f),   From this biblical vantage point, the death of Jesus is not seen through the lens of an atoning death required by God for the forgiveness of sins but as illustrating how ruthless power functions in its quest to humiliate, to discredit, and to silence the prophets. Jesus, after all, did not die a painful death due to cancer or leprosy. Much less was it an accidental death‑-a drowning or a boating accident. Rather, Jesus died because he disturbed the status quo. His death was an official execution conducted by Roman overlords following an interrogation and handing over by the chief priests.

If and when Catholics reclaim the prophetic mission of Jesus, they will not imagine that the faith of the cross applies to all those who died at Auschwitz. To be sure, the cross of Jesus aptly symbolizes the death of those Jehovah Witnesses who refused categorically to bear arms for any nation. The cross of Jesus also aptly symbolizes those Poles who refused to cooperate with their German overlords in their campaign to pacify the people. The Jews, as a group, however, were killed precisely because they were an “inferior race” and not because they overtly resisted Hitler and his Nazi ideology. On the other hand, a moderate case could be made that every Jew, by virtue of their habitual religious orientation, was committed to serve God alone and to resist the idolatry of National Socialism. In practice, however, only a few Jews died because they took a prophetic stand against Hitler. For the vast majority, they were the “innocent bystanders” and “convenient scapegoats” hit upon by the political and racist ambitions of Hitler. In any case, Boys’ interpretation of the cross insures that neither Christians nor Jews would find any divine plan or mysterious benefit in the death of 1.3 million Jews at Auschwitz.

2. James Carroll, in his recent book, Constantine’s Sword, draws attention to the disorientation into which the tragedy of Auschwitz has immersed the Jewish people:

Some formerly religious Jews saw in the holocaust only the absence of God, and moved on without faith. Other Jews went from atheism to the faith of Job, an affirmation devoid of piety. There are Jewish voices, from Elie Wiesel to Richard Rubenstein to Emil Fackenheim, who reject the idea that suffering such as Jews underwent in the death camps‑-a million children murdered‑-can be meaningful. To value those deaths is such a way is to diminish their horror.[xxviii]

Sad to say, Christians are prone to extend the mystique of suffering surrounding the death of Jesus and to extend it to cover the deaths of the six million Jews during the Shoah. Cardinal John O’Connor, the Catholic Archbishop of New York, had this to say as part of his reflections upon visiting Yad Vashem, the Shoah Museum in Israel:

 The crucifixion and its enormous power continue mystically and spiritually in this world in our day and will continue to the end of time. Christ . . . continues to suffer in his Body, the Church. . . . And this suffering has a purpose and an effect, as does ours if we conjoin it with his, if we “offer it up”. . . . [Consequently] if the suffering of the crucifixion was infinitely redemptive, the suffering of the Holocaust, potentially conjoined with it, is incalculably redemptive.[xxix]

Archbishop O’Connor, mesmerized by the infinite redemptive suffering of Christ, undoubtedly thought he was honoring the dead Jews of the concentration camps when he associated their sufferings as having a redemptive efficacy analogous to those of Jesus. Many survivors of the death camps and their relatives[xxx] were neither flattered nor consoled by the Archbishop’s crude attempt to extend a Christian atonement theology to cover the enormity of evil involved in their loss. According to Carroll, therefore, it is a great mistake for an outsider (Christians) to presume to know what insiders (Jews) have yet to resolve for themselves. Thus;

If Jewish responses to the holocaust . . . are complex and multifaceted, Christian interpretations of the near elimination of Jews from Europe, however respectfully put forth, must inevitably be even more problematic. The cross signifies the problem: When suffering is seen to serve a universal plan of salvation, its particular character as tragic and evil is always diminished.[xxxi]

I would go further and say that it is a mark of pastoral insensitivity and of theological arrogance to presume that Jesus somehow offers Jews today a unique answer to their tragedy when, in point of fact, the cross has been so often used against the Jews in the course of history. In the face of enormous and systematic evil, the proper response of Christians must be, first and foremost, (a) to confess any complicity with the perpetrators and (b) to grieve with and for the victims. How different would the Catholics in Poland have acted, both during and after the war, if they were able to shed tears for the plight of their neighbors and friends who were taken away by the Gestapo and marked for liquidation. What can one say then of the theology of the cross that disguises from Catholics the human tragedy of the political death of Jesus that dries up their tears for Jesus and, at the same time, presumes to dry up the tears of those Jews who survived the Shoah? Carroll says perceptively: “The cross signifies the problem.” More on this to come.

  1. Paul van Buren is an episcopalian priest who has devoted considerable energies to the interfaith dialogue between the “three religions on Abraham” (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In this three volume set, A Theology of the Jewish-Christian Reality, van Buren sets out two rules which he offers to Christians by way of preparing them to speak of the cross after Auschwitz. The first rule is this:

The death of one Jew, no matter whom or what he was in God’s purposes, should not be spoken of so as to lessen the significance and the pain of the death of any human being, least of all that of six million other Jews.[xxxii]

The logic behind this rule is to enable Christians to first clean their own house such that they can conscientiously speak of the horrors that visited Jesus in his suffering and death at the hands of the Romans with the smoke of the innocent children of Auschwitz in their nostrils.[xxxiii] The second rule is the flip side of the first:

It would seem essential that we say that the death of God’s faithful son Jesus must have hurt God, and the deaths of six million of God’s sons and daughters in the Holocaust must have hurt God even more. Indeed, the murder of every one to those to whom God has entrusted the keeping of his covenant and/or the ministry of reconciliation is a defeat for God and God’s cause.[xxxiv]

A woman who has been victimized by her husband or father needs her tears and her anger in order to recover her dignity and to safeguard her in a world wherein she was made most vulnerable by those who should have known better and acted differently. In parallel fashion, Jews victimized by Auschwitz need to retain their tears and their anger. These are their hope for recovering their sanity and their well-being. These are the source of their healing. Without this phase of grief and anger, it is futile and premature to expect that Jews would forgive the perpetrators or feel safe in the world. Christian allies who can shed tears with the Jews and suffer their loss with them are all the more obliged to refrain from blunting or foreshortening this time of grief. In fact, during this period, Christian allies might be in a favorable position to discover how the Christian message of salvation can be expressed without denying or belittling the horrendous deaths of the Jews at Auschwitz. In this regard, the Dutch theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, presents Christians with a sobering point of departure:

The Christian message does not give an explanation of evil or [of] our history of suffering. This must be made clear from the start. Even for Christians, suffering remains impenetrable and incomprehensible, and provokes rebellion. Nor will the Christian blasphemously claim that God himself required the death of Jesus as compensation for what we make of our history. This sadistic mysticism of suffering is certainly alien to the most authentic tendencies of the great Christian tradition, at the very least. No one can follow Jürgen Moltmann in solving the problem of suffering . . . [by relating that] God himself has cast him [Jesus] out as a sacrifice for our sins. The difficulty in this conception is that it ascribes to God what has in fact been done to Jesus by the history of human injustice. . . . Therefore, first of all, we have to say that we are not redeemed thanks to the death of Jesus but despite it.[xxxv]

 Conclusion

In this essay, a sketchy history of the growth of blood guilt was spelled out and some sense was made as to why Jews have come to fear the cross as the instrument used by Christians “to preach hatred for our people.” Next, the situation in Poland was reviewed with special attention being given to how Christian symbols can be misused by well-meaning Catholics. Finally, various theologians were heard in their attempt to purify the symbolism of the cross, making it safe for use by both Jews and Christians.

Before I die, I hope to be able to go back to that museum visited eight years ago and to find another father in a long, black coat guiding his young son through the exhibit on a Saturday morning. Once again, I fully expect that the son will flinch and pull back into the protection of his father and utter, “What’s that.” But this time it will be different. The father will hold his son and say calmly and proudly, “This is what Christians use in order to bless our God and to show gratitude for our people.” When this happens, then I will know that the poison of the cross has been finally defeated by the Jewishness of the one depicted hanging on that cross. Until this happens, the Kingdom of God will not come.

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[i].           The Baltimore Catechism used in my early religious training had this to say: “The chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through original sin are: death, suffering, ignorance, and a strong inclination to sin” (#60).

[ii].          Nearly all of the apostolic Fathers spoke of Jewish suffering as deserved due to their unbelief and the insults they heaped upon Jesus. See Clark Williamson, Has God Rejected His People? (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1982) 98-104.

[iii].         This development from damaging words to damaging deeds was erratic and much more complicated than I have been able to present here. Most authors agree, however, that the First Crusade marked a turning point toward taking action against the Jews in the name of God. Interested readers might consult Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews (New York: Paulist, 1985) & Marc Saperstein, Moments in Jewish-Christian Relations (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1989) 16f.

[iv].         The official Polish Web-site calculates the number of Jews “registered” at Auschwitz (including its satellite camps) as only 200,000. This source also calculates “140,000 [non-Jewish] Poles” bring the total up to 400,000 (http://www.holocaustforgotten.com/journey.htm). Meanwhile, in 1945, the official French War Crime Research Office calculated that 8,000,000 died at Auschwitz‑-twenty times the official Polish calculation. The Nuremberg Tribunal charged with the trial of Nazi war criminals following the war calculated that four million were exterminated at Auschwitz and this number was inscribed in nineteen different languages on the monument erected at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Since then, more sober studies, have concluded that the corrected figure ought to have been 1,500,000. In 1990, accordingly, this figure was used to replace the figure of 4,000,000 on the monument. The official Polish Web-site retains the figure of 400,000 without drawing attention to the fact that this figure represents the number “registered” by the Germans. During the last eighteen months, the Nazis at Auschwitz were no longer interested in keeping records since the camp adapted the measure of exterminating almost everyone immediately upon their arrival at the camp. The Poles, as a matter of national pride and as a measure to secure their self-image as “the crucified nation,” have frequently resorted to exaggerating the number of Catholic Poles killed at Auschwitz. In line with the figure of 4,000,000 on the memorial, the Polish government prior to 1990 maintained that half were Jewish and half were non-Jews, mostly Poles (Yehuda Bauer, “Auchwitz and the Poles: Fighting the Distortions” The Jerusalem Post 22 Sept 1989). Outside of Poland and outside the radical revisionists, the figure generally accepted for the deaths at Auschwitz is now 1,500,000 and 85% of these are calculated to be Jewish. For a concise discussion of how and when various calculations were made, see Dr. Robert Faurisson, “How Many Deaths at Auschwitz?” http://corax.org/revisionism/misc/auschwitz_deaths.html (ten pages).

[v].          The older term “antisemitism” has now been almost universally replaced by the more accurate term “anti-Judaism.” Semites refers to peoples speaking a Semitic language, including Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, etc. The term “antisemitism” is thus too broad and too ill-defined to refer to hated of Jews and Judaism. Nonetheless, when this term occurs in citations in this volume, it has been retained.

[vi].         Hans Küng, Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (New York: Continuum, 1992) 268.

[vii].         Cited in Küng, Judaism, 268.

[viii].        George Blazynski, for example, writes in his biography, Pope John Paul II: A Man from Krakow (London: Sphere Books, Ltd., 1979), as follows: “Wojtyla also lived in daily danger of losing his life. He would move about the neighboring towns taking Jewish families out of the ghettos and providing them with new identities and hiding places” (49f). Such fanciful accounts maight have been calculated to capture the spirit of John Paul II’s later affinity with the Jews. By the pope’s own admission, however, they do not recount his own personal history in Poland during the Nazi occupation.

[ix].         Helen Whitney, producer, “John Paul II: The Millenial Pope,” Frontline #1801, aired on 28 Sept 1999. Transcription (with broken English) taken from the BPS website: www.pbs.org   See, also, Benjamin Ivry, “Was Pope John Paul II Good for the Jews? — The Answer Is More Complicated Than You Might Think,” The Jewish Daily, August 16, 2014  (http://forward.com/articles/203911/was-pope-john-paul-ii-good-for-the-jews/#ixzz3D6gfvpTN)

[x].          Alexander Kimel comments that the fiftieth anniversary commerating these pograms did not burden the Polish conscience since the official line excuses them by saying, “It was the work of the NKVD and the UB, and not of Poles” (“The Jews and the Poles,” Online Holocaust Magazine, http://www.kimel.net/jewpol.html).

[xi].         Cited in Küng, Judaism, 269.

[xii].         Alexander Kimel, “The Jews and the Poles,” Online Holocaust Magazine, http://www.kimel.net/jewpol.html

[xiii].        William Echikson, “Convent at Auschwitz Strains Jewish-Catholic Relations,” Christian Science Monitor 31 Jul 1989.

[xiv].        Rabbi A. James Rudin, the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, cited in 1992 Lecture Series (St. Paul: University of St. Thomas, 1992) 38.

[xv].         In a survey made by Reeve Robert Brenner of seven hundred survivors, 11% agreed that, in the Shoah, the Jewish people were the sacrifice for humanity’s sins. The vast majority, however, vigorously opposed this. One survivor responded: “God is not unjust, and he is not a Christian God who can offer some third party, Jesus or the Jews of Europe, to die for the sins of others . . .” (cited in Steven L. Jacobs, ed., Contemporary Christian Religious Responses to the Shoah [Lanham: University Press of America, 1993] 48).

[xvi].        The most widely read and most carefully documented revisionist work has been done by Arthur R. Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of the European Jewry (Newport Beach: Institute for Historical Review, 1992). For a refutation, see Lawrence L. Langer, ed., Admitting the Holocaust (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) or Anti-Defamation League, Embattled Biggots (New York: ADL, 1994).

[xvii].       Echikson, “Convent at Auschwitz,” Christian Science Monitor 31 Jul 1989.

[xviii].       Jerusalem Post 07 Oct 89, p. 8.

[xix].        “Declaration by the Jews and Christians’ Discussion Group” from the Central Committee of German Catholics, cited in SIDIC 24/1 [1991] 26.

[xx].         Cited in Küng, Judaism, 270.

[xxi].        Cited in Küng, Judaism, 270.

[xxii].       Cited in Küng, Judaism, 271.

[xxiii].       As far back as 1983, Polish Boy Scouts had erected crosses in the unmarked burial grounds outside the camp. Stars of David were also erected. In December of 1997, all of these symbols were removed (Jane Perlez, “Religious Symbols’ Removal Ends Auschwitz Dispute,” New York Times 13 Dec 1997). In mid-1998, the crosses reappeared. According to the New York Times, there were 50 in early August (AP, “Israeli Museum Protests 50 Crosses at Auschwitz,” 03 Aug 1998) and 240 in late December (Roger Cohen, “Poles and Jews Feud About Crosses at Auschwitz,” 20 Dec 1998). At the time of the final resolution in late May of 1999, 300 crosses were removed (AP, “300 Crosses Are Removed at Auschwitz,” 29 May 1999).

[xxiv].       Mary Boys, “The Cross: Should a Symbol Betrayed Be Reclaimed?,” Cross Currents 44/1 (1994) 5.

[xxv].        Kathleen Talvacchia, “Contradictions of the Cross,” Christianity and Crisis 52/2 (1992) 28.

[xxvi].       Penny Lernoux, Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America (New York: Penguin Books, 1982) and Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. INtervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace (Boston: South End Press, 1985).

[xxvii].      Talvacchia, “Contradictions of the Cross,” 29.

[xxviii].     James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001) 6.

[xxix].       Cardinal John O’Connor, “Yad Vashem Revisited,” Face to Face 14 (1988) 47-48.

[xxx].        Steven L. Jacobs, ed. Contemporary Christian Religious Responses to the Shoah. Studies in the Shoah: Volume 6 (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993) 52-55. In a survey made by Reeve Robert Brenner of seven hundred survivors, 11% agreed that, in the Shoah, the Jewish people were the sacrifice for humanity’s sins. The vast majority, however, vigorously opposed this. One survivor responded: “God is not unjust, and he is not a Christian God who can offer some third party, Jesus or the Jews of Europe, to die for the sins of others . . .” (cited in Jacobs, ed., Responses to the Shoah, 48).

[xxxi].       Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, 6.

[xxxii].      Paul M. van Buren, A Theology of the Jewish-Christian Reality (San Franscisco: Harper & Row, 1988) III:165.

[xxxiii].     van Buren, Jewish-Christian Reality, III:164.

[xxxiv].      van Buren, Jewish-Christian Reality, III:166.

[xxxv].      Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ (New York: Seabury, 1980) 728-729.

One thought on “Cross at Auschwitz”

  1. The 4th Geneva Convention does not apply to Gaza or the West Bank since at the time of ratification neehtir territory was under the jurisdiction of any state at the time. I am sure you are aware that Gaza was originally under control by Egypt while the West Bank was under Jordan’s control in which both at one point were invaded and occupied by IDF since the territories were used as platforms to launch attacks against Israel by Muslim states. Israel considers itself an authority in Gaza and West Bank as which is granted to an occupying power, is allowed and specified under the 4th Geneva Convention as well.In terms of the Six Day War that was not started by Israel but started by her neighbors. Prior to the conflict Israel was victim from attacks by terrorists it was discovered were being allowed to migrate through Syria. Egypt at first sent troops to the Sinai Peninsula due to an, admittedly, flase report that Israel was going to invade Jordan. Egypt later closed the Straits of Tiran considered an international water way at the time. Egypt then joined in the engagement due to a pact the country had with Jordan and Syria in which all 3 countries had military agreements with each other. Israel did start the fighting with an airstrike but the aggressions that lead up to the war were initiated by her Muslim neighbors. The reason for a lack of self determination by Gaza and West Bank Palestinians is simple, if they stop supporting terrorists and recognize Israel’s right to exist then the violence will stop. The Muslims not only refuse to but even reject any agreement geared to bringing peace to the region.To begin with I suggest you look up a man named Muhammad Amin al-Husseini. He was Yasser Arafat’s uncle and a Muslim cleric who ended up migrating to Germany and got a personal audience with Adlof Hitler. Husseini helped Hitler implement his Final Solution as well as raise Muslim regiments for the Nazis. When Nazi Germany fell he continued his activities helping to create groups like the PLO and Young Egypt Party which was a pro-Nazi organization. Among Young Egypt’s members were future Egyptian Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.Nazism did not die with the defeat of Hitler but migrated to the Middle East thanks to Husseini in which you see Nazi influences in groups like Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood (whose founder Hasan al-Banna was a Nazi sympathizer) and Hizbullah.

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