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Monday, May 29, 2006

A German Pope's Holocaust Revisionism at Auschwitz



The much publicised visit of the Pope to Auschwitz has gotten the most publicity for the Pope's question, asking where was God at Auschwitz. A better question is where was man at Auschwitz. It was human hands that shots, gassed and murdered millions. It was men who did and many if not most of those men were Catholics. The Holocaust was a vast enterprise, beyond the many millions from across Western and Eastern Europe who collaborated, informed, rounded up, guarded and murdered the victims of the Holocaust; were a hundred times that number who sat with folded hands, either approving or uncaring.

But yet the Pope's question is revealing because it is yet another attempt by the Catholic Church to reframe itself as the victim and Pope Benedict's speech, the speech of the former Hitler Youth member Ratzinger is a cunning elaboration of that agenda.

By asking where was God, the Pope shifts the Holocaust from a physical crime carried out by human perpetrators to a perplexing religious dilemma laid at the doorstep of God. And so on behalf of a church that persecuted and massacred Jews for over a thousand years, the former Nazi turns to God asking why God let them carry out these mass murders. The amazing perversity of this is comparable to a murderer's family blaming the police for not stopping their father's homicidal rampage quickly enough.

But by reframing the question as religious the Pope not only shifts responsibility to God, but uses God to shift it to the Jewish victims themselves. The Pope's speech goes on to quote Psalm 44, "You have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness ... because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!" To a Catholic such quotations involving the Jews have a very specific context. When Jews cry out to God asking why they are suffering, the answer of the Church has usually been that it is because Jews have failed to accept Jesus as their Lord.

Indeed the Pope continues in the next paragraph, "We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan - we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. ... No - when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God...Let us cry out to God, that he may draw men and women to conversion and help them to see that violence does not bring peace, but only generates more violence - a morass of devastation in which everyone is ultimately the loser."

Thus the Holocaust becomes an incomprehensible act of God and only one of many acts of violence between men, that can only be resolved with conversion, to Christianity of course. There is no responsibility, only a lesson to be learned. And that lesson of course is accepting Jesus. Even the Holocaust was itself really an attack on Christianity and Jesus, a position the Catholic Church and many Christians have long championed.

"The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth...If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful," the Pope goes on to say.

The real victims of the Holocaust thus becomes the Catholic Church. Even in death, this reinterpration says, the Jews were nothing more than 'witnesses', the eternal wandering Jews still bearing witness to Jesus' crucifixion. This is the role after all that Jews hold in Catholic theology. The Holocaust then becomes a Nazi attempt to tamper with Catholic theology by removing the witnesses.

The Pope's visit did nothing more than continue the Catholic Church's agenda of Christianizing the Holocaust. To that end he mentioned two names. The first was that of Father Maxmillian Kolbe who supposed took the place of a Jew saving his life and was made a saint for it. In reality Maxmillian Kolbe was a notorious Anti-Semite. He was housedwith only Polish prisoners. He substituted himself for a Pole not a Jew. The other name was of course that of Edith Stein, a Jewish woman who converted to the Church and was recently made a saint. This completes the Church's portrayal of their version of the Holocaust. Catholic benefactors whose generosity the Jews repay by conversion to the faith.

Throughout his speech the Pope of course emphasizes the Poles over the Jews taking great care to elaborate on Polish, that is Catholic suffering. When discussing Nazi Germany's role in the Holocaust Pope Benedict bends over backwards to remove German responsibility. Ratzinger describes his coming as that of a"...son of the German people - a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honour, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power." Thus once again we hear the old refrain that the German people were victims of the Nazis, that they were tricked, abused and had no idea what was going on. The German people were "used" by some outside forces, rather than being perpetrators, they too are victims.

The Pope's remarks can be summed up as a clever campaign of historical revisionism, that brand of it practiced by the Church in which it was the victim and devoid of guilt. There is no comprehension of actual responsibility or accountability. The Germans and the Poles too are equally shown as victims. The Jewish victimization was the work of God and therefore the Jews must appeal to God for it, and the Catholic Church is more than happy to 'show us the way.' The Carmelite nuns who have been the subject of numerous protests were praised by the Pope mentioned a whole round of facilities, only one of them Jewish. Having lifted Catholic responsibility for the Holocaust and recreated it as an attack on Christianity, it is only natural for the Church to appropriate Auschwitz as it has appropriated Jewish suffering as an attack on its own institution.

It ironic for a supposedly conservative religious leader to put forwards an understanding of evil that is not vested in the responsibility of human beings for their actions and to argue that no one is at fault and that everyone is a victim. When liberals do it with a single murderer and a single victim, conservative Catholics accuse them of doing exactly what the Pope has done, not with a single victim or murderer, but with millions. Of such thin cloth is the fabric of the Church's morality woven.

3 comments:

Lemon Lime Moon said...

Very good interpretation of the speech. Cuts right through the rhetoric to the heart of things.
There is another dimension in his asking where God was that I will leave alone, but, far more sinister.

Keliata said...

Great post.

What the Vatican (and many Catholics) are doing in trying to do regarding the Holocaust is repulsive. As German pope and former member of the Hitler Youth Ratzinger would have been the ideal person for the church admit it's complicity in the horrors of the Holocaust. He could have renounced his involvement in the Hitler Youth, renounced the Vatican's actions and inactions during WW II.

Instead, we got the typical revisionism. If revisionism came from the mouths of neo-Nazi the media would have condemned it in a heart beat. But from the pope it is accetable.

And if people think this attitude is limited to staunch Catholics think again. I know many Catholics (staunch catholics, devout catholics, liberal catholics) who feel the way Ratzinger and the Vatican do.

It's disgusting.

Keliata said...

You're right Lemon, and I also fear there was something more sinister in Benedict's comments about where G-d was. It struck me hours after I read his speech.

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