The Associated Press
January 24, 1995
WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Roman Catholic bishops from Germany and Poland acknowledged on Tuesday the guilt of Christians who did not resist the Nazi extermination of Jews. Their admission came in statements commemorating the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp 50 years ago.
President Clinton, meanwhile, has named writer Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate who survived Auschwitz, to represent him at ceremonies in Poland marking the anniversary, the World Jewish Congress said in New York City.
Wiesel was planning to attend as head of the World Jewish Congress' delegation. He and other prominent Jews have been upset by what they consider bungled Polish government planning of the event.
The statements from the Catholic bishops were remarkable because criticism of Christian behavior during the Holocaust is still rare from church leaders in Poland and Germany.
"The Holocaust put a painful burden, not only on the relations between Jews and Germans, but also to a great degree on the relations between Jews and Poles," said the Polish bishops' statement.
German [Roman] Catholic bishops, who were not invited to the ceremonies, said anti-Jewish attitudes in their [Roman Catholic] church prompted "Christians [Roman Catholics] in the years of the Third Reich not to put up the necessary resistance to racist anti-Semitism.
[Roman] Catholics have much denial and guilt."
Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland, was Nazi Germany's largest concentration and death camp. More than 1.5 million people -- 90 percent of them Jews -- were gassed, shot or starved to death there between 1940-45. The Soviet Union liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.
According to a recent survey by the Polish government, almost half of Poles associate the camp with the martyrdom of their nation, rather than the extermination of Jews.
The Polish bishops said that although other nationalities perished at Auschwitz, the Jews were justified in
"treating this camp as a symbol of the Holocaust.
"We want to pay tribute and commemorate the Holocaust of Jews, to stress our respect for the Jewish identity, and make another step toward ... Polish-Jewish and Catholic-Jewish reconciliation,"
said the Rev. Waldemar Chrostowski, deputy chairman of the Polish Episcopate's Commission for Dialogue with Judaism, which issued the statement.
A New York rabbi, meanwhile, accused the Polish [Roman Catholic] church of "abusing the memories of the victims," by "Christianizing" Auschwitz.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, in Poland for the anniversary ceremonies, stood outside President Lech Walesa's office to protest the presence of a church just outside the camp and a 24-foot-tall cross on the former office of the commandant.
"We ask you, Mr. President, to raise a voice of moral conscience and to demand that the church be moved," he said.
Weiss led successful protests to remove a [Roman] Catholic convent from Auschwitz in 1993.