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EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 676 
A demonstration in Rome commemorates the sixth anniversary of the Ardeatine massacres of 1944, where the Germans murdered Italian hostages, both Christian and Jewish.
Photo: AP/Wide World
Christian Culpability

The Holocaust's repercussions leave few traditions, institutions, or governments untouched and unscathed. Christian churches of all denominations are obliged to examine and bear consciously the burdens of Holocaust history. At least they must do so if they are to have much credibility after the Holocaust. On the whole, the Christian community's response in those dark times--which was perhaps an inevitable result of Christianity's centuries-old anti-Jewish tradition--was less than sterling. Yes, a Christian minority protested and resisted what the Nazis were doing, but even their defiance was rarely practiced explicitly on behalf of beleaguered Jews. Some Christians rescued Jews, but not enough of them to eliminate the shame that sensitive Christians feel when they recognize what could and should have been done but was not.

The Holocaust's aftershocks place challenging opportunities before Christian churches, as well as difficult questions. How will the churches confront their Holocaust history? How will encounters with that history affect what they say and do, especially as the Holocaust recedes further into the past, where its chances of being forgotten are bound to increase? In particular, there are questions about what the churches should say and do--or not say and not do--to help ensure that the Holocaust is remembered and never rationalized or minimalized.

Christian churches come in many shapes and sizes, but in the West none is larger, older, more visible, or administered more hierarchically than the Roman Catholic Church. As far as Christianity is concerned, Holocaust repercussions inescapably arrive at the Vatican's doorstep. Especially under Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who was installed on October 16, 1978, the Roman Catholic Church's handling of its Holocaust repercussions has been constructive on some occasions, unsuccessful on others, but nearly always stormy. The Holocaust's impact, as some recent events illustrate, will reverberate through the Church indefinitely.

April 7, 1994, marked the Vatican's first official endeavor to memorialize the Jewish victims of Nazi aggression. Among the guests at the Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust were more than 200 Holocaust survivors.
Photo: Corbis/Reuters
On the evening of April 7, 1994, with Pope John Paul II as their host, 7500 people flocked to the huge Sala Nervi (the Paul VI Hall, which stands next to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican) to attend what was called the Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust. Television broadcasts in 50 countries enabled millions more to witness it. In Rome, the impressive interfaith assembly included numerous cardinals and rabbis--among them Rav Elio Toaff, the chief rabbi of Rome--as well as ambassadors and more than 200 Holocaust survivors from 12 countries. In a preconcert meeting with the survivors, John Paul II expressed hope that "the music which we shall listen to together shall reconfirm our resolve to consolidate the good relations between Christians and Jews so that with the help of almighty God, we can work together to prevent the repetition of such heinous evil."
 1970: Inside the Third Reich, a memoir by Albert Speer, former Reich minister of armaments and war production, is published.
 1970: West German Chancellor Willy Brandt leads a pilgrimage of contrite Germans to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto.
 December 22, 1970: Franz Stangl, commandant of the Sobibór and Treblinka death camps, is sentenced to life in prison. He had escaped to Syria, moved to Brazil, and then was extradited to Germany in 1967.
 1971: A note found in Argentine government files pertaining to fugitive Nazis in Argentina states that more than 100 pages of file material have been removed.
 1972: Argentine officials insist that only one fugitive Nazi--Adolf Eichmann--traveled to Argentina following the war. Jewish officials place the actual number at 60,000, of whom at least 1000 were SS members; See July 1997.
EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 676 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.