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EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 678 
Doing so was not a "first" for John Paul II, but it remains dishearteningly sad that history, and particularly Christianity's role in it, resulted in the need for the Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust.

The need for the concert had much to do with Auschwitz, which Charlotte Delbo called "the center of Europe." More than once during John Paul II's reign, Auschwitz has been a flashpoint for Holocaust repercussions that affect Christian-Jewish relations. Thus, it is significant to note that in May 1999 the Sejm, Poland's parliament, passed legislation to restrict inappropriate development and public gatherings within a 100-meter perimeter of former Nazi concentration and death camps on Polish soil. Religious symbolism, specifically Christian crosses, at Auschwitz prompted this action.

Polish-Catholic women pray before crosses erected just outside Auschwitz. Although tens of thousands of Poles died at Auschwitz, the presence of the Christian symbol offended many Jews.
Photo: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski/Archive Photos
Crosses at Auschwitz

Signifying the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross is a potent symbol--dear, even sacred, to Christians but not to Jews, who often have been persecuted under its domination. At Auschwitz, the cross has been more than potent; it has been a volatile symbol, one that has strained relations between Poland and Israel as well as between Christian and Jewish groups worldwide. In July 1998 a right-wing group of Polish Roman Catholics, determined to maintain Christian symbols at the former Nazi death camp in spite of strong opposition from Jews, planted more than 50 crosses outside Auschwitz I, the original part of the camp complex. By September the crosses numbered more than 300. The crosses were located at a site where the Nazis had once executed 152 Poles. At this same site another very large, 26-foot cross, visible from the camp's interior, had been erected more than ten years earlier. This particularly large cross had been relocated from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the camp's major killing center, where the symbol was initially used on June 7, 1979, when Pope John Paul II celebrated mass there during his first papal visit to his native Poland. Fearing that the more recent placement of this particular cross was jeopardized--its presence infuriated many Jews--the Catholic protesters planted a field of crosses in response. Poland's Catholic bishops condemned this response and urged that all but the large papal cross be removed.

During a January 25, 1995, demonstration, Jewish activists protested the "Christianization of the Holocaust"--specifically, crosses on the grounds erected by Polish Catholics that commemorated Catholic victims.
Photo: Reuters/Reinhard Krause/Archive Photos
 December 1977: Groundbreaking begins for the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Los Angeles, California.
 1978: Dr. Josef Mengele, former resident doctor/experimenter at Auschwitz, drowns in South America.
 1978: American revisionist writers establish the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) and its official publication, the Journal of Historical Review.
 1978: U.S. President Jimmy Carter establishes a commission to explore the feasibility of creating an American national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.
 1979: U.S. congressional investigations of Nazi war criminals in the West spur the creation of the Office of Special Investigations, with power to initiate proceedings against suspected war criminals, strip them of U.S. citizenship (if held), and deport them.
 1979: After prompting by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel adopts a Holocaust curriculum to be taught to schoolchildren.
 1979: 206 American universities offer courses on the Holocaust, up from just two in 1973; See February 1997.
EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 678 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.