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EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 681 
Nothing is black and white, least of all the nature of the Catholic Church's responses to the Holocaust. Church efforts brought Dana Szefflan (holding child) to Canada in 1948.
Photo: Dana Szeflan, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive
Holocaust memorials bring a measure of healing to survivors and their families. These testaments, such as this one at Theresienstadt, are open to all, and encourage understanding.
Photo: Larry Glickman
The Carmelite nuns had occupied the Old Theater building with the approval of Polish authorities and Catholic Church officials, but apparently without any dialogue with members of the Jewish community either within or outside of Poland.

By the following spring, an international Jewish outcry brought the "Auschwitz convent controversy" into full swing. Central to the debate was the precise location of the Old Theater. It stood outside the wall that encloses Auschwitz I, and some of the nuns' defenders argued that the building--it predated World War I--was not, strictly speaking, part of the camp. That argument was not convincing. Other facilities were also outside the wall--the commandant's house, a railroad siding where prisoners were unloaded, and an execution site. They could hardly be excluded from the camp. Furthermore, the Old Theater's multiple uses indicated that it had indeed been part of the Auschwitz complex. It had served as a storehouse not only for loot taken from those who were gassed but also for the Zyklon B that was used to murder Auschwitz's primarily Jewish victims.

Difficult negotiations between Jewish and Catholic leaders led to an agreement on February 22, 1987, which provided that the Auschwitz convent would be relocated outside the camp within two years. The same agreement also stated that there would be "no permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps." By no means, however, did this agreement put matters to rest. Controversy escalated when the February 1989 deadline for relocating the nuns came and went without their departure. It got uglier that July, when Jewish demonstrators took their protest to the convent grounds and Polish workers responded violently. Following acrimonious debate, ground was broken for a new facility that would house the nuns close by but clearly at a distance from the Auschwitz grounds. In 1993, the Old Theater was vacated, and the nuns decamped to new quarters.

Overwhelmingly, Jews were offended by the Carmelite convent and Christian crosses at Auschwitz because their presence seemed to be "Christianizing" steps that robbed the Holocaust and, in particular, Auschwitz of its Jewish particularity and uniqueness. For their part, the Polish Catholics who defended the convent and the crosses contended that they had a right and an obligation to memorialize their brothers and sisters who also perished in large numbers at Auschwitz, a place that many Poles regard as symbolic of Poland's martyrdom during World War II. The Roman Catholic Church at Birkenau, which Jewish visitors to Birkenau can scarcely miss seeing, remains a potential tinderbox.

 May 5-7, 1985: U.S. President Ronald Reagan visits the Bitburg cemetery, site of Waffen-SS graves, in West Germany at the behest of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The visit touches off an international controversy.
 1986: During the campaign of United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim for the presidency of Austria, his wartime activities as a German officer in the Balkans are revealed. Regardless, Waldheim's election bid is successful.
 1986: Andrija Artukovic is extradited from the United States to Yugoslavia, where he is tried and sentenced to death for war crimes. As Croatian interior minister, he was instrumental in the murder of 300,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and political opponents. He will die before the sentence is carried out.
 November 1986: The Australian government takes steps to prosecute former Nazis living in Australia.
 1987: French revisionist writers establish the Annales d'Histoire Révisionniste.
EPILOGUE: The Aftermath
 pg. 681 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.