Holocaust Remembrance Day, we will never forget

As I have shared with you in the past, one of the more unforgettable experiences of my life was a visit during a pilgrimage “in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II,” to the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. Walking within the compound where such inhuman and demonic torture and murder took place and hearing the explanation of the systematic plan the Nazis had to kill and dispose of as many Jews and other undesirables in the most efficient way, still gives me chills and fills me with indescribable indignation. Last week marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet army. In 2005 the United Nations established the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to mark the anniversary of the liberation and to remind the world of the Shoah so that the world will never forget.

A ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary took place at Auschwitz the other week in the freezing cold. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the gathering which included some 150 Auschwitz survivors and European leaders. He said, “We sit in a warm tent and remember those who shivered to death and if they didn’t freeze to death, they were gassed and burned.” He added, “My murdered brothers and sisters and brothers who survived the inferno, I came here today from Jerusalem to say to you we will never forget. We will not allow Holocaust deniers and desecrators of grave stones to erase or distort the memory.”

Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, including one million at the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.

Pope Benedict XVI marked the anniversary on Holocaust Memorial Day by concluding his general audience addressing the significance of the day. Pope Benedict recalled how “65 years ago, on Jan. 27, 1945, the gates of the Nazi concentration camp near the Polish city of Oswiecim, better known by its German name of Auschwitz, were opened and the few survivors freed. That event and the testimony of those who survived revealed to the world the horror of the crimes of unprecedented cruelty committed in the extermination camps created by Nazi Germany.”

He went to say, “Today we celebrate ‘Holocaust Remembrance Day,’ to recall all the victims of those crimes and especially the planned annihilation of the Jews and to honor those who, at the risk of their own lives, protected the persecuted and sought to oppose the murderous insanity. Deeply moved, our thoughts go to the countless victims of that blind racial and religious hatred, who suffered deportation, imprisonment and death in those abhorrent and inhuman places.

“May the memory of those events,” he concluded, “and in particular the drama of the Shoah which struck the Jewish people, arouse ever greater respect for the dignity of each person, so that all mankind may feel itself to be one large family. May omnipotent God illuminate hearts and minds that such tragedies never happen again.”

The remarks of Pope Benedict on Jan. 27 came shortly after he shared similar sentiments during his historic visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome on Jan. 17. A visit that began with an entrance marked by shouts of “Viva il Papa” and sustained applause.

During his address at the synagogue Pope Benedict explained that “the rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people,” and “by wiping out this people, they intended to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to as a guide for mankind, principles that remain eternally valid.”

He added, “Here in this place, how could we not remember the Roman Jews who were snatched from their homes, before these very walls and who with tremendous brutality were killed at Auschwitz? How could one ever forget their faces, their names, their tears, the desperation faced by these men, women and children?”

Thank God these 65 years later Catholics and Jews can say together that we will never forget or allow this to happen to any other group of people on earth.

As Jews and Catholics move closer together in mutual respect and understanding, I would like to remind everyone to mark your calendars for our upcoming Catholic-Jewish Institute of Understanding, Feb. 24, March 3 and March  10. The themes will be Catholic and Jewish understandings of suffering, life after death and saints and angels. I’ll go into greater detail next column. Don’t forget to mark your calendars.

Categories: That All May Be One

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