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The Unapologetic Pope
May 15, 2009 | From theTrumpet.com

Yad Vashem speech disappoints those hoping for an expression of remorse.

A

s a Bavarian youth, Joseph Ratzinger grew up in Adolf Hitler’s shadow. He was 6 years old

when Hitler rose to power. He was 11 during Kristallnacht, when brown shirt Nazis attacked the homes of several Jewish residents living in his hometown of Traunstein, a small city of less than 12,000 residents. At the age of 14, when it was made compulsory, Ratzinger became a registered member of Hitler Youth. At 16, he was drafted into the antiaircraft corps of the German Army, where he served for two full years before he “fled” for the seminary as the war drew to a close. Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder Ratzinger’s every word was so carefully scrutinized on Monday, when the German pope delivered his much-anticipated speech at Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial. “I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah,” Pope Benedict XVI said, stopping way short of actually apologizing—an audacious omission, when you think about it, given the fact that he is a German-born pope who fought on the wrong side of history. His failure to assign blame, let alone accept any, angered many Israelis. “There certainly was no apology expressed here,” said Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. “Something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret,” Lau told the Jerusalem Post. “If not an apology, then an expression of remorse.” Visiting Yad Vashem does not, in itself, constitute an expression of regret, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said during an interview the day after the pope’s remarks: “I came to the memorial not only to hear historical descriptions or about the established fact of the Holocaust. I came as a Jew, hoping to hear an apology and a request for forgiveness from those who caused our tragedy, and among them, the Germans and the church. But to my sadness, I did not hear any such thing.” The official Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, rushed to Ratzinger’s defense, telling a group of reporters in Jerusalem that the pope cannot be expected to repeatedly draw attention to his German roots “every time he speaks.” But if ever there was a time to repeat it, wouldn’t it be at Yad Vashem?

Lombardi then inexplicably claimed that Benedict “never, never, never” was a member of the Hitler Youth. With a subject that sensitive, he said, “It is important to say what is true and not to say false things.” He later retracted his initial comment, admitting Ratzinger was a reluctant member of the Hitler Youth. This isn’t the first time the Vatican has hurriedly assembled a response to criticism leveled at Benedict for his wartime record and his present-day unwillingness to offer any kind of apology to the Jews. During his 2006 speech at Auschwitz, the pope made no mention of anti-Semitism or of German culpability for the Holocaust. In 2007, the pope angered Jews worldwide with his call for them to be converted to Catholicism. And earlier this year, the pope again came under intense fire for lifting the excommunication of an outspoken bishop who happens to be a Holocaust-denier. Then there is Benedict’s defense of Pope Pius XII, the World War II-era pope who, prior to his pontificate, successfully negotiated the Reich Concordat with Adolf Hitler in 1933, effectively destroying all political opposition to the fledgling Nazi movement in Germany. According to cabinet meeting minutes from July 14, 1933, Hitler considered the German-Vatican pact a “great achievement”—particularly “in the developing struggle against international Jewry.” Years later, as pope, Pius XII became well aware of Hitler’s Final Solution. Throughout 1942, Jewish groups and Allied officials had repeatedly urged him to publicly condemn the Nazi savagery. Under increasing pressure, Pius used a December 1942 radio address to refer to the many thousands who “sometimes only by reason of their nationality or race are marked down for death or gradual extinction.” Pius’s strongest objection to Hitler’s genocidal rampage failed to even mention the Führer by name and drew no reference to Nazis or Jews. In October 1943, ten months after Pius’s radio address, 365 of Hitler’s SS troops entered Rome’s old ghetto and started arresting Italian Jews. They rounded up 1,060 and transported them to a building called Collegio Militare—located less than half a mile from the Vatican. Pope Pius was one of the first to be made aware of the Jewish arrests. The Jews were kept at the holding center for two days—right under the pope’s nose—before boarding cattle cars to Auschwitz, where 80 percent of them were gassed within a week. During the Jews’ two-night confinement down the street from the Vatican, Pope Pius
XII

did nothing.

Last September, Pope Benedict XVI defended his World War II-era predecessor against critics who say the Vatican turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. Incredibly, Benedict praised Pope Pius XII for his courage in trying to save Jews. “Wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favor either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church,” Benedict said. This simply does not square with an honest reading of history, which is why Benedict will not allow public access to the Vatican’s carefully guarded archives. Even still, there is plenty of evidence already accessible, both historically and prophetically, to those in search of truth. Even at Yad Vashem, one exhibit inside the museum sums up the Vatican’s complicity in the Holocaust with this inscription: “When Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz, the pope did not intervene.”

As it happens, this is the same pontiff Pope Benedict XVI will one day beatify, which is why Benedict insisted on making his unapologetic remarks at the Yad Vashem Memorial on Monday, as opposed to the museum. He refused to set foot inside the museum. • Stephen Flurry’s column appears every Friday. To e-mail Stephen Flurry, click here. Please note that, unless you request otherwise, your comment may appear on our feedback page. To read more articles by this author, click here.

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