Human Face

75 years since Auschwitz

/ 05:07 AM January 30, 2020

Jan. 27 marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland in 1945. The Embassy of Poland reminded me of this. If not for the so-called Holocaust movies from Hollywood and Europe, we would not have the visual and aural feel of the unspeakable crimes the German Nazis of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler committed against European Jews and other “undesirables,” Christians among them.

Let me name some concentration camp movies that come to mind: “Schindler’s List,” “Playing for Time,” and “Life is Beautiful.” Recently on Netflix was “The Photographer of Mauthausen,” which can show our selfie generation the historical importance of photographs.


I have the book “Deliverance Day: The Last Hours at Dachau” (with shocking photos, I must say) by Michael Selzer. Germany’s Dachau camp’s 75th is in April 2020.

Some six million Jews were killed in Hitler’s genocidal campaign during World War II that was carried out in concentration camps with gas chambers for mass extermination. Not only Jews but Catholic Poles were killed as well, tens of thousands, priests among them, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps in Poland.


I do not understand why four US Jewish rabbis would protest and argue for the removal of a Catholic church inside Auschwtiz-

Birkenau where more than a million Jews were tortured and gassed. A Reuters report in the Inquirer said that “the rabbis argue the church should not be on the site of one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world and it violates a 1987 agreement between European cardinals and Jewish leaders that there will not be any permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz or Birkenau camps” because it “attempts to portray it as a place mainly of Christian martyrdom.”But why not a church, when people of other faiths were also exterminated there? The Auschwitz-Birkenau camps are in largely Catholic Poland. The protestors are American rabbis. Should martyrdom be an exclusive claim? I remember some strain in Jewish-Catholic relations regarding the 1998 canonization of philosophy professor and spiritual writer Edith Stein, a Polish-born German-Jewish convert to Catholicism (she was an atheist at some point) who became a Catholic contemplative Carmelite nun (Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). An intellectual, she was inspired by the writings of St. Teresa of Ávila. Stein was among those killed in Auschwitz. Was Stein’s canonization by Pope John Paul II about her conversion and martyrdom in the Holocaust, a church recognition that did not sit well with the Jews, or, was Stein without doubt a saintly person, a mystic in fact, in whatever category and in every sense of the word? I have read some of her stuff. There is a movie about her life but I have yet to find it.

In contrast, there was no furor over the sainthood of prisoner Franciscan Father Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life in place of someone else at the camp.

From the Embassy of Poland came the signed statement of the members of the Presidency of the Council of European Bishops Conferences that says “no to anti-Semitism and political manipulation of the truth,” a repudiation of racism and xenophobia.

Recently, Pope Francis himself said to a delegation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (for Holocaust studies): “May the anniversary of the unspeakable cruelty that humanity learned of 75 years ago, serve as a summons to pause, to be still and to remember. We need to do this, lest we become indifferent.”

To pause, to be still and to remember. I like that.

Three Popes had visited the death camps. Polish John Paul II, of course, who spent a moment in the prison cell of Kolbe. German Benedict XVI who called the rulers of the Third Reich, his own kababayans, “vicious criminals… who wanted to crush the entire Jewish people… and tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and replace it with a faith of their own invention, faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.”


Argentinian Francis, unlike his predecessors, did not speak a word. On the memorial book, he wrote: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, we ask pardon for such cruelty.”

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TAGS: Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, Embassy of Poland, holocaust
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