Holocaust survivor thanks Pope Francis for highlighting anti-Semitism on Central Europe trip

Pope Francis visits Holocaust survivor Edith Bruck at her home in Rome, Feb. 20, 2021 Pope Francis visits Holocaust survivor Edith Bruck at her home in Rome, Feb. 20, 2021. | Vatican Media.

A Holocaust survivor has thanked Pope Francis for highlighting anti-Semitism during his visit to Central Europe.

The Hungarian-born Jewish writer Edith Bruck expressed her gratitude in a letter given to the pope on Sept. 15 during his in-flight press conference at the end of the four-day trip to Hungary and Slovakia.

The pope met Jewish communities in both countries on his Sept. 12-15 visit, recalling their suffering during the Second World War and deploring contemporary anti-Semitism.

Bruck, who is 90 years old, wrote: “Beloved Pope Francis, your words on anti-Semitism, which has never been eradicated, are more relevant today than ever. Not only in the countries you are visiting, but throughout Europe.”

“Dearest Pope Francis, I am following you and listening to your fundamental words that cannot leave anyone indifferent in those places where evil prevailed.”

Saying that Hungarian friends had told her that the pope left a “trail of love” during his seven-hour visit to the capital, Budapest, she added: “May God accompany every step you make for peace, coexistence and open those hearts and consciences that are still not pure.”

“I hope that Your voice and the warmth that you emanate reaches, touches, awakens the good that is in everyone. Sometimes even in the deepest darkness the light makes its way. I know it and therefore I live and hope.”

Pope Francis touched on anti-Semitism during his in-flight press conference on Sept. 15 as he returned from Slovakia to Rome. Stefano Maria Paci of Sky Tg 24 presented the letter to the pope, reading out its opening lines.

The pope responded: “Anti-Semitism is in fashion now, it is resurrecting. It is a very bad thing.”

The pope met with representatives of Hungary’s Jewish communities at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest on Sept. 12.

Nazi Germans deported more than 434,000 Jews from Hungary towards the end of the Second World War. They sent most to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where an estimated 80% were gassed on arrival.

In a speech, the pope reflected on the life of the Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti, who was born in a Jewish family but converted to Catholicism. Imprisoned in a slave labor camp, Radnóti was shot dead in 1944 during a forced march.

“His brilliant career was cut short by the blind hatred of those who, for no other reason than his Jewish origins, first prevented him from teaching and then separated him from his family,” the pope said.

“Imprisoned in a concentration camp, in the darkest and most depraved chapter of human history, Radnóti continued until his death to write poetry. His ‘Bor Notebook’ was his only collection of poems to survive the Shoah. It testifies to the power of his belief in the warmth of love amid the icy coldness of the camps, illumining the darkness of hatred with the light of faith.”

Referring to a poem in which Radnóti described himself as “a root,” the pope said: “Only if we become roots of peace and shoots of unity, will we prove credible in the eyes of the world, which look to us with a yearning that can bring hope to blossom.”

The pope met Slovakia’s Jewish community on Sept. 13 in the capital, Bratislava.

During World War II, almost all of Bratislava’s Jews were deported to concentration camps or labor camps. Around 11,500 of the more than 15,000 Jews then living in the city were murdered in the Holocaust.

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Slovakian Holocaust survivors spoke at the event in Rybné Square, part of the city’s former Jewish quarter.

In his address, the pope said: “Let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned.”

Bruck was born in Hungary in 1931 but has lived in Italy since her early 20s. She survived the Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau, where she was sent with her parents, two brothers, and a sister at the age of 12.

Her parents and a brother died in the concentration camps. Bruck and her remaining siblings were freed from the Bergen-Belsen camp by the Allies in 1945.

Pope Francis visited Bruck at her home in Rome in February.

According to the Vatican, in a meeting of around an hour, Bruck and the pope spoke about “those moments of light which marked the experience of the hell of the concentration camps.”

Their conversation also touched on the “fears and hopes for the time we live in, underlining the value of memory and the role of the elderly in cultivating it and passing it on to the young.”

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When he greeted Bruck, Pope Francis said: “I came here to thank you for your testimony and to pay tribute to the people martyred in the madness of Nazi populism.”

“And I sincerely repeat to you the words I spoke from my heart at Yad Vashem and which I repeat in front of every person who, like you, has suffered so much because of this: ‘Forgiveness, Oh Lord, on behalf of humanity!’” he said, according to a Vatican communication.

After 1945, Bruck returned to Hungary and then went to Czechoslovakia, where a sister was living. She married for the first time when she was 16 years old and moved to Israel. That marriage ended in divorce after a year, and was followed by two more marriages and divorces.

Bruck moved to Italy in 1954, where she married Nelo Risi, an Italian poet, film director, translator, and screenwriter who died in 2015 after a long battle with a neurodegenerative disease.

During World War II, Risi had fought on the Russian front and been imprisoned in a Swiss internment camp.

Bruck published a memoir about her time in the concentration camps and the years after in Italian in 1959. In 2001, it was translated into English with the title “Who Loves You Like This.”

An award-winning writer, Bruck has also published novels, short story collections, plays, and screenplays in Italian and directed several Italian films.

In recent years, Bruck has continued to speak about the Holocaust in schools and universities.

Her letter comes shortly after a Vatican cardinal wrote to Jewish leaders assuring them that recent comments by Pope Francis did not devalue the Torah.

The rabbis wrote to Pope Francis in August, expressing alarm at a general audience address in which the pope said that the Mosaic Law did “not give life.”

He made the observation in his cycle of catechesis on the Epistle to the Galatians, in which St. Paul addresses a dispute in the early Christian community over how closely Christians should follow Jewish law.

Cardinal Kurt Koch told the rabbis: “Bearing in mind the positive affirmations constantly made by Pope Francis on Judaism, it cannot in any way be presumed that he is returning to a so-called ‘doctrine of contempt.’”

“Pope Francis fully respects the foundations of Judaism and always seeks to deepen the bonds of friendship between the two faith traditions.”

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