Pope Benedict’s national Holocaust memorial speech defended against critics

Pope Benedict’s national Holocaust memorial speech defended against critics


Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, despite saying such an "atrocity" as the Holocaust should never "disgrace mankind again," drew criticisms from several Israeli sources who complained that the Pontiff did not express enough remorse for the Nazi genocide of Jews.

On Monday at the Holocaust Memorial Pope Benedict began with a quotation from Isaiah 56: "I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off."

Those who lost their lives "will never lose their names," Pope Benedict said of the Holocaust victims. He explained their names are "indelibly etched" on the hearts of their loved ones, their survivors, and "all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again."

The cry of Holocaust victims "still echoes in our hearts," he said, describing it as a "perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood" and like "the cry of Abel," the first murder victim.

Responding to the speech, two officials from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Authority, criticized the Pope for failing to use the words "Nazis" or "murder" in his speech.

The speaker of the Israeli parliament accused the Pope of glossing over the Nazi genocide while newspapers criticized him for failing to apologize for what they said was Catholic indifference during World War II.

"The pope spoke like a historian, as somebody observing from the sidelines, about things that shouldn't happen. But what can you do? He was part of them," said parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin. "With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the baggage he carries with him."

In his youth in Bavaria, Pope Benedict was automatically enrolled in the Hitler Youth and served in the German army before deserting toward the end of the war.

Suspicions towards Pope Benedict also heightened among Jews earlier this year when he lifted the excommunications of the group of bishops leading the breakaway St. Pius X Society. Unbeknownst to the Pope, one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, had made remarks denying the enormity of the Holocaust.

Other Israeli commentators were not critical of Pope Benedict’s remarks. According to the Associated Press, Noah Frug, the head of a survivors' group, told the Ynet Web site the Pope "is not the president of a Zionist organization, so why should we have any complaints toward him."

Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi responded to the criticisms at a press conference in Jerusalem, saying that Pope Benedict "can’t mention everything every time he speaks."

"The Pope has spoken many times about the topic and his being German," he continued, denying that the Pope was in the Hitler Youth.

Fr. Lombardi added that the Pope was compelled to serve in the Defense of the Cities corps to defend against air bombardments.

"After the war he was captured by the Americans and returned to his seminary studies," he added.

According to Fr. Lombardi, the Pope’s choice of the theme of "memory" was for him "a very profound way to identify himself with the sense of Yad Vashem. This was the sense of the speech."

In Hebrew, the Isaiah quotation cited in the Pope’s Holocaust Memorial speech uses the words "Yad Vashem," which mean "a memorial and a name."

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