Sunday, May 15, 2011
Learning Holiness at Auschwitz – Part 2
Last week, we started to examine the recent claim that Auschwitz was the “school of holiness” for Pope John Paul II, starting with the Catholic Church’s role in the persecution of Polish Jews and carrying through to the falsehoods spread by the Vatican about young Karol Wojtyla’s efforts on behalf of Jews during World War II.
When that war ended, persecution of Poland’s remaining Jews did not. Cardinal Hlond was furious that the Jewish problem persisted: “Yet again they are holding important positions. Yet again they wish to impose a regime alien to the Polish nation.” Some Jews even had the audacity to ask for their stolen homes back. A pogrom in Kielce in 1946 left 49 Jews dead; nearly 100,000 more fled the country, many to Palestine, where they created a new set of problems that has yet to end. Karol Wojtyla, who became a priest that year, said not a word about all this, then or ever.
Wojtyla’s go-with-the-flow attitude earned him a bishop’s miter in 1958; his diocese included the former extermination camp at Auschwitz, where we are now told he learned his holiness. The bishopric gave him a seat at the Second Vatican Council in 1962. One of the most emotional topics at that Council was a revision of the Church’s longstanding attitude toward the Jews. After lengthy and heated debate, the Council issued the famous declaration of Nostra Aetate, that today’s Jews should not be blamed for the killing of Jesus, and that anti-Semitism in all its forms has no place in the Church.
What did the bishop whose diocese included the world’s most potent symbol of anti-Semitism have to say? A great deal: he spoke seven times at the Council, and submitted four different written statements. None of them, however, had anything whatsoever to do with Nostra Aetate or the Church’s posture toward the Jews. I guess the holiness he learned at Auschwitz is a private thing.
A few years later Wojtyla, by now a cardinal, published a book he called Sources of Renewal, describing the work of the Council for the benefit of the faithful. Most of the work, that is. He censored out part of it, including the key conclusion of Nostra Aetate that “the Church … decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” Why tick people off?
In 1968, “Prague Spring” erupted just to the south, and communist governments throughout eastern Europe were terrified that the breath of freedom from Dubček’s Czechoslovakia might threaten their own hold on power. The Polish communists knew exactly what to do: blame the Jews. Yet another crackdown ensued, this one so severe that 34,000 of the country’s remaining 37,000 Jews packed up and left. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, one of Poland’s leading intellectuals and Wojtyla’s lifelong friend, visited Krakow to raise the issue with him. “I had a conversation with Cardinal Wojtyla about the anti-Semitic issue and asked him to make a stand. He agreed that it was a matter that needed to be reflected upon, that the Church should indeed make a stand.” If you guessed that Wojtyla ultimately said nothing at all, you’d be right.
After becoming Pope in 1978, it became more difficult for John Paul II to keep his head down on the Jewish question. So he began playing a double game. He visited Auschwitz, he visited a synagogue, and twenty years into his papacy he issued a paper actually regretting the Holocaust – though it devotes far more attention to exonerating the Church than it does to sympathizing with the victims.
At the same time, he covered his bases with the Church’s still large anti-Semitic wing, notably in the matter of Kurt Waldheim. After concluding a successful diplomatic career including a stint as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Waldheim ran for president of Austria; in the rough and tumble of the campaign, facts were uncovered indicating that Waldheim had actively participated in the extermination campaign, including the deportation for slaughter of the entire Jewish population of Salonika. In 1944 he also approved a quantity of anti-Semitic propaganda that was dropped behind Russian lines, reading “Enough of the War! Kill the Jews! Come Over!”
An embarrassed Austrian government appointed an international committee of historians to investigate, which concluded that Waldheim had indeed lied about his record. So many documents had been destroyed that there was no smoking gun tying Waldheim to a particular atrocity, but as Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal put it, “I could only reply what the committee of historians likewise made clear in its report: ‘I cannot believe you.’”
Most of the world, including the Reagan Administration, declared Waldheim persona non grata and refused him entry to their countries. Not John Paul II. He not only made a state visit to Austria and received a state visit from Waldheim, but he even went so far as to award him a Vatican knighthood in the “Order of Pius IX.”
The irony could not be more acute: Pius IX, the most rabidly anti-Semitic Pope in history, was the single person most responsible for launching the wave of hatred that 70 years later crested in the Holocaust. In 1990, not content with honoring Waldheim, John Paul even decided to beatify Pius IX himself. Now that John Paul is beatified as well, perhaps he shares a condo in heaven with Pius IX, where the two of them sit around swapping Hymie jokes.
Even though the Jesuit dream of an “asemitic” Poland has now largely been realized, Polish anti-Semitism remains alive and well, thanks to the Catholic “Radio Maryja.” Polish law gives Radio Maryja the tax privileges of being owned by the Catholic Church, even though for years it was financed by a Polish expatriate who was prevented from entering the United States because of his collaboration with the Nazis.
Radio Maryja is notorious for its anti-Semitism. A report of the Council of Europe stated that Radio Maryja has been “openly inciting to anti-Semitism for several years.” It features Holocaust deniers such as Dariusz Ratajczak, who informed listeners that Auschwitz was not an extermination camp at all but merely a labor camp for Jews. Other commentators warn listeners that “men from Judea ... are trying to surprise us from behind,” and refer to the World Jewish Congress as “a main firm in the Holocaust Industry.”
A negative word from a Polish Pope could have shut down Radio Maryja in a heartbeat. That, of course, never happened. Instead, John Paul received visits from the station’s political organization five different times, warming their hearts with comments like “Every day I thank God that there is such radio. It is called Radio Maryja.” The current Pope isn’t doing anything about it either; in 2007, Benedict warmly received the political priest who runs the Radio Maryja empire just a few weeks after he accused the “Jewish lobby” of trying to extract millions from the Polish state. The following year, Radio Maryja sponsored a service in Wojtyla’s old Basilica where speakers shouted that “The Jews are attacking us! We need to defend ourselves!”, pumping up the crowd with posters proclaiming “The kikes will not continue to spit on us!”
So is it true that now-Blessed John Paul II learned his holiness at Auschwitz? That’s not the way I would put it. I would say he learned cynical duplicity. He learned to let his PR team crank out lies about his courage while basking in the resulting adulation. He learned to tell the western press how bad he felt about the Jews, with a wink and a nod to Radio Maryja and the butcher Waldheim.
He learned, in short, to be a God expert.