After recent anti-Semitic attacks in New York, we look to the Church’s vocal stance against…
Evils of the past show why anti-Semitism, racism cannot stand today
Ask my doctor. Alas, I am not very faithful to restrictions on my diet. My appetite is too healthy!
Once, however, I had no desire for food for two days. I had nightmares, and I never have nightmares. The cause was easy to identify. I had visited Auschwitz, the horrendous German prison camp outside the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland.
It was not the first time that I had been in the vicinity of a concentration camp. On other occasions, I had chosen not to go to see a camp. Having heard much and having studied the Nuremberg Trials in history class in college, I simply did not want to subject myself to what I knew that I would see.
This time, I felt an obligation. I was in Poland to write articles for Our Sunday Visitor about all the forces, many little less than satanic, that were pressed upon the Polish people over the years. The Second World War, and German military occupation, were prominent among these forces.
One particularly horrendous place at Auschwitz was especially sickening. It was the cellar in which St. Maximilian Kolbe died. He was a priest who resisted the Germans. Arrested, he was sent to Auschwitz. They had a policy. If a prisoner broke the rules, then, indiscriminately, a given number of other prisoners were killed. Fate fell on a married man with children, among others. St. Maximilian volunteered to take his place.
The ruthless disregard for human life was bad enough, but then the process of execution was directly from the mind of the devil. The poor prisoners literally were starved to death, but they were given water. Thirst kills much more quickly. The Germans wanted to prolong the agony. The cellar was the scene of this unspeakable cruelty.
Who says the devil is a myth?
St. Maximilian, obviously, was a Catholic, but the majority of prisoners at Auschwitz were Jews. Official government policy in Germany was to remove Jews from the face of the earth, because, it was decided, Jews were responsible for many of the economic and political disasters that had befallen the world.
Denying the effects, and scope, of this systematic persecution of less would be hilarious if it were not so disgusting.
People at the time knew that it was occurring. Visiting a German family, in Germany, on another day, the hostess introduced me to her elderly father. He had worked in the rail yards in Frankfort before and during the Second World War. He recalled the long trains of cattle cars, filled with Jews, making their way to a death camp. The poor people entrapped in these cars were not silent. The workers in the rail yard knew who, and what, the people on the trains were.
Some non-Jewish Germans protested. Almost without exception, they paid the ultimate price. Several now are canonized saints.
All too many, presumably including many Catholics, were sucked in by the nonsense that Jews were the source of all evil.
Two more recent popes have visited Auschwitz to honor the millions of its innocent victims, and to warn that humans can allow lies, fears and prejudices to overtake them. Pope Francis just repeated those warnings. All have cited anti-Semitism.
Jared Kushner, a Jew, former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is the grandson of a Holocaust victim. Newly seated Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s Jewish family came to America fleeing persecution, but anti-Semitism is not just European or confined to days past. U. S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D.-Georgia), just took his oath of office holding a Hebrew bible salvaged from the vicious bombing of an Atlanta synagogue.
Admit the reality of anti-Jewish bigotry. The Church condemns it. Anti-religion and racism are real.
Ultimately, everyone, let alone every Catholic, must beware of, and reject, condemnations of people as a group, based on ethnicity or religion. Remember that we Catholics have suffered so very much because of this very process.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.