Memory of Shoah a call to action for Jews, says Poland's chief rabbi

By Junno Arocho Esteves

KRAKOW, Poland (CNS) — The memory and pain of the world’s
silence during the Shoah should be a call to action for Jews to defend those suffering
persecution today, especially Christians, said the chief rabbi of Poland.

While Jews have experienced expulsions and holocausts for
the past 2,000 years, today there “are many more attacks on Christians — just
because they are Christians — than on Jews,” Rabbi Michael Schudrich told
Catholic News Service July 28.

“What it means to me is that the pain that we Jews
still feel because of
the overwhelming silence of the world — not everyone but the majority were
silent — during the Shoah, means
that we have to be the first ones to step up to the plate. We have to be the first ones to yell
and scream and say, ‘No,'” he said.

The rabbi spoke on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. Used
by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945, the camp was the Nazi’s largest and consisted
of three parts: Auschwitz I, where many were imprisoned and murdered; the
Birkenau extermination camp — also known as Auschwitz II; and Auschwitz III
(Auschwitz-Monowitz), an area of auxiliary camps that included several

The pope
crossed the infamous “gate of death” July 29 and prayed in silence at
several areas of the camp where over 1 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis,
as well as 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and thousands of Polish
citizens of different nationalities.

Among those
killed were St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, and
Edith Stein, a Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a
Carmelite nun, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

The pope’s
silence at the site of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century is a
common reaction for those who visit, Rabbi Schudrich said.

“Standing there in Birkenau, no words can really be
said. We are silent, which teaches us that once we walk on the other side of
the ‘gate of death,’ (once) we’re outside of Birkenau, we must spend the rest
of our lives screaming and yelling and fighting against all kinds of
injustices,” he told CNS.

Today, he continued, history has taken “a bizarre turn,” with attacks on Christians being more common than attacks on Jews.

Rabbi Schudrich said that while “there’s not a
silence” at the persecution of Christians around the world as there was
during the Shoah, “there is not enough yelling and screaming.”

The chief rabbi of Poland said that although the visits to the
death camp by the Polish
St. John Paul II and the German
Pope Benedict XVI took a personal dimension, the visit from the first non-European
pope in nearly 1,300 years also
has significance.

“For Pope Francis, he’s from far away, he doesn’t have
to come to Poland — in terms of his own personal background. The fact that
he’s coming here, I think for Poland is very important. In Poland, he is one of
the great heroes of the world,” he said.

“And for the Jews, he’s coming to Auschwitz and you
can’t come to Poland without visiting Auschwitz. You don’t have to come to
Poland. But once you’re here, you also have to go to Auschwitz, the worst
killing site of human history.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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