The moral failure of the German pope
Benedict's visit to Auschwitz paled in comparison to John Paul's 'humble pilgrimage'
Pope Benedict XVI's visit
to Auschwitz was a historical, human and moral failure. He arrived in a black, armored, German car, gave an objectionable speech filled with smooth words like "reconciliation" and "understanding," prayed to Jesus, failed to ask forgiveness for the crimes committed by his people, and got back in his black, armored, German car and drove back to Rome.
The visit was extraneous, annoying and infuriating. The German pope failed to do the most basic thing he should have done at Auschwitz: He failed to kneel next to the ovens, look to the blue skies of the Auschwitz afternoon and ask forgiveness for the murder of six million Jews, in the name of German or the German Catholic church.
What was the message?
Benedict XVI may have said repeatedly that he "couldn't have stayed away from Auschwitz," but why, exactly? Was it to tell us Jews, and the Poles as well, that the good German people were really held hostage by the Nazi gang? This message is historically incorrect and ethically invalid.
Even the pope's remarks about Jews contained deeply disturbing messages. Did Hitler really want to destroy the Jews in order to completely do away with the roots of Christianity, as the pope said? It is doubtful that this can be proven.
The pope dramatically asked: Where was God in this godforsaken place? But in doing so, he ignored the truly important question: Where were people? How could the German nation have allowed themselves to develop such an intense hatred for the Jewish people and for other nations? God may have remained silent, but the Germans were the ones who murdered all those people.
Moving past forgiveness
Not that we Jews, the remnants of those destroyed communities, still need German apologies. That was done in 1953, when the chancellor of the "new Germany", Konrad Adenhauer, offered such an apology to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The theme of atonement has been repeated in the statements of many German public figures, and the decisions of many official German institutions.
From our perspective, it's enough. The German pope's apology at Auschwitz, over the graves of a million murdered Jews, should have had a different purpose: To warn against renewed anti-Semitism, and to atone for the sins of the German Catholic church, which in the best-case scenario was silent in the face of the Nazis, and in the more probable one – collaborated with them.
It is no coincidence that two-thirds of Germans expected "their" pope to seek forgiveness at Auschwitz, according to a public opinion poll released over the weekend. They understood the importance of such an apology better than the Holy See.
It wasn't just that Benedict XVI failed to ask forgiveness for the Holocaust. His entire visit there left me with a bad feeling. The pope made sure to maintain an unnecessary, fictional balance comparing victims of other peoples and nations.
When the communists wanted to minimize the slaughter of Jews at Auschwitz, they spread lies that four million people were killed there. The pope may not have repeated this lie, but took care to emphasize again and again the multi-ethnic makeup of the victims.
Linguistically, this is true. Factually, it is a lie: the fate of Jews at Auschwitz was not the same as other peoples. And who, more than the pope, should have known this. And he does know it. But he wanted to be - at Auschwitz, of all places - politically correct.
Benedict XVI mentioned another papal visit to Auschwitz, that of his predecessor John Paul II in 1979. But what a difference between the two visits! Polish pope Wojtyla came to Auschwitz and Birkenau as a "humble pilgrim," as he put it. He prayed silently, spoke up for his "Jewish older brother," and set off on an historic journey for reconciliation between the Christian church and Judaism. That journey reached a high-point when John Paul visited Israel in 2000.
Yes, times have indeed changed. It's true, pope Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, did not visit Auschwitz as part of the March of the Living. He is not the chief rabbi of Israel. He is the head of the Catholic Church, and Jesus is his God.
But especially in light of his lofty position, he is also a spiritual guide for a billion Catholics worldwide. And what did his visit to Auschwitz tell them? He forgot anti-Semitism, forgot anti-Jewish hatred, forgot the sins of his church and his people and made due with a general denunciation of hatred.
Apparently, this is how he solved his temporary problem.