During a detour from his route taking him from Warsaw’s Okecie airport to St. John’s Cathedral in the center of the Polish capital, Benedict’s popemobile drove past the imposing monument to the heroes of the uprising, in a residential quarter built on the site of the former ghetto.
As he passed, shortly after arriving in Warsaw, the German-born pope made a sign of blessing.
A crowd of several thousand had gathered at the monument. Among them were several Poles who have been awarded the title Righteous among the Nations for saving Jews during the war, and members of Warsaw’s Jewish community.
On the eve of the visit, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich had said that Poland’s Jewish community had asked the Vatican to "include on the pope’s program in Warsaw Thursday the benediction of 41 Righteous, Polish Catholics who saved Jews in the war."
On Thursday, Schudrich was among those gathered at the monument to the victims of the ghetto, many of whom were hoping the pope would stop, if even briefly, to bless the Righteous.
As the papal motorcade passed by without slowing, many found it hard to hide their disappointment.
"It’s a pity that he passed through so briefly," said Zofia Sienienska, 80, one of the Poles awarded the Righteous among the Nations honor, the title granted by Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
"I am a little disappointed. It was very quick. He made a gesture - I hope it was a benediction," said Sienienska.
Schudrich couched his own disappointment in positive terms, saying: "It’s very meaningful that he came here and gave a blessing in the traditional Catholic way."
Another woman who saved Jews during the war, Anna Bando, said she had expected more.
"I thought it would be more cordial. It was too short and, on top of that, he was enclosed in a cage in his popemobile. At the very least, he could have been in an open-top car," she said.
Echoing her disappointment was Hanna Galazka. "I expected more. I felt like a school kid, standing here waving a little flag."
"Thirty seconds. If he had stopped just 30 seconds or slowed down to make a gesture," said Jerzy Kozminski, another one of the honored Poles, who figure at the top of the list of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Reprinted with permission of European Jewish Press