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Yad Vashem Chairman Appalled by Comments of German Bishops Comparing Holocaust to Situation in West Bank

6 March 2007

In a letter sent today to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who led the Conference of German Catholic Bishops in their visit to Israel, Chairman of Yad Vashem Avner Shalev, expressed his dismay over statements of some of the delegation comparing the Holocaust to events in the region.

“At the conclusion of your visit to Yad Vashem over the weekend, you gave voice to sentiments that show your deep understanding of the Holocaust and its significance for Jews, Germans and the entire world. Indeed, your comments here at Yad Vashem, expressing the need for memory and responsibility for the past as well as the future spoke of a deep commitment to tolerance and freedom. I was appalled and surprised, therefore, to read the statements some of your delegation made regarding the Holocaust and present day affairs in our region,” Shalev wrote.

“The remarks illustrate a woeful ignorance of history and a distorted sense of perspective. Israel's actions do not bear any resemblance to the Nazis. People have different opinions as to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict and all that is encompassed therein, and it is legitimate to criticize policies, just as it is in every other issue. However, making analogies between the mass murder that was part of the plan to annihilate the Jewish people, carried out under the German Nazi regime and the current situation in Ramallah, and using words whose rhetorical power is immense, does nothing to help us understand what is going on today; such words only further poison the atmosphere making it that much more difficult to find workable solutions to deeply entrenched and thorny problems.

These unwarranted and offensive comparisons serve to diminish the memory of victims of the Holocaust and mollify the consciences of those who seek to lessen European responsibility for Nazi crimes.

Recalling the words of the late Pope John Paul II when he visited Yad Vashem:

‘Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children, cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.’

I urge all people to keep the Holocaust out of cheap political exploitation and demagoguery. Such use of the Holocaust misrepresents both today’s reality as well as that of the Shoah; it distorts historical facts and context, and trivializes the memory of the Holocaust’s victims and events.

I would greatly appreciate if you could share this letter with the members of the delegation.”