13 May 2009
Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Yad Vashem is one of utmost importance that will increase Holocaust awareness around the world and will reinforce the ties between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. Yad Vashem sees great significance in the participation of the Pope in the memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, and his prayer and identification at the site where the ashes of Jews murdered in the extermination camps rest. The event itself, in which the Pope took an active role, conveys an influential message regarding the importance of Holocaust remembrance to Catholic followers and believers.
The Pope’s remarks in the Hall of Remembrance contained positive fundamental elements that are noteworthy. For example, the importance of remembering the victims of the Holocaust and their identities, which are embodied by their names, and his reference to the illegitimacy of Holocaust denial: “May the names of these victims never perish! May their suffering never be denied, belittled, or forgotten!” The Pope also expressed respect and compassion to the victims when he said, “The Catholic Church, committed to the teachings of Jesus and intent on imitating his love for all people, feels deep compassion for the victims remembered here…I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope.”
The Pope’s remarks were, however, missing elements that Yad Vashem had anticipated hearing, such as a reference to antisemitism - the very antisemitism that was the essential underpinning of the Holocaust, antisemitism that still exists, in recent years cloaked in different and new guises. Similarly, the identity of the murderers - the German Nazis - was not addressed. This is important not as an indication of guilt, but rather of responsibility, especially in light of the fact that the Pope is German born, and grew up in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust years. Yad Vashem regrets the use of the term “killed” and not “murdered” in relating to the Jewish victims, since this does not express the great extent of the crime that was committed. While these omissions left some sense of missed opportunity at the conclusion of his address, the visit as a whole was clearly a significant and welcome event.