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Europe's bishops concerned ahead of 75th Auschwitz anniversary

Europe's Catholic bishops are marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in then occupied Poland with a warning about ongoing hatred towards Jewish people. I in a statement, the bishops condemn anti-Semitism and what they call the "manipulation" of the truth for political aims.

By Stefan J. Bos

Saturday's published remarks reflect concerns within the Church about a rise in Holocaust denial and other forms of historical whitewashing. The statement was issued by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union.

It came just two days ahead of the anniversary of the Soviet army's liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War Two on January 27, 1945. More than a million people were murdered there, most of them Jews, as well as others the German Nazi's didn't like.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report


On Saturday, the bishops appealed for prayers and for candles to be lighted "for people murdered in death camps of all nationalities and religions."

"On this anniversary, we appeal to the modern world for reconciliation and peace, for respect for each nation's right to exist and to freedom, to independence, to maintain its own culture," the statement said. "We cannot allow the truth to be ignored or manipulated for immediate political needs."

German horror

The bishops described the power of Auschwitz as a symbol of the Nazi German horror. They recalled that the last three popes, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, have all visited the site of the former camp.

Pope Francis, during his visit to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau, made no speech, the bishops noted, adding that his silent presence was very eloquent. They stressed that Pope Francis, in the memorial book at the site, wrote: "Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, we ask pardon for such cruelty." He concluded his visit with a prayer at the Monument to the Martyrdom of Nations.

Europe's bishops also noted that Pope Francis said in recent days: "May the anniversary of the unspeakable cruelty that humanity learned of seventy-five years ago serve as a summons to pause. To be still and to remember. We need to do this, lest we become indifferent."

The bishops said that Auschwitz-Birkenau is a result of "the system based on the ideology of national socialism. It
meant trampling the dignity of man who is made in the image of God."

Rising nationalism

They also stressed that communist totalitarianism — like Nazism — claimed millions of lives in Europe's recent turbulent history.

The bishop's statement was published in a period of renewed rising nationalism in Europe and beyond.

Critics, including experts, have warned that some governments increasingly seek to replace honest historical inquiry with praising their nations' behavior during the war.

The 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation has, for instance, been overshadowed by tensions between Russia and Poland over their country's role in the war.  

25 January 2020, 17:10