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The Lessons of the Holocaust Have Been Lost

[The following article written by Talia Klein appeared in Images magazine in 1996. It is reprinted here here with permission of the author]

by Talia Klein (January 26, 1996)

Today is the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Elie Wiesel has refused to participate in the Polish State ceremony marking the anniversary because of a refusal on the part of the Polish government to include the Mourner's Kaddish.

Last night, my Rabbi, Avi Weiss, was dragged out of the Parish Church in the Nazi death camp called Birkenau and detained by the Polish police.

Through this entire week, we have been subjected to editorial after article, after news report debating the right to ownership of the memory of the Holocaust. It becomes obvious that 50 years after the Holocaust we are witnessing an obvious attempt to obfuscate the facts of the event, mingled with a competition for this ownership.

It is difficult to understand why the Catholic Church, some Polish people, or some German people are attempting to eliminate the "Jewishness" of the tragedy, but is it not difficult to see that there is a definite agenda of revisionism occurring on the actual sites of the Holocaust.

I refer to the cross that remains at the site of the former convent that stands over a mass grave beside the warehouse that stored the Zyklon B gas of the gas chambers at Auschwitz, or the Parish Church that is housed in the former SS headquarters of Birkenau, where 90% of the inmates were Jewish, or the church in the former "infirmary" at Sobibor where over 90% of the inmates were Jewish.

These places are only in Poland. In the Czech Republic a 70 foot cross marks the graves of thousands of unknown victims from the camp and ghetto of Theresienstadt.

And in Germany, Dachau is the site of a Protestant church, a Catholic alter, and Weimar church and a Carmelite Convent of the Holy Blood all within the confines of the Nazi concentration camp.

There are too many of these crosses on too many mass graves of Eastern European Jewry to be accidental, to not be purposeful, to not be somehow conspired.

Last summer I travelled to these sites with Rabbi Avi Weiss to attempt to understand the roots of this revisionism, protest its injustice, and fight for the universalism of Holocaust memory.

Why? It was an obvious question as I stood sweating in the sin in front of the guard tower that serves as the entrance gate for the convent at Dachau. What possible reason could the Church have to build houses of sanctuary and peace on the sites of genocide and hatred - sites that are, in effect, mass graves? Are they attempting to hide their inaction during the Holocaust? Are they attempting to atone for their guilt of apathy and complicity under the guise of atoning for the souls that died the camps? Or are they attempting to write the Jewish people out of the equation of memory of the Holocaust?

In 50 more years, the camps will be rubble and all that will remain will be the convents and churches. Visitors to the camps will see the graceful spires of the churches rising protectively over the sites of the camps in memory of the people who died there. There will be no guilt and no Jews. The lessons of genocide will be obscured.

This summer there was a rumour originating from the Holy See (the Vatican's diplomatic arm) that the Pope was to release a statement of apology for the Church's activities during the years of the Third Reich. The statement was quashed because it is against Vatican policy to admit fallibility on the part of the Pope.

Perhaps then the only option is to mar the surfaces of memory. When Santayana said that "those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it", he was warning us against actions that protect the conscience of humanity from the horrors of which it is capable. He was warning us to remember the attempted systematic slaughter of an entire people solely for the crime of being that people.

The Holocaust happened primarily to the Jewish people. It also happened to the Gypsies, the Poles, the homosexuals, the mentally disabled, and other "enemies" of the Third Reich. The lessons and the memories must be shared by the entire world.

It is for this reason that the churches and the convents are unacceptable on the sites of the Holocaust. They shift the truth and alter the facts and, in so doing, undermine the savage lessons of Auschwitz.

When my Rabbi can be dragged from the church at Birkenau with people yelling anti-Semitic slogans at him and attempting to attack him, it is obvious that somewhere the lessons of the Holocaust have been lost. Auschwitz stands, useless, in the shadow of the cross.

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