Four American rabbis demonstrated in front of the church in Birkenau (Poland) on January 26, 2020, demanding the removal of this Catholic place of worship, in the name of refusing any “Christianization of the Shoah.”
Are we going to relive the Auschwitz Carmelite affair? On January 26, 2020, at the end of the Sunday mass celebrated in the parish of Birkenau, close to the barracks of the old internment camp, four rabbis tried to enter the building. They claim to have obtained the removal a Catholic place of worship whose presence they deem to be intolerable, as if only Jews perished in that place.
One of them, Avi Weiss, sees the presence of a church as “the greatest violation of the memory of the Shoah.” This rabbi, who works in the Bronx, in New York, asks Pope Francis to “take a step forward” in order to remove the church, as happened to the Auschwitz Carmel almost thirty years ago.
Founded in 1984 on the site of the camp, the Auschwitz Carmel had been in the spotlight until 1993, when the nuns finally agreed to leave the place at the request of Pope John Paul II. Will Birkenau church suffer the same fate?
The Auschwitz Museum recalls that 400,000 prisoners were officially registered in this concentration camp, including 200,000 Jews and 150,000 Poles, mostly Catholics. But the missing victims who were deported there are in much greater number, and Rabbi Weiss can declare: “Some 1.1 million Jews were murdered in the camp, constituting 95% of its victims.” For this reason, he has been campaigning for the removal of the Birkenau church for years, whose presence he rejects in what he considers to be “the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.”
Rejection of the Cross of Christ
In an article published in English on January 22, 2020, Rabbi Weiss declared himself discomforted on several occasions by the presence of the cross: “From almost anywhere in Birkenau, looking up, you can see the imposing crosses of the church cast their shadows on the death camp.” When time has done its work, he continues, and “we will also be gone, all that remains in Birkenau will be the church and its crosses.” He attacks the Catholic Church by name, guilty in his eyes of “having turned its back on the Jews who desperately needed help,” as well as Poland which he accuses of having “been an accomplice of the Shoah” (sic ). After obtaining the Carmel’s closure, this activist has been campaigning for the closure of this church for more than twenty-five years.
Among the victims of the camp, the Catholic Church honors the figures of Fr. Maximilien Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who sacrificed himself to save a father, and the Discalced Carmelite Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, alias Edith Stein. The latter, convert from Judaism, had offered her life for the conversion of the people from whom she came. In the aftermath of Crystal Night or Night of the Broken Glass (November 10, 1938), in her Cologne Carmel, she was overcome with pain: “It is the shadow of the cross that falls on my people. Oh, if they could understand now! It is the fulfillment of the curse that my people have called upon themselves. Cain must be pursued, but woe to whom Cain touches! O sorrow, if the vengeance of God which today reaches my people comes to befall this city and this earth!”