Miscellaneous: Vatican, Demjanjuk, Netanyahu

Elie Wiesel accuses Pius XII of Holocaust silence

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 3:27PM UTC

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, in a major speech to Italy’s parliament, attacked wartime Pope Pius XII Wednesday for his “silence” during the Nazis’ mass killings of Jews.

Wiesel, an Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor, gave the emotional speech on World Holocaust Remembrance Day — also the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

At about the same time German-born Pope Benedict, who has defended the actions of his wartime predecessor, was also speaking about the Holocaust at his general audience at the Vatican across the River Tiber.

“Whether at the lowest level of politics or the highest level of spirituality, silence never helps the victims. Silence always helps the aggressor,” Wiesel told parliamentarians and top officials including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

A source in Wiesel’s entourage later told Reuters the words “highest level of spirituality” were a reference to Pius, who headed the Roman Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958.

The question of what Pius did or did not do to help Jews during the war remains a burning issue between Catholics and Jews, and Wiesel’s reference to Pius indicated it shows no sign of being resolved.

Ten days ago, Pope Benedict made his first visit to Rome’s synagogue, where a Jewish leader told him bluntly that Pius should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust to show solidarity with Jews being led to the “ovens of Auschwitz.”

The Vatican maintains that Pius was not silent during the war, but chose to work behind the scenes, concerned that public intervention would have worsened the situation for both Jews and Catholics in a wartime Europe dominated by Hitler.

At his general audience Benedict, who was drafted into the Hitler Youth and German army as a teen-ager during World War Two, called the Holocaust a “homicidal folly” that should never be forgotten.“With an emotional spirit, we think of the countless victims of blind and religious hate, those who underwent deportation, imprisonment and death in those abhorrent and inhuman places,” Benedict said.

Jews have asked that the Vatican’s wartime archives be opened up to scholars so the role of Pius can be cleared up.

In his speech, Wiesel also renewed his demand that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and called for the destruction of Israel, be arrested the next time he leaves Iran.

“He should be hauled off to the International Court of Justice to face charges of incitement of crimes against humanity,” Wiesel said.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)
Israel slams Iran as world recalls Holocaust

Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010 11:19PM UTC

By Ari Rabinovitch and Wojciech Zurawski

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – Israel’s leaders, with Iran on their minds, vowed never again to allow the “hand of evil” to kill Jews as the world marked International Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday.

Speaking at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, liberated by Soviet Red Army troops 65 years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a strong Israeli state was the only guarantee for the security of his people.

In Berlin, Israeli President Shimon Peres told the German parliament Iran posed a threat to the whole world and lashed out at its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust and has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“From this site, I vow as the leader of the Jewish state that we will never again allow the hand of evil to destroy the life of our people and the life of our state. Never again,” Netanyahu said at the Auschwitz ceremony.

“We will not allow the deniers of the Holocaust… to erase or distort the memory (of what happened),” he said, in a clear reference to Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Nazis’ genocide.

Poland’s president and prime minister, the education ministers from nearly 30 nations, including Russia, and about 150 camp survivors attended the commemoration. In subzero temperatures, young Israelis placed candles on top of the crematoria nearby where the Nazis’ victims were gassed.

Up to 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished at Auschwitz, located near the village of Oswiecim in southern Poland, before Soviet troops liberated it on January 27, 1945.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest and most notorious of the Nazi death camps. Others operated by the Germans on occupied Polish territory included Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.


Like Netanyahu, Peres stressed the need for vigilance.

“Never again ignore blood-thirsty dictators, hiding behind demagogical masks, who utter murderous slogans,” he told the German lawmakers in a speech delivered in Hebrew.

“The threats to annihilate a people and a nation are voiced in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, which are held by irresponsible hands, by irrational thinking and in an untruthful language,” said Peres.

Western nations and Israel suspect Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Peres, 86, recalled how his grandfather was burned to death in a Belarus synagogue that the Nazis locked from the outside.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who declined a Polish invitation to attend Wednesday’s ceremony, warned in a message read out at the Auschwitz commemoration by Russia’s education minister Alexei Fursenko of attempts to rewrite history by downplaying the role of the Red Army.

Russians are immensely proud of their country’s role in defeating Hitler’s Germany at huge human cost. The Auschwitz ceremony was widely shown in Russian state media and Russian Jewish groups organized memorial services across the country.

The theme of the Auschwitz commemoration was the education of young people about the Holocaust.

“This place determined who I am today, aged nearly 90. I still have one mission — to pass on to the next generation knowledge of what happened here,” August Kowalczyk, one of very few of the camp prisoners to escape, told reporters at the site.

“The need for teaching about Auschwitz is greater than ever before,” Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, 87, a Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and now the Polish government’s special envoy for relations with Germany, said at the ceremony.

Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before World War Two. The vast majority perished in the Nazi camps.


Jewish groups have voiced concern about what they see as a rise in anti-Semitism and xenophobia in some European countries and have called for more education about the Holocaust.

Earlier this week, they angrily criticized a Polish Catholic bishop after he was quoted as saying Jews had expropriated the Holocaust as a propaganda weapon. Roma, homosexuals and other groups were also systematically murdered there by the Nazis.

Speaking to the Italian parliament in Rome on Wednesday, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel attacked wartime Pope Pius XII for his “silence” during the Nazis’ mass killings of Jews.

German-born Pope Benedict has annoyed Jews by defending the actions of his wartime predecessor.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Rome and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin and Moscow bureau; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Charles Dick)
Holocaust haunts my dreams, survivor tells court

Tuesday, Jan 19, 2010 8:2PM UTC

By Irene Preisinger

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) – Frail Holocaust survivor Thomas Blatt told a court on Tuesday he still has nightmares about the months he spent at the Sobibor death camp, in moving testimony in the trial of accused Nazi guard John Demjanjuk.

Blatt, 82, whose family was killed at Sobibor, was composed but pale. His hands shook and he spoke quietly and with hesitation. At the age of 15, Blatt was ordered to sort out the belongings of Jews sent to the gas chambers at the camp.

A co-plaintiff in the case against Demjanjuk, who is charged with helping to murder 27,900 Jews in 1943, Blatt was giving testimony for the first time. Prosecutors say Demjanjuk, 89, was a guard at Sobibor at the time Blatt was there.

“My dreams are so real. I cannot escape. I am still there,” Blatt, a co-plaintiff in the case, told the court in a confusing mixture of English and German. “We knew we would die, that we would be gassed.”

Blatt said he did not recognize Demjanjuk from his time at Sobibor, an extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland that prosecutors say was run by 20 to 30 Nazi SS members and up to 150 Soviet prisoners of war.

Demjanjuk, lying on a bed in the court room did not look at or respond to Blatt and pulled a baseball cap low over his face so his eyes were hidden.

Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk fought in the Red Army before being captured by the Nazis. He is accused by prosecutors of working as a guard for the SS and helping them kill Jews at the camp.

The case, likely to be one of Germany’s last major war crimes trials, has drawn major international interest.

Demjanjuk denies a role in the Holocaust and his lawyers dispute he was at Sobibor. His family say he is too frail to go on trial.
(*Corrects story from January 13 to make clear in par 3 that Demjanjuk’s defense lawyers have not said he was a “Trawniki”. By Jens Hack. …
Demjanjuk denies any role in the Holocaust and his family argues he is too frail to stand trial.)


He denies a role in the Holocaust and his defense lawyers have said he became a “Trawniki” — a prisoner of war trained to perform duties at camps — to save his own life. Any work he did for the Nazis was involuntary and done under duress, they say.

Blatt, who had difficulty hearing questions and looked exhausted by the end of the session, said if Demjanjuk was at Sobibor at the same time as him, he was a murderer.

“There were only 17 SS soldiers in Sobibor at any (one) time. The Ukrainian guards carried out the killings. They pushed people into the gas chambers,” Blatt told reporters.

Jews at the camp died 20 to 30 minutes after inhaling a toxic mix of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, say prosecutors.

Blatt, who lives in the United States, said he did not know why he was selected to work. He was in the camp for about six months in mid-1943. He took part in an uprising at the camp in October 1943 in which prisoners killed SS guards and escaped.

Demjanjuk emigrated to the United States in 1951 and became an auto worker. Extradited from the United States in May, he could spend the rest of his life in jail if found guilty.

“I’m not looking for revenge. I want justice,” said Blatt.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin)

TIMELINE: Vatican-Jewish relations

Sunday, Jan 17, 2010 12:30PM UTC

(Reuters) – A visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Rome’s synagogue on Sunday has been overshadowed by the pope’s decision last month to move Pius closer toward sainthood.

Following is a timeline of events in Vatican-Jewish relations since the first papal visit to Israel in 1964:

1964 – Pope Paul VI became the first modern pope to visit the Holy Land. During the visit he did not use the word Israel, which the Vatican did not recognize at the time.

1965 – The Second Vatican Council issued a document “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Times”), repudiating the notion of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus Christ’s death for the first time.

1986 – Pope John Paul II visited Rome’s synagogue, becoming the first pope in nearly 2,000 years to visit a Jewish place of worship and saying Jews are “our beloved elder brothers.”

1994 – Vatican and Israel forged full diplomatic ties after 2,000 years of Christian-Jewish hostility.

1998 – Vatican apologized for Catholics who failed to do enough to help Jews against Nazi persecution. It also defended wartime Pope Pius XII from accusations that he ignored the Holocaust. Jews welcome the condemnation of anti-Semitism but say it failed to account adequately for the role of Catholic teachings in spawning it and criticized its defense of Pius.

2000 – Pope John Paul visited Israel and its Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

2005 – Joseph Ratzinger succeeded as pope, attracting international comment over his brief period in the Hitler Youth which he said was forced. During a visit to the Cologne synagogue, an appeal by Jewish leaders to open all Vatican archives on World War Two showed Pius XII was still an obstacle to reconciliation. John Paul put Pius on the road to sainthood.

December 2007 – Moves to make Pius a saint are delayed as Benedict said he wants to study more documents.

February 2008 – Pope Benedict ordered changes to a Latin prayer used by traditionalist Catholics for Jews at Good Friday services. Jews criticized the new version because it still says they should recognize Jesus Christ as the savior of all men and it keeps an underlying call to conversion.

November 2008 – Benedict paid tribute to Pius XII. Benedict had so far not approved a decree making him a saint, opting instead for what the Vatican called a period of reflection.

January 2009 – Israel criticized Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, after he criticized Israel over its offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza strip, calling it a “big concentration camp.”

— On January 24, Benedict lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops to try to heal a 20-year-old schism.

— One of the four bishops, British-born Richard Williamson, gave a television interview denying the extent of the Holocaust. His comments and the pope’s decision to lift the excommunication caused a deep rift in Catholic-Jewish relations. Pope Benedict expressed his “full and unquestionable solidarity” with Jews.

February 2009 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the pope to make clear he did not tolerate any denial of the Holocaust.

— World Jewish leaders told Vatican officials that denying the Holocaust was “not an opinion but a crime.”
April 2009 – Benedict sent a Vatican delegation to the U.N. conference on racism, opening new rift with Jewish groups.

May 2009 – In a major trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Benedict distanced himself from Holocaust deniers.

January 2010 – Benedict visits the Rome Synagogue.




Demjanjuk, updated, on trial for being allegedly a guard at Sobibor and other camps:

MUNICH — A top German investigator says there are inconsistencies in John Demjanjuk’s story about where he spent World War II after being captured by the Germans.

In testimony today in Berlin, Thomas Walther disputed some of the 89-year-old’s statements about where he was after his 1942 capture.

Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio autoworker, faces 27,900 counts of accessory to murder and is accused of agreeing to serve the Nazis as a guard at the Sobibor death camp after his capture.

Walther led the investigation that prompted Germany to prosecute him. He says Demjanjuk has given conflicting testimony about his whereabouts, with some of it “being historically impossible.”

Demjanjuk, a Red Army draftee from Ukraine, maintains he never served in any death camp and is the victim of mistaken identity.



Thomas Blatt , Sobibor witness


The camp guards in Sobibor were Ukrainian,” says Janusz Kloc, the local starosta (county leader).

Demjanjuk once claimed to have served with the Ukrainian Liberation Army, formed by the Germans to fight the Soviets, in Graz, Austria in 1943.
This army at that time was at no point in Graz,” Walther, who has now retired from the special German prosecutors’ office responsible for investigating Nazi-era crimes, told the Munich state court.

But the rest of the evidence against Demjanjuk is either circumstantial or mitigating. Most of the 35 plaintiffs are simply relatives of those killed at Sobibor, and the four actual survivors of the camp are too old to have a reliable memory of him or his immediate actions. The defense lawyer Ulrich Busch has repeatedly argued that Demjanjuk is also a victim of the Nazi regime: as a Ukrainian prisoner of war, Demjanjuk became a Trawniki – one of the many local non-Germans trained as guards in the easternmost concentration camps – to avoid starvation.

Deutsche welle http://www.dw-world.de/dw/arti­cle/0,,4999547,00.


Karl Streibel, a Trawniki recruiter, tried in Germany in 1976 and scandalously acquitted after his attorneys successfully argued that he did not know what the guards he trained would be used for. ” (ibid)





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