"We Remember" - A Reflection on the Shoah
To my venerable brother, Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy:
On numerous occasions during my pontificate I have recalled with a sense of deep sorrow
the sufferings of the Jewish people during the Second World War. The crime which has
become known as the Shoah remains an indelible stain on the history of the century
that is coming to a close.
As we prepare for the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity, the Church is
aware that the joy of a jubilee is above all the joy that is based on the forgiveness of
sins and reconciliation with God and neighbor. Therefore she encourage her sons and
daughters to purify their hearts through repentance of past errors and infidelities. She
calls them to place themselves humbly before the Lord and examine themselves on the
responsibility which they too have for the evils of our time.
It is my fervent hope that the document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,"
which the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews has prepared under your
direction, will indeed help to heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices.
May it enable memory to play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in
which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible. May the
Lord of history guide the efforts of Catholics and Jews and all men of good will as they
work together for a world of true respect for the life and dignity of every human being,
for all have been created in the image and likeness of God.
From the Vatican, March 12, 1998
I. TRAGEDY OF THE SHOAH AND THE
DUTY OF REMEMBRANCE
The 20th century is fast coming to a close, and a new millennium of the Christian era
is about to dawn. The 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ calls all
Christians, and indeed invites all men and women, to see to discern in the passage of
history the signs of divine providence at work as well as the ways in which the image of
the Creator in man has been offended and disfigured.
This reflection concerns one of the main areas in which Catholics can seriously take to
heart the summons which Pope John Paul II has addressed to them in his apostolic letter Tertio
"It is appropriate that as the second millennium of Christianity draws to a close
the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling
all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel
and, instead of offering to the world a witness and a life inspired by the values of
faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness
and scandal" .
This century has witnessed an unspeakable tragedy which can never be forgotten: the
attempt by the Nazi regime to exterminate the Jewish people, with the consequent killing
of millions of Jews. Women and men, old and young, children and infants, for the sole
reason of their Jewish origin, were persecuted and deported. Some were killed immediately,
while others were degraded, ill-treated, tortured and utterly robbed of their human
dignity, and then murdered. Very few of those who entered the camps survived, and those
who did remained scarred for life. This was the Shoah. It is a major fact of the
history of this century, a fact which still concerns us today.
Before this terrible genocide, which the leaders of nations and Jewish communities
themselves found hard to believe at the very moment when it was being mercilessly put into
effect, no one can remain indifferent, least of all the Church, by reason of her very
close bonds of spiritual kinship with the Jewish people and her remembrance of the
injustices of the past. The Church's relationship with the Jewish people is unlike the one
she shares with any other religion . However, it is not only a question of recalling
the past. The common future of Jews and Christians demands that we remember, for
"there is no future without memory" . History itself is memoria futuri.
In addressing this reflection to our brothers and sisters of the Catholic Church
throughout the world, we ask all Christians to join us in meditating on the catastrophe
which befell the Jewish people and on the moral imperative to ensure that never again will
selfishness and hatred grow to the point of sowing such suffering and death . Most
especially we ask our Jewish friends, "whose terrible fate has become a symbol of the
aberrations of which man is capable when he turns against God" , to hear us with
II. WHAT WE MUST REMEMBER
While bearing their unique witness to the Holy One of Israel and to the Torah, the
Jewish people have suffered much at different times and in many places. But the Shoah was certainly the worst suffering of all." The inhumanity with which the Jews were
persecuted and massacred during this century is beyond the capacity of words to convey.
All this was done to them for the sole reason that they were Jews.
The very magnitude of the crime raises many questions. Historians, sociologists,
political philosophers, psychologists, and theologians are all trying to learn more about
the reality of the Shoah and its causes. Much scholarly study still remains to be
done. But such an event cannot be fully measured by the ordinary criteria of historical
research alone. It calls for a "moral and religious memory" and, particularly
among Christians, a very serious reflection on what gave rise to it.
The fact that the Shoah took place in Europe, that is, in countries of long-
standing Christian civilization, raises the question of the relation between the Nazi
persecution and the attitudes down the centuries of Christians towards the Jews.
III. RELATIONS BETWEEN JEWS AND
The history of relations between Jews and Christians is a tormented one. His Holiness
Pope John Paul II has recognized this fact in his repeated appeals to Catholics to see
where we stand with regard to our relations with the Jewish people . In effect, the
balance of those relations over two thousand years has been quite negative .
At the dawn of Christianity, after the crucifixion of Jesus, there arose disputes
between the early Church and the Jewish leaders and people who, in their devotion to the
Law, on occasion violently opposed the preachers of the Gospel and the first Christians.
In the pagan Roman Empire, Jews were legally protected by the privileges granted by the
emperor, and the authorities at first made no distinction between Jewish and Christian
communities. Soon, however, Christians incurred the persecution of the state. Later, when
the emperors themselves converted to Christianity, they at first continued to guarantee
Jewish privileges. But Christian mobs who attacked pagan temples sometimes did the same to
synagogues, not without being influenced by certain interpretations of the New Testament
regarding the Jewish people as a whole.
"In the Christian world--I do not say on the part of the Church as such--erroneous
and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their
alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility
towards this people" . Such interpretations of the New Testament have been totally
and definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council .
Despite the Christian preaching of love for all, even for one's enemies, the prevailing
mentality down the centuries penalized minorities and those who were in any way
"different." Sentiments of anti-Judaism in some Christian quarters and the gap
which existed between the Church and the Jewish people led to a generalized
discrimination, which ended at times in expulsions or attempts at forced conversion. In a
large part of the "Christian" world, until the end of the 18th century those who
were not Christian did not always enjoy a fully guaranteed judicial status. Despite that
fact, Jews throughout Christendom held on to their religious traditions and communal
customs. They were therefore looked upon with a certain suspicion and mistrust. In times
of crisis such as famine, war, pestilence, or social tensions, the Jewish minority was
sometimes taken as a scapegoat and became the victim of violence, looting, even massacres.
By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, Jews generally
had achieved an equal standing with other citizens in most States, and a certain number of
them held influential positions in society. But in that same historical context, notably
in the 19th century, a false and exacerbated nationalism took hold. In a climate of
eventful social change, Jews were often accused of exercising an influence
disproportionate to their numbers. Thus there began to spread in varying degrees
throughout most of Europe an anti-Judaism that was essentially more sociological and
political than religious.
At the same time, theories began to appear which denied the unity of the human race,
affirming an original diversity of races. In the 20th century, National Socialism in
Germany used these ideas as a pseudo-scientific basis for a distinction between so-called
Nordic-Aryan races and supposedly inferior races. Furthermore, an extremist form of
nationalism was heightened in Germany by the defeat of 1918 and the demanding of
conditions imposed by the victors, with the consequence that many saw in National
Socialism a solution to their country's problems and cooperated politically with this
The Church in Germany replied by condemning racism. The condemnation first appeared in
the preaching of some of the clergy, in the public teaching of the Catholic bishops, and
in the writings of lay Catholic journalists. Already in February and March 1931, Cardinal
Bertram of Breslau, Cardinal Faulhaber, and the bishops of Bavaria, the bishops of the
province of Cologne, and those of the province of Freiburg published pastoral letters
condemning National Socialism, with its idolatry of race and of the State . The
well-known Advent sermons of Cardinal Faulhaber in 1933, the very year in which National
Socialism came to power, at which not just Catholics but also Protestants and Jews were
present clearly expressed rejection of the Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda .
In the wake of the Kristallnacht, Bernhard Lichtenberg, provost of Berlin Cathedral,
offered public prayers for the Jews. He was later to die at Dachau and has been declared
Pope Pius XI too condemned Nazi racism in a solemn way in his Encyclical Letter Mit
brennender Sorge , which was read in German churches on Passion Sunday 1937, a
step which resulted in attacks and sanctions against members of the clergy. Addressing a
group of Belgian pilgrims on 6 September 1938, Pius XI asserted: "Anti-Semitism is
unacceptable. Spiritually, we are all Semites" . Pius XII, in his very first
Encyclical, Summi Pontificatus , of 20 October 1939, warned against theories
which denied the unity of the human race and against the deification of the State, all of
which he saw as leading to a real "hour of darkness" .
IV. NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE
Thus we cannot ignore the difference which exists between anti-Semitism, based on
theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church on the unity of the human race
and on the equal dignity of all races and peoples, and the long-standing sentiments of
mistrust and hostility that we call anti-Judaism of which, unfortunately, Christians also
have been guilty.
The National Socialist ideology went even further, in the sense that it refused to
acknowledge any transcendent reality as a source of life and the criterion of moral good.
Consequently, a human group, and the state with which it was identified, arrogated to
itself an absolute status and determined to remove the very existence of the Jewish
people, a people called to witness to the one God and the Law of the Covenant. At the
level of theological reflection we cannot ignore the fact that not a few in the Nazi Party
not only showed aversion to the idea of divine Providence at work in human affairs, but
gave proof of a definite hatred directed at God himself. Logically, such an attitude also
led to a rejection of Christianity and a desire to see the Church destroyed or at least
subjected to the interests of the Nazi state.
It was this extreme ideology which became the basis of the measures taken first to
drive the Jews from their homes and then to exterminate them. The Shoah was the
work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti- Semitism had its roots outside of
Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and
persecute her members also.
But it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the
anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts. Did anti-Jewish
sentiment among Christians make them less sensitive or even indifferent to the
persecutions launched against the Jews by National Socialism when it reached power?
Any response to this question must take into account that we are dealing with the
history of people's attitudes and ways of thinking, subject to multiple influences.
Moreover, many people were altogether unaware of the "final solution" that was
being put into effect against a whole people; others were afraid for themselves and those
near to them; some took advantage of the situation; and others were moved by envy. A
response would need to be given case by case. To do this, however, it is necessary to know
what precisely motivated people in a particular situation.
At first the leaders of the Third Reich sought to expel the Jews. Unfortunately, the
governments of some Western countries of Christian tradition, including some in North and
South America, were more than hesitant to open their borders to the persecuted Jews.
Although they could not foresee how far the Nazi hierarchs would go in their criminal
intentions, the leaders of those nations were aware of the hardships and dangers to which
Jewish living in the territories of the Third Reich were exposed. The closing of borders
to Jewish emigration in those circumstances, whether due to anti-Jewish hostility or
suspicion, political cowardice, or shortsightedness, or national selfishness, lays a heavy
burden of conscience on the authorities in question.
In the lands where the Nazis undertook mass deportation, the brutality which surrounded
these forced movements of helpless people should have led to suspect the worst. Did
Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to
the persecuted Jews?
Many did, but others did not. Those who did help to save Jewish lives as much as was in
their power, even to the point of placing their own lives in danger, must not be
forgotten. During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their
thanks for all that had been done for them, including what Pope Pius XII did personally or
through his representatives to save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives . Many
Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity have been honored for this reason by the
State of Israel.
Nevertheless, as Pope John Paul II has recognized, alongside such courageous men and
women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which
might have been expected from Christ's followers. We cannot know how many Christians in
countries occupied or ruled by the Nazi powers or their allies were horrified at the
disappearance of their Jewish neighbors and yet were not strong enough to raise their
voices in protest. For Christians, this heavy burden of conscience of their brothers and
sisters during the Second World War must be a call to penitence .
We deeply regret the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church. We
make our own what is said in the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate,
which unequivocally affirms: "The Church . . . mindful of her common patrimony with
the Jewish and motivated by the Gospel's spiritual love and by no political
considerations, deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed
against Jews at any time and from any source" .
We recall and abide by what Pope John Paul II, addressing the leaders of the Jewish
community in Strasbourg in 1988, stated: "I repeat again with you the strongest
condemnation of anti-Semitism and racism, which are opposed to the principles of
Christianity" . The Catholic Church therefore repudiates every persecution
against a people or human group anywhere, at any time. She absolutely condemns all forms
of genocide, as well as the racist ideologies which give rise to them. Looking back over
this century, we are deeply saddened by the violence that has enveloped whole groups of
peoples and nations. We recall in particular the massacre of the Armenians, the countless
victims in Ukraine in the 1930s, the genocide of the Gypsies, which was also the result of
racist ideas, and similar tragedies which have occurred in America, Africa, and the
Balkans. Nor do we forget the millions of victims of totalitarian ideology in the Soviet
Union, in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere. Nor can we forget the drama of the Middle East,
the elements of which are well known. Even as we make this reflection, "many human
beings are still their brothers' victims" .
V. LOOKING TOGETHER TO A COMMON
Looking to the future of relations between Jews and Christians, in the first place, we
appeal to our Catholic brothers and sisters to renew the awareness of the Hebrew roots of
their faith. We ask them to keep in mind that Jesus was a descendant of David; that the
Virgin Mary and the Apostles belonged to the Jewish people; that the Church draws
sustenance from the root of that good olive tree on to which have been grafted the wild
olive branches of the gentiles (cf. Rom. 11:17-24); that the Jews are our dearly beloved
brothers indeed in a certain sense they are "our elder brothers" .
At the end of this Millennium the Catholic Church desires to express her deep sorrow
for the failures of her sons and daughters in every age. This is an act of repentance
("teshuva"), since, as members of the Church, we are linked to the sins
as well as to the merits of her children. The Church approaches with deep respect and
great compassion the experience of extermination, the Shoah, suffered by the Jewish
people during World War II. It is not a matter of mere words, but indeed of binding
commitment. "We would risk causing the victims of the most atrocious deaths to die
again if we do not have an ardent desire for justice if we do not commit ourselves to
ensure that evil does not prevail over good as it did for millions of the children of the
Jewish people. . . . Humanity cannot permit all that to happen again" .
We pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people has suffered in our
century will lead to a new relationship with the Jewish people. We wish to turn awareness
of past sins into a firm resolve to build a new future in which there will be no more
anti-Judaism among Christians or anti-Christian sentiment among Jews, but rather a shared
mutual respect as befits those who adore the one Creator and Lord and have a common father
in faith, Abraham.
Finally, we invite all men and women of good will to reflect deeply on the significance
of the Shoah. The victims from their graves and the survivors through the vivid
testimony of what they have suffered have become a loud voice calling the attention of all
of humanity. To remember this terrible experience is to become fully conscious of the
salutary warning it entails: The spoiled seeds of anti-Judaism and anti- Semitism must
never again be allowed to take root in the human heart.
March 16, 1998
Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy
President, Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews
Bishop Pierre Duprey
Rev. Remi Hoeckman, O.P.
 Pope John Paul II, Nov. 10, apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente,
33; Acta Apostolica Sedis 87 (1995), 25.
 Cf. Ibid., April 13, 1986, speech at the Rome synagogue, 4; AAS 78 (1986) 1120.
 Ibid., June 11, 1995, Angelus prayer: Insegnamenti 18/1, 1998, 1712.
 Cf. Ibid., Aug. 18, 1991, address to Jewish leaders in Budapest, 4: Insegnamenti 14/7, 1991, 349.
 Ibid., May 1, 1991, encyclical Centesimus Annus, 17: AAS 83 (1991), 814-815.
 Cf. Ibid., March 6, 1982, address to episcopal conferences delegates for
Catholic-Jewish relations: Insegnamenti, 5/1, 1982, 743-747.
Cf. Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, June 24, 1985,
"Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis
in the Roman Catholic Church," VI, 1: Enchiridion Vaticanum 9, 1656.
 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Oct. 31, 1997, speech to symposium on the roots of
Anti-Judaism, 1: L'Osservatore Romano, Nov. 1, 1997, p. 6.
 Cf. Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate, 4.
 Cf. B. Statiewski (ed.), Aleten Deutscher Bischofe Uber die Lage der Kirche,
1933-1945, vol. I, 1933-1934 (Mainz, 1968), Appendix.
 Cf. I. Volk, Der Bayerische Episkopat und der Nationalsozialismus 1930-1934 (Mainz, 1966), pp. 170-174.
 The encyclical is dated March 14, 1937; AAS 29 (1937) , 145-167.
 La Documentation Catholique, 29 (1938), Col. 1460.
 AAS 31 (1939), 413-453.
 Ibid., 449.
 The wisdom of Pope Pius XII's diplomacy was publicly acknowledged on a number of
occasions by representatives Jewish organizations and personalities. For example, on Sept.
7, 1945, Dr. Joseph Nathan, who represented the Italian Hebrew Commission, stated:
"Above all, we acknowledge the supreme pontiff and the religious men and women who,
executing the directives of the Holy Father, recognized the persecuted as their brothers
and, with efforts and abnegation, hastened to help us, disregarding the terrible dangers
to which they were exposed" (L'Osservatore Romano, Sept. 8, 1945, p. 2). On
Sept. 21 of that same year, Pius XII received in audience Dr. A. Leo Kubowitzki, the
general secretary of the World Jewish Congress, who came to present "to the Holy
Father, in the name of the Union of Israelitic Communities, warmest thanks for the efforts
of the Catholic Church on behalf of Jews throughout Europe during the war" (L'Osservatore
Romano, Sept. 23, 1945, p. 1). On Thursday, Nov. 29, 1945, the pope met about 80
representatives of Jewish refugees from various concentration camps in Germany, who
expressed "their great honor at being able to thank the Holy Father personally for
his generosity toward those persecuted during the Nazi-Fascist period" (L'Osservatore
Romano, Nov. 30, 1945, p. 1). In 1958, at the death of Pope Pius XII, Golda Meir sent
an eloquent message: "We share in the grief of humanity. When fearful martyrdom came
to our people, the voice of the pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was
enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily
conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace."
 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Nov. 8, 1990, address to the Federal German Republic's new
ambassador to the Holy See, 2: AAS 83 (1991), 587-588.
 No. 4.
 Oct. 9, 1988, address to Jewish leaders in Strasbourg, 8: Insegnamenti 11/3, 1988, 1134.
 Ibid., Jan. 15, 1994, address to the diplomatic corps, 9: AAS 86 (1994), 816.
Ibid., Rome synagogue speech, 4.
Ibid., April 7, 1994, address at a commemoration of the Shoah,
3; Insegnamenti 17/1, 1994, 897 and 893.