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POLISH BISHOPS PASTORAL ON JEWISH-CATHOLIC RELATIONS

Introduction:

While this document does not belong directly to the Warsaw Ghetto revolt, its appearance will hopefully be of major importance to the improvement of Polish-Jewish relations. These relations have been deeply scarred by the history of antisemitism in Poland, which had undeniable connections to significant segments of the Catholic Church. This document is not perfect, but it is a beginning; as a first step in grappling with the issue of antisemitism in Poland up to and including the Holocaust, it deserves to be widely known and discussed.

We address you today about the very important issue of our relationship to the Jewish people and to the Mosaic religion, with which we Christians are uniquely linked. We do this on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the proclamation of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate, in which the church defined more precisely its relations to non-Christian religions, among them the Jewish religion....

We Poles have particular ties with the Jewish people from as early as the first centuries of our history. Poland became for many Jews a second fatherland. The majority of Jews living in the world today are by origin from the territories of the previous and current Polish commonwealth. Unfortunately, in our century this particular land became the grave for several million Jews. Not by our wish, and not by our hands. Here is what our Holy Father said recently, on Sept. 26 of this year, about our common history:

"There is still one other nation, one particular people: the people of the patriarchs, of Moses and the prophets, the inheritors of the faith of Abraham .... This people lived side by side with us for generations on the same land, which became, as it were, a new fatherland of their diaspora. This people underwent the terrible death of millions of their sons and daughters. At first they were stigmatized in a particular way. Later, they were pushed into the ghetto in separate neighborhoods. Then they were taken to the gas chambers, they underwent death-only because they were children of this people. Murderers did this on our landperhaps in order to dishonor it. One cannot dishonor a land by the death of innocent victims. Through such death a land becomes a sacred relic" (Speech to Poles during a Wednesday audience, Sept. 26, 1990).

During his historic meeting in 1987 with the few Jews living in Poland, in Warsaw, the Holy Father said, "Be assured, dear brothers, that the Poles, this Polish church is in a spirit of pro found solidarity with you when she looks closely at the terrible reality of the extermination the unconditional extermination-of your nation, an extermination carried out with premedita tion. The threat against you was also a threat against us; this latter was not realized to the same extent because it did not have time to be realized to the same extent. It was you who suffered this terrible sacrifice of extermination: One might say that you suffered it also on behalf of those who were likewise to have been exterminated" (L'Osservatore Romano, June 1987).

Many Poles saved Jews during the last war. Hundreds, if not thousands, paid for this with their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. For each of the Jews saved there was a whole chain of hearts of people of good will and helping hands. The express testimony of that help to Jews in the years of the Hitler occupation are the many trees dedicated to Poles in Yad Vashem, the place of national memory in Jerusalem, with the honored title, "The just Among the Nations" given to many Poles. In spite of so many heroic examples of help on the part of Polish Christians, there were also people who remained indifferent to this incom prehensible tragedy. We are especially disheartened by those among Catholics who in some way were the cause of the death of Jews. They will forever gnaw at our conscience on the social plane. if only one Christian could have helped and did not stretch out a helping hand to a Jew during the time of danger or caused his death, we must ask for forgiveness of our Jewish brothers and sisters. We are aware that many of our compatriots still remember the injustices and injuries committed by the postwar communist authorities, in which people of Jewish origin also took part. We must acknowledge, however, that the source of inspira tion of their activity was clearly neither their origin nor religion, but the communist ideology, from which the Jews themselves, in fact, suffered many injustices.

We express our sincere regret for all the incidents of anti-Semitism which were committed at any time or by anyone on Polish soil. We do this with the deep conviction that all incidents of anti-Semitism are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and-as Pope John Paul 11 recently emphasized-" remain opposed to the Christian vision of human dignity" (John Paul 11 on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War ID.

In expressing our sorrow for all the injustices and harm done to Jews, we cannot forget that we consider untrue and deeply harmful the use by many of the concept of what is called "Polish anti-Semitism" as an especially threatening form of that anti-Semitism; and in addi tion, frequently connecting the concentration camps not with those who were actually involved with them, but with Poles in a Poland occupied by the Germans. Speaking of the unprecedented extermination of Jews, one cannot forget and even less pass over in silence the fact that the Poles as a nation were one of the first victims of the same criminal racist ideology of Hitler's Nazism.

The same land, which for centuries was the common fatherland of Poles and Jews, of blood spilled together, the sea of horrific suffering and of injuries shared-should not divide us but unite us. For this commonality cries out to us-especially the places of execution and, in many cases, common graves. We Christians and Jews are also united in our belief in one God, the Creator and Lord of the entire universe, who created man in his image and likeness. We are united by the commonly accepted ethical principles included in the Ten Commandments, crowned by the love of God and neighbor. We are united in our respect for the biblical books of the Old Testament as the word of God and by common traditions of prayer. Last, we are united in the common hope of the final coming of the kingdom of God....

The most important way to overcome the difficulties that still exist today is the establishment of a dialogue which would lead to the elimination of distrust, prejudices and stereotypes, and to mutual acquaintance and understanding based on respect for our separate religious tradi tions as well as opening the way to cooperation in many fields. It is important, moreover, that while doing this, we learn to experience and appreciate the proper religious contexts of Jews and Christians as they are lived by Jews and Christians themselves.


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