01/28/2005, 00.00
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The Holocaust gives Europe a chance to think about its faults and future, says Father Jaeger

Lest we forget that the door was closed to the Jews and Europe's unity needs its Christian heritage.

Rome (AsiaNews) – David-Maria A. Jaeger is a Franciscan priest, the only Israeli-born Catholic priest raised by Jewish parents. His parents escaped Europe in time but not all of his relatives were so lucky; many died in the extermination camps.

He is well-placed to look at the past and talk about what in many European countries has already become an annual recurrence: Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Falling on January 27, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, this Holocaust Remembrance Day saw representatives of European countries gather in the greatest Jewish cemetery in the world to repeat 'Never Again!' to racism and totalitarian madness.

Yet, for Father Jaeger, this statement of intent should come with "a sense of shame and guilt" for the entire continent and the rest of the world who did not lift a finger when Jews came desperately knocking on the door of their tightly shut borders.

And in looking at what has happened, Europeans should understand that their unity cannot be achieved without a reference to Christianity.

For Father Jaeger, on Holocaust Remembrance Day we honour the memory of the millions of Jews who died as part of the Nazi plan, aided and abetted by the many Fascist collaborators the Nazis found throughout Europe, a plan to exterminate every single human being who was any way connected to the Jewish people.

Remembering this event cannot occur without a sense of shame and guilt for the role, however small it might have been in some cases, most European nations played in this great crime.

But people outside of Europe should not think that they are guiltless. When Jews came knocking on their doors seeking refuge, their borders were as tightly shut as those of Europe.

It is indeed a day of remembrance to educate new generations so that similar things never happen again.

How is Israel marking Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Israel commemorates other events such as the heroic Warsaw Uprising. But the Shoah is ever-present in the lives of many families, like mine.

I grew up among the pictures of relatives that I never got to know because the Nazis murdered them. And even though I was born ten years after the war, the Shoah is part of my personal memories, of what I am.

Does the memory of the Shoah influence Israeli political life?

Certainly! For Jews, Israel is the insurance policy against any other destruction. No one can claim to know or understand Israel without knowing or understanding this.

So when I bring groups of pilgrims to the Holy Land to learn about the two peoples who dwell there I never fail to take them to Yad Vashem. The memory of the callous indifference of civilised nations towards the extermination whilst it was taking place explains why Israeli leaders are suspicious of 'international law ', why they have so little faith in 'international guarantees'.

I don't share this view. I don't think we can achieve peace in the world without international law backed by effective, including coercive, means of enforcement. But I do understand and respect my compatriots' reticence.

That's my father's legacy. He was a perceptive intellectual, a trained historian who taught European history at the University of Prague, who never forgot the painful betrayal by the civilisation he loved and served so much. He never forgot the many countries that were still free, that refused to grant him a visa so that he could escape.

He eventually made it out, thank God, but only by saying that he was going on a short trip for 'research purposes' . . .

This said, there are those who deny the Holocaust ever took place. A politician from central Italy caused a scandal when he said that Fascist Italy was not an accomplice of Nazi Germany in the extermination of Jews . . .

He should read what his own party leader, the current foreign minister, has said about the issue.

Whatever the case, it is quite true that historical revisionism, which is more like anti-history revisionism, is a danger because it wants to play down what happened.

This is why Holocaust Remembrance Day is useful—it directly challenges revisionism on the facts, on the truth of the matter.

The Europe that you talk about used to be Christian . . .

It used to be but has largely repudiated Christianity. In this sense, Nazism was the apex of this process in which the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is refused.

How do Christian Jews like yourself remember the Shoah?

Like all Jews: We share the experience. Our Nazi oppressors made no difference between believers and non-believers, Orthodox, Liberal, atheist or Christian Jews. The martyrdom of Edith Stein, i.e. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whom we particularly venerate, is proof of that.

To us, she embodies how one can truly belong both to the Jewish people and to what is currently a religious minority within it.

You have a special project in mind for Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Yes! I'd like to see a commemorative tablet be placed in the synagogue my maternal family went to in their hometown in Moravia [now in the Czech Republic]. Theirs was the only family that survived.

The synagogue is now a pravoslav church and I am hopeful that the Ordinary will accept. I went there and was deeply moved. I am raising the funds for it. It is the least I can do, that ought to be done.

Europe, the Europe, as you pointed out, overwhelmed by neopaganism, betrayed the Jews . . .

Europe got back on its feet; its founders were guided by their Christian faith.

Whether the new constitutional treaty explicitly acknowledges that or not, doesn't matter. The fact is that the foundational values on which Europe is built are deeply rooted in the Christian and Biblical humanistic tradition.

Still, since there is no explicit reference to the roots, perhaps not enough attention is paid to the dangers to the stem … Not right away at least, but . . .

This is why I think that the Pope's decision to make Edith Stein Co-Patroness of Europe is highly significant since the continent really needs her . . .



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