Pope Benedict XVI marked Holocaust Remembrance Day yesterday by denouncing the “horror” of the Holocaust and the “unheard of brutality” of death camps created by Nazi Germany, AP reported.
Benedict called the death camps “abhorrent and inhumane places,” issued an appeal “that such tragedies never repeat themselves,” and turned his thoughts to the “countless victims of a blind racial and religious hatred.”
He told his weekly audience the memory of those events, and especially “the tragedy of the Shoah that has struck the Jewish people,” should induce respect for all mankind. Shoah is Hebrew for the Holocaust.
Pope Benedict’s personal biography is particularly meaningful (or controversial) for Vatican-Jewish relations. Born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany in 1927, the future Pope was conscripted into the Hitler Youth at 14. According to Catholic media reports, he refused to attend meetings (membership was mandatory for boys of that age). Pope Benedict has said that his father bitterly opposed the Nazis as opponents of Catholicism and that a cousin of his–who had Down Syndrome–was murdered because of Nazi eugenicist policies.
Though his predecessor Pope John Paul II had warm relations with the Jewish community and Israel, most commentators say that Jewish-Vatican relations have been more strained since Pope Benedict’s ascension in 2005.
Questions remain about the role of Pope Pius II, whom Jews say did not do enough to stop the slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust. Though Pope Benedict has not yet approved a decree naming Pius a saint (a move initiated by John Paul II), he has paid tribute to Pius. Pope Benedict has also approved liturgical changes the Jewish community has found problematic and made other moves relating to the Holocaust the Jewish and Israeli leaders have found problematic.