BERLIN ¬ The Nazi “reign of terror” clearly demonstrated the depths of evil that men are capable of when they deny God and the dignity of all people he created, Pope Benedict XVI told leaders of Germany’s Jewish community.
Speaking Sept. 22 with the Jewish representatives in a meeting room in the Reichstag, which houses the German parliament, the pope spoke about the need to continue remembering the horror of the Shoah, the importance of continuing Catholic-Jewish dialogue and the need for all believers in God to work together to bring moral values to society.
The Reichstag is a place of “appalling remembrance,” the pope said, because it was in the parliament building that “the Shoah, the annihilation of our Jewish fellow citizens in Europe, was planned and organized.”
The number of Jews in Germany today is estimated at about 105,000, most of whom immigrated from the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
The activity of Germany’s 108 Jewish communities is coordinated by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which was founded in 1950 – a time when the country’s Jewish community numbered only about 15,000 members.
According to the council, there were between 500,000 and 600,000 Jews in Germany in the early 1930s. As the Nazis enacted progressively more restrictive laws, thousands of Jews fled. The Nazis killed an estimated 6 million Jews from Germany and surrounding countries before the end of World War II.
Pope Benedict said, “The Nazi reign of terror was based on a racist myth, part of which was the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and all who believe in him.
“The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the creator and father of all men,” the pope said.
The result of the Nazi attempt to replace God was horrific, he said.
“Refusal to heed this one God always makes people heedless of human dignity as well,” the pope said. He said the “terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war” showed “what man is capable of when he rejects God and what the face of a people can look like when it denies this God.”
Pope Benedict renewed the church’s commitment to dialogue with the Jews at a time when some Jewish leaders have expressed concerns because of the pope’s outreach to the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, which questions many of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, particularly regarding relations with other Christians and other religions.
The pope quoted a remark he made in January 2010 when he visited Rome’s main synagogue: with the Second Vatican Council an “irrevocable commitment to pursue the path of dialogue, fraternity and friendship” was made.
Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews, told the pope that Jews were concerned about the Vatican’s rapprochement with traditionalist Catholics. In a text he prepared and distributed, but did not read, he said the Society of St. Pius X “in our view still stands for fanaticism, fundamentalism, racism and anti-Semitism.”
One of the group’s leaders, Bishop Richard Williamson, has been convicted of denying the Holocaust.
In his prepared text, Graumann wrote that 50 years of progress in Catholic-Jewish dialogue has laid a firm foundation for the partners in dialogue to be honest with one another, which is why he felt free to bring to the pope his concerns about the traditionalists and about the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII, whom many believe did not speak forcefully enough in defense of the Jews during World War II.
Pope Benedict told the group that in addition to dialogue to promote mutual understanding, “it seems to me that we Christians must also become increasingly aware of our own inner affinity with Judaism,” recognizing how the Christian faith is rooted in the Jewish faith of Jesus and his disciples.
Reading the Gospel, too many Christians mistakenly think that Jesus broke with Judaism, the pope said. But Jesus did not abolish Jewish laws and practice; he tried to help people understand the importance of those laws and practices, looking deep in their hearts “where choices are made between what is pure and impure, where faith, hope and love blossom forth,” the pope said.
Catholic-Jewish dialogue, he said, “should serve to strengthen our common hope in God in the midst of an increasingly secularized society. Without this hope, society loses its humanity,” he said.
Just before the pope met the Jewish groups, he addressed members of parliament in the Reichstag.
Norbert Lammert, president of the lower house of parliament, told the pope the Reichstag building “is a historic place in German history. It is a symbol of the rise and fall of a parliamentary democracy. A major cause of failure was the lack of tolerance, and its victims were mainly Jewish citizens. And there were Christians who looked the other way or participated in the persecution, defamation, humiliation and killing.”