Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Cross At Auschwitz

Crosses at Auschwitz

On the grounds of Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, the Catholic Church erected a 26 foot tall cross in 1984 to commemorate Pope John Paul II's visit to Auschwitz five years earlier. Jewish people took offense at this as it was primarily Jews that died there, upwards of 1.5 million Jews died there. But to many, being offended by this cross is a tempest in a teapot. The counter argument is that some 70,000 Catholics also died there and deserve a memorial. The counter counter argument is that there are no Stars of David or other Jewish symbols in the Auschwitz museum. The counter counter counter argument is that Poland can do what it likes in its own country.

Eventually, this grew into a controversy known as the War of the Crosses. Hundreds more small crosses were planted, and finally removed, but the 26 foot cross remains.

I didn't know of the controversy when the first cross was erected in 1984, nor did I know of the War of the Crosses in 1998. As with a lot of things, I learned about it by accident from reading a book, James Carroll's book "The Sword of Constantine" - [1]. At first, I didn't understand why it was all that controversial. But as I learned the arguments and counter arguments, I think I understand it better.

Catholic Church in SS administration building at Birkenau

The Carmelite nuns who erected the cross also used an Auschwitz administration building as a church. This drew fire from the Washington Post  in 2015. The article's title really sums it up "Auschwitz is a sacred* place of Jewish memory. It’s no place for a Catholic church." [2] The issue of a church on the grounds is the same as the cross on the grounds. I found some of the readers comments insightful. For instance:

Auschwitz is not just a place, it is a symbol.
The offence lies in the fact that the Church, whose record of anti-Semitism is plain for all to see, took over a site at which many Jews (and others of course, but mainly Jews) were murdered. It is place primarily of Jewish memory, and sorrow, and is therefore sacred* to the Jews as it cannot be to Christians. 
It is the same reason why so many Christians were up in arms over Muslims building a community center near the former World Trade Center. 
Funny that it's become okay to trivialize the attempted extinction of the Jews by gathering up all the other victims and making them the focus. 
There was, from the beginning of the realization of the atrocities that occurred at the concentration camps, an international understanding that no religious institution would establish a monument or place of worship at the camps. That they would be preserved as museums. Only the Catholics have ignored that agreement.

The Churches' record of anti-Semitism appears to be the reason it offends Jews so deeply. James Carroll carefully documents the beginnings of and the rise of anti-Semitism in the Catholic church. Gabriel Wilensky argues in his book "Six Million Crucifixions" - [3] that "Absent Christianity, no Holocaust would have taken place." The not so subtle subtitle is "How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust". That is a very strong statement to make, so let's review the history and the logic.

Constantine And the Rise Of Antisemitism

The rise of the church as we know it is the rise of antisemitism. The term antisemitism was coined in 1879 by journalist William Mahr to avoid the term anti-Judaism which had Christian implications. But anti-Judaic sentiment has been around a long time, The family feud between Abraham's sons Ishmael and Isaac passed down through the millenia and morphed into a hatred against Abraham's great grandson Judah (origin of the word Jew).

The church started out as strictly Jewish, 100% Jewish with the possible exception of the Ethiopian Eunuch - [4]. But the church opened up to Gentiles in New Testament times, and within a couple hundred years become almost exclusively Gentile, taking great pains to not appear Jewish. Constantine had a big hand in shaping the now Gentile church. Consider Constantine's creed.

 Emperor Constantine the Great
“I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspirations, purifications, sanctifications, and propitiations, and fasts and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants, and observances and synagogues. absolutely everything Jewish, every Law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be an anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.” - Stefano Assemani, Acta Sanctorium Martyrum Orientalium at Occidentalium [5], Vol. 1, Rome 1748, page 105

Roger Pearse writes

A pronounced hostility to Jews as Jews does start to appear, after the legalisation of the church, particularly towards the end of the 4th century.
The first impression is that the early Christians were not, in the main, concerned with attitudes to Jews.  The translation of the Ante-Nicene Fathers fills 5,000 large double-column pages, without including the homilies of Origen; the post-Nicene fathers probably ten times as much.  So these quotations are an infinitesimally tiny portion of their work.  The fathers were concerned with  their own identity as Christians, and how to understand the Old Testament, and relate it to themselves.  They were not concerned with demonising Jews, by race or religion, so much as with connecting themselves with OT prophecy.  Since, prior to 313 AD, they held no political power, any such attitudes would have meant nothing anyway. Roger Pearse [6]

Again, the church started out strictly Jewish, and three centuries later was anti-Jewish. This divide started as a theological difference, but ended as racial hatred. Here is the progression of thinking in the words of Six Million Crucifixions - [3].
When Paul’s followers realized that their new message was not having an effect on traditional Jews, they made efforts to show the world that God had chosen a new Israel and had forsaken what they perceived to be an obstinate people.

The “new” Christians produced a new and separate theology that defined itself in part as everything Judaism was not. Over time, Christians felt the need to do everything possible to stand out from Judaism and Jews, and this evolved into a hatred that imputed Jews with all the ills of the world.
Ultimately, these Christian thinkers had fully absorbed the Christian supersessionistic view that stipulated that God’s covenant with the Jewish people was null and that Christianity was now the true Israel, the community truly chosen by God.

A Flaw In the Theology

There was one annoying catch to this theology however. The church believed that the salvation of humanity depended upon the conversion of Jews to Christianity. On the one hand, they taught from the pulpit that the Jews are responsible for all the world's ills, and on the other (maybe not so much) that they need the Jews for their own salvation. The church leaders were then surprised when the mobs acted out in practice what the Church taught in theory.

The Roman Ghetto
Many popes' solution was to round up the Jews and put them in ghettos, where they were forced to listen to sermons on a regular basis, mostly to no avail, that is very few (willing) conversions. Some of the popes did protect the Jews from armies and mobs. The connection to the holocaust is drawn very plainly by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, “the ghetto, which came into being in 1555 with a papal bull [edict], became in Nazi Germany the antechamber of the extermination.” - "The Sword of Constantine" - [1]

What about Reformation churches? Surely they corrected the theology and the racial hatred, right? Sadly no, Wilensky [3] again.

Martin Luther is a pivotal Christian figure, not only because he was the father of the Protestant movement, but also because as one of history’s greatest antisemites he unwittingly contributed to the establishment of the foundation on which Nazi antisemitism was built.

From Theology To Racism To Holocaust

And in the words of the perpetrators themselves.

“I (Hitler) have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them into ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. April 26, 1933 - Wikipedia [7]

In 1939, Roberto Farinacci, a member of Mussolini’s Fascist Grand Council, while speaking on “The Church and the Jews” said: “We fascist Catholics consider the Jewish problem from a strictly political point of view. . . . But it comforts our souls to know that if, as Catholics, we became antisemites, we owe it to the teachings that the Church has promulgated over the past twenty centuries.” - The Catholic Church Paved the Way for the Holocaust [8]

Wilensky [3] yet again.
It is easy to see how the masses of people in Germany, Poland, France and other Christian countries became immune to the horror of the exterminatory campaign against the Jews once we understand that these peoples had heard, all their lives, that Jews were evil, killers of God, an enemy of Christianity and deservers of the fate that had befallen them. Throughout Europe Christian prelates and priests of all levels insistently promoted these ideas to a flock ready to listen.


Refuting all the theological arguments against Jews is beyond my scope here, but let me address deicide (killing God), that is, "the Jews deserve it [the holocaust] because they killed Christ." People will quote scripture saying "Let His blood be on us and on our children" as proof that they asked for it and had it coming. And the New Testament does have harsh things to say to the Jews, more so than the Romans who actually killed Jesus. But is there really a curse on the entire nation because of this? By the way, this thinking really took off in the Middle Ages.

To read the cry of Matthew 27:25 as an eternal curse on the Jewish people is therefore to press the language beyond its Biblical context. Jewish guilt for the death of Christ in Matthew rested upon a small number of the nation who were there, and to read into these words a curse on all Jews forever is ludicrous.
The guilt for the murder of Christ belonged to these Jews alone who stood before Pilate demanding that Jesus be crucified. It was not passed on to all Jews born after them. - Todd Baker "Blood Libel" [9]

In other words, the mob accepted responsibility for killing Jesus and the mob was controlled by the religious leaders. Remember, Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as king four days before His crucifixion (most people think of it as Palm Sunday, but it was more likely Palm Sabbath). It was the leaders who wanted rid of Jesus. They held a kangaroo court, whipped up a mob, and forced Pilate's hand to order Jesus executed - Got Questions [10]. The people loved Jesus, the leaders hated him. “Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:1–2).

Does your church teach the holocaust was something the Jews had coming? Does your church teach that the church replaced Israel, aka Replacement Theology [11] or Supersessionism?

Anti-Judaism goes back way before the Catholic Church and Constantine. The real source of hatred against Jews is the enemy trying to thwart God's plan. He hated Israel in Egypt, he hated Israel in the wilderness, he stirred up countries to attack the ancient nation of Israel, and eventually focused his hatred on Judah, one of the tribes of Israel, of whom is it written "salvation is of the Jews". If he could eliminate the Jews, could he thwart God's plan?

The Cross of Auschwitz

After centuries of papal authority dominating and humiliating the Jews, I can understand why the Jews would resent crosses on a uniquely Jewish site. The cross symbolizes the very church that oppressed them for 2000 years.

*Sacred - Someone pointed out that just because  many people died there does not make it sacred, only God can do that. Men cannot declare something sacred. However, the term sacred is often used to mean a solemn, protected place or object.