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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

The Holocaust and the Christian World: Reflections on the Past, Challenges for the Future Second Ed

by Carol Rittner, Stephen D. Smith, and Irena Steinfeldt, editors,.

Reviewed by Dr. Eugene Fisher

As someone deeply involved in the Jewish-Christian dialogue for many years, I am delighted to welcome the publication of this 2nd edition of what has been a classic in the field. It is important at the outset to affirm that this second edition thoroughly updates the first edition, published some twenty years ago. The references included, and the short biographies of the authors of each of the some fifty articles that make up this collection have been updated. The "For Further Study" that concludes the volume (pp. 311-377) is thoroughly up to date, printing key Church documents on the Holocaust, official statements of various Christian churches since the Holocaust, a contemporary Videography and list of online resources, as well as a short but very well selected bibliography of the field as a whole. Those who read and profited from the first edition will want to read this edition as well.

The book is divided into ten parts, with a brief and helpful foreword by Dorothee Solle and an introduction by Mary Jo Leddy. The former is German and the latter American, which reflects the important fact that the authors of the short essays in this book are Jews, Catholics and Protestants from a variety of American and European backgrounds. All are experts in their fields and quite a number are among their pioneers and leaders

Part One, "Confronting the Holocaust" contains a powerful essay by Michael McGarry on his personal visit to Yad Vashem, the memorial museum to the Shoah in Israel. Readers will also learn about its counterpart in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. John K. Roth then describes how the Holocaust likely would not have happened had it not been for the anti-Jewish teachings about Jews and Judaism of Christians over the centuries. David A. Rausch asks some of the hard questions for Christians raised by awareness and study of the Holocaust and the history leading up to it.

In Part Two, Chronology, the three editors outline the major events related to the Holocaust, from the early formation of the Nazi ideology in the summer of 1932 up to the visit of Pope Francis to Auschwitz in 2016. It notes that Jews objected to the establishment of a Catholic convent in 1984 (p. 53), but erroneously states that the building was "on the grounds of Auschwitz," when in fact it was in a building adjacent to the death camp. It states that that the nuns intended to "celebrate Christian martyrs" of Auschwitz, when in fact their intention was to pray for all of the victims, fully aware that over a million Jews were killed there. Rabbi James Rudin's article, "Flashpoints," in Part Ten has an accurate description of the crisis.

In Part Three, Carol Rittner and John K. Roth examine the history of anti-Judaism and antisemitism in Europe and how the Christian teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism paved the way for modern racial antisemitism. Doris Bergen, Franklin Littell, Victoria Barnett, Michael Phayer, and Christine King detail the responses of Protestant and Catholic churches in Part Four. Included are biographies of Ludwig Muller and Martin Niemoeller. Michael Berenbaum discusses the non-Jewish victims of the Nazis.

In Part Five, leading Jewish and Christian scholars (Dariusz Libionka, John Pawlikowski, Renee Bedarida, Michael Marrus, Ger van Roon, Carol Rittner, Edward Gaffney, Livia Rothkirken, Yitzhak Arad, Dan Bar-On, Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and VolkerReiss) describe the varying reactions of the churches of Nazi-occupied Europe to the rounding up, deportation, and extermination of the Jews of Poland, France, Holland, Denmark, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and the USSR. It includes biographies of Andre Szeptyckyi and Joseph Tiso, and concludes with a reflection of what "ordinary" people are capable of, perpetrators and rescuers.

Part Six has essays by Michael Marrus, Eugene Fisher, Jonathan Gorsky, John Pawlikowski and Albert Friedlander on what Pope Pius XII did and did not do, and what he might have done. In Part Seven Nechama Tec, Eva Fleischner and David Gushee remember the "righteous among the nations" who acted, often at risk to their own lives, to save Jews. Included are biographies of Metropolitan Chrysostomos, the town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, Msgr. Angelo Rotta, Sr. Margit Slachta, Antonina Siwek, Mother Maria Skobstova, and Cornelia ten Boom.

In Part Eight, Peggy Obrecht, Eugene Fisher and Stephen Haynes discuss Christian responses since the Shoah. Part Nine offers suggestions by Marcia Sachs Littell, Isabel Wollason, Michael Phayer, Carol Rittner, Margaret Shepher and Stephen Smith, for what can be done by dialogue groups, in Protestant theological training and in Catholic universities to bring about tikkun olam, a goal shared by Jews and Christians.

Part Ten raises various "Issues," or perhaps better challenges to all of us, Jews and Christians, today. Hubert Locke describes a "Christian Mission to the Jews" distinctly unlike that of the proselytism of centuries past. Harry James Cargas, Garethlloyd Jones and Jane Clements re-read the New Testament and how it can be properly understood and preached so as to avoid the anti-Judaim of past mis-understandings of what St. Paul and the evangelists had to say in the context of their own times and places. James Rudin enumerates a short list of "flashpoints" of Jewish-Christina relations since the Holocaust. John Pawlikowski meditates on the possibility of the canonization of Pius XII. Both Rudin and Pawlikowski agree that a major issue is the release for scholarly study of all of the Vatican archives for the period of World War II and the Pontificate of pope Pius XII. Just today, as I write this, the Vatican, at long last, has announced that the full Vatican Archives for the period will be released in 2020, to which I can only humbly respond, Halleluiah!

Eloise Rosenblatt quite fairly describes objections to the canonization of Edith Stein. Alice Eckardt discusses the Jewish dilemma of "forgiveness." Elie Wiesel and others have noted that only those victimized can forgive crimes against them, and the victims are dead, so cannot forgive. I would note that Pope John Paul II, in his statement of repentance, asked for God's forgiveness for our Christian perpetration of the Shoah. He did not ask the Jews to forgive us. Franklin Littell and Stephen Smith, in separate reflections, ask what we Christians are doing about ongoing genocides and what is the future of Christianity post-Shoah.

I highly recommend this book to professional theologians and lay leaders alike.


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