By Wachtel, Albert
Midstream , Vol. 46, No. 4
In 1950, when the raw footage of Nazi atrocities during World War II was shown for the first time by the Zionist Organization of America in Madison Square Garden, my father was among the viewers. That same night, at 48, he experienced a stroke. It left him semi-paralyzed for the rest of his life. He had lost his father, six brothers and sisters, and their families at Auschwitz. John Paul II, the present father of the Roman Catholic Church, was in his early twenties at the time.
During the war, like Jacob, my father, the present pope undoubtedly knew something of the sins against humanity that the Nazis were committing, but, young and undistinguished, he was in no position to stop them. My father and his sister Fanny, who, like him, had settled in America before the war, sent money through the Zionist agency to try to save their family and others of the oppressed. Perhaps the young John-Paul-II-to-be did what he could and, like my father and Fanny, helped to rescue a few people. One of my aunts, Sheindl, and her family, managed to survive the German insanity of the 1930s and '40s, and at least one survivor in Israel claims that the young John Paul II helped her.
Those who owe apologies for the past are individuals (and institutions) of economic, popular, political, or religious weight who at the time either abetted or did not oppose the Nazis forcefully enough. In America, were they alive, Henry Ford, Joseph Kennedy, and Charles Lindbergh would do well to apologize. As undeniably accomplished a man as Franklin Roosevelt, were he alive, would owe apologies. Untold numbers here and in England, France, Germany, and the surrounding countries of Europe should express contrition.
Christian leaders from the very beginning earned guilt for spreading lies or committing crimes that made the Nazi madness conceivable. Crusaders, in warped fealty to a savior who preached love, mercy, and self-abnegation, committed murder and mayhem. Like the Nazis, but on a pre-industrial scale, both Crusaders and the judges of the Inquisition, who pillaged Jewish villages in order to fill the coffers of monarchs and the Catholic Church and sated their appetites for human suffering with innocent blood, are much too guilty for penitence to be an option. The initiators and executors of pogroms were similarly depraved, and the Nazis, with the benefit of industrial techniques and German efficiency, outdistanced them all. Our behavioral blindness to this history is concisely evinced by the use of the sullied term crusade to bring attention to such worthy charitable causes as the attempt to cure cancer. There should be apologies even for that probably unintentional insult.
Certainly Pope Pius XII, whose behavior was intentional, owed the Jews an apology. Early in his pontificate, he suppressed the condemnation of Nazism that Pope Pius XI had intended to deliver before his death. With one unspecific expression of concern as an exception, Pius XII, from the relative safety of his high office, rode out the war in silence, even when the Nazis attempted to annihilate the Jews of Rome, the city of which he was bishop.
There is a historical explanation for such impious behavior. Anyone with knowledge of the creation and canonization of the New Testament knows that it is a work of propaganda as well as a religious text. Among other injustices, the authors, in an attempt to replace Judaism, first libeled and then undertook to demonize the Jews. They distorted the teachings of the Pharisees and heaped blame upon them, though the Pharisees' approach to religion and interpretations of the Bible inspired Jesus. For example, the Pharisee Hillel's "Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you," which encapsulates a crucial aspect of Judaism, rephrased became Jesus's Gold Rule.
But, in attempting to forge a dominant and proselytizing religion, the creators of the New Testament linked Jesus's version of Judaism to lies. …