THE MOMENT that so many Israelis had been waiting for with hope and pain finally came yesterday on a hill outside Jerusalem, in a dark flame-lit hall built on the ashes of victims of the Nazi death camps.
For the first time in history, a pope stood in Israel to share the horror and trauma that did so much to contribute to the creation of the Jewish state 52 years ago.
There were tears, as dreadful memories flooded back. There was powerful, sincere language. But Pope John Paul II did not, and could not, offer the kind of unambiguous apology that some had demanded during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday. And, inevitably, there were those who felt disappointed and angry.
As a young man in wartime Poland, John Paul - then Karol Wojtyla - lost Jewish friends in the Holocaust, and saw first hand a small part of Hitler's evil. So no one challenged the sincerity of his text from which he haltingly read, an old man at the lectern, more stooped than usual, his sad, wizened face illuminated by the orange glow of Yad Vashem's eternal flame.
He did not directly condemn the church, or the war-time pontiff, Pius XII, for turning their backs as the Nazi war machine claimed six million lives, because to do so would mean admitting the fallibility of both a pope and the church. Instead - not for the first time - he distanced the Vatican from the blame, pinning it on the "Godless ideology" of the Nazis.
But to an audience that included seven survivors from the Holocaust, of which one was a boyhood friend from Poland, he spoke of the Holocaust as a memory which "lives on and burns itself into our soul". As he greeted the line of survivors of the camps, one of them, Edith Tzirer, 69, wept. The pontiff put a hand on her shoulder.
"I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust," the Pope said in his address."More than half a century has passed but the memories remain.
"Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry …