* This post actually began as a comment to Patrick’s post ‘Yet another reminder’, but as I am so passionate about the topic and started rambling I decided to turn it into a post of my own *
I was lucky enough to attend a public lecture at the start of this year given by Dr Carol Rittner, not only a Catholic nun but also a distinguished professor in Holocaust studies, author and former director of the Elie Wiesel foundation. The topic she presented was “The Holocaust and the Christian World” and I must say it was as tragic as it was educational and refreshing.
It cannot have been easy for her to address the issue of the centuries of Catholic, and wider Christian, anti-Semitism and how that was one of the major contributing factors to the Holocaust, but she did so with truly sincere Christian repentance and compassion – combined with mind blowing academic zeal.
Christian anti-Semitism was most definitely not the cause of the Holocaust, but in Rittner’s words, the Holocaust could not have happened without it. There were exceptions, but the centuries of concerted Christian bigotry without doubt incited countless numbers of pogroms, the perpetuation of false blood libels and a plethora of other unfounded accusations which aided in the pursuit of a Holocaust against Jews and other “intolerable” groups such as Gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Martin Luther wrote the profoundly vicious anti-Semitic tract “Von den Juden und ihren Lügen” which influenced countless generations of post reformation Protestants (especially in Germany) and the accusation that the Jews killed Christ remained in the Latin liturgy until as late as the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. It cannot be denied that these attitudes contributed to the Holocaust. People were consistently making biased conclusions about what they believed to be dangerous non-Christian behaviours, attitudes and beliefs at the expense of humanity. These “ancient” forms of religious anti-semitism helped create an atmosphere which made legitimate the pseudo-scientific works of Wilhelm Marr, and the pseudo-academic forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion“.
How-ev-er, the majority of Christians now reject anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue and acceptance of the once feared “other” are now strongly encouraged. There is still a significant Christian minority who hold true the accusation that Jews killed Jesus because “it’s in the scripture” but the majority of reasonable Christians have accepted that Scripture is meant to be taken allegorically, not literally, and that Scripture is not infallible. Nevertheless, this minority who still holds such views is exactly that, a minority not accepted by the wider Christian community, and rightfully so. After the Holocaust most Christians have recognised that the smallest bias can blow out into unrelenting hatred and that discrimination and bias must be fought on every front to ensure that it never happens again.
Dr Rittner was sincere in her regret and repentance, and it could not have been easy for her to confront the complicity and inaction of her Catholic “family”and Christian “relatives”. It therefore disgusts, sickens and horrifies me that even with the discovery of graves reported in Patrick’s post Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism still abounds.