'Avenging' the Holocaust

U.S. Sen. Alben Barkley views Holocaust victims at Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945.
U.S. Sen. Alben Barkley views Holocaust victims at Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. (photo: wikipedia)

In a powerful speech delivered this weekend in Krakow, Poland, at an ecumenical meeting sponsored by Sant’Egidio in commemoration of the Holocaust, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau opened by recalling comments made to him by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

Another speaker at the Krakow event was Rev. Joshua Dubois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Here’s what Rabbi Lau said about his discussion with John Paul:

In September ’93, this week 16 years ago, I had a long talk with Pope John Paul II in Castelgandolfo, in Italy. At the beginning of our long talk he said to me, “I remember your grandfather in the city of Krakow, where I served as a bishop, during World War II. I remember your grandfather, Rabbi Frankel … walking to the synagogue, on Shabbat, on Saturday, surrounded by very many children.

[The Pope] asked, “How many grandchildren do you have?” He answered, “47.”

So the Pope asked me, “How many survived the Holocaust?”

My answer was, “only 5.” Forty-two, including my brother, who was 13 years old, and all my cousins, perished during Holocaust.

He lifted up his face to the ceiling and the Pope said to me: “I was visiting already a hundred States. Wherever I go I emphasize that we, all mankind, are obliged and committed for the future and the continuity of our senior brothers, the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Lau concluded his remarks in Krakow by noting it’s only by affirming of human life in the most fundamental way that any “revenge” can ever be exacted, for the horrors the Jewish people suffered at the hands of their Nazi persecutors:

I will finish my words very personal, as I have started, with the memories of the Pope. He asked me “Chief Rabbi, do you have children?” I said, “Yes I do.”

“Do they live in Israel?”

“Yes all of them, my grandchildren as well live in Israel.”

He said to me, “This is the way to promise what I spoke about, the future and the continuity of the Jewish people.”

When I was, in ’95, at the concentration camp of Buchenwald, in the city of Weimar in Germany, where I was liberated at less than 8 years old, I saw in a window, the wall of the window of the torture room, you can see it today, one word, written with a nail of one of the prisoners, a Jewish one, because it was in Yiddish, in the Jewish language, the word was necume, take revenge. This was the last word of a man tortured in that room, a victim in Buchenwald. Revenge. What revenge can we take?

Amazing. I am a believer, I believe in the Lord almighty, not only because I am a Rabbi or because I am Jewish, but because I am a man, a human being.

I believe from heaven it happened: two or three hours ago, here in the city of Krakow, I arrived last night only for this ceremony, I received a phone call from my granddaughter. “Grandfather — she said — half an hour ago I brought you a great grandchild.” She gave birth to a son at seven o’ clock in the morning today in Israel.

This is my revenge. This is my answer. This is my solution. Live and let live. Live together, in friendship, in love, in peace. Thank you.



Representing the Holy Spirit that descended “like a dove” and hovered over Jesus when he was baptized.

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