Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

1988-10-20 German speaking bishops - Accepting The Burden Of History

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2. Reflection and Conversion

The memory of November 1938 and the twelve years of N.S. rule is depressing. Therefore, some of us ask whether the remembering of the past ought not, at some time, to come to an end. However, one cannot accept one's own history in a selective fashion and block out those things that incriminate. We have to accept the burden of history. We owe this to the victims, whose sufferings and death may not be forgotten. We owe this to the survivors and relatives because, otherwise, every dialogue with them and each new "being-with-one-another" would be impossible. But we also owe this to the Church and to ves ourselves. For history is not something exterior, it is part of the particular identity of the Church and is able to remind us that the Church, which we proclaim as holy, and which e honour as a mystery, is also a sinful Church and in need of conversion. Therefore our interest must ever slacken to represent this history to ourselves in as comprehensive and as exact a way as possible. For this reason we shall also, in future, advance the research and presentation of our history with all our strength, and do all that is in our power to ensure that the historical truth will be fully told in the teaching of religion, in catechesis and in other fields. For the sake of this truth we shall also oppose all attempts of manipulating history for the sake of present-day differences of opinion in the Church, the state or in society and to misuse it for personal attacks against individuals or whole groups. Respect for the victims demands this as well.
To accept history means to allow oneself to be challenged by its bright and dark sides. Under the national socialist rule of terror there has been not only failure and guilt, but refusal to give and sympathy with the victims as well. Occasionally both were closed to each other and concerned one and the same person. Guilt or refusal to give-in are always the consequences of the individual's free, personal decision. Therefore it is difficult to prove them through subsequent analyses and to attribute them to the individual or even to whole groups of society. But even if one cannot and may not condemn a whole people, there still remains the co-responsibility of all for the things that happened in the name of all and for its consequences. This is also true for the Church. The German Bishops' Conference of September 1st 1979 stated: "We know that there has been guilt in the Church as well. We know ourselves bound in conscience to an on-going effort to draw the consequences from the mistakes and confusion of that terrible time."6
Days of remembrance repeatedly remind us of these commitments. The remembrance, too, during these days, of the November pogroms of 1938 should be a warning sign for us. But days of remembrance must not remain isolated events. They have to be embedded in a constant effort to contribute to a positive change of attitudes and actions, through remembering the past. The main challenge lies in this duty that constantly recurs. We have to confront it. Occasional setbacks and misunderstandings may also occur in the process. These we have to face with the inner calmness which one can obviously only achieve, if the focus remains firmly in sight. We have to be ready occasionally to allow ourselves to be overtaxed without - as was said on the first German post-war Catholics' Day (Katholiken Tag), 1948 - "forfeiting one's composure or even one's love"? But there are also signs and openings that encourage us. We gratefully call to mind that this process of re-thinking has been co-initiated and sustained by the Jewish side, as well, when prominent representatives of Jewry took the dialogue on their own initiative. We have to continue on this path. A special emphasis will have to be given to the efforts of a genuine understanding and presentation of Judaism and Jewish religion in theology and catechesis. Furthermore, nothing ought to be left untried to promote the understanding between Jews and Christians through direct encounter and to draw from the past the necessary consequences for their joint service of God's word.
With these key words those areas are dealt with which are and still are of special importance in the efforts of the past years to create a new togetherness between Jews and Christians. They have been taken up in a great number of basic statements and declarations, which were presented by the Holy See, numerous local churches, lay people and also joint discussion groups of Jews and Christians. Of special importance among these documents is the Declaration Nostra Aetate (article 4), promulgated by Vatican II in 1965, which introduced a new beginning in Christian Jewish relations. Related to this document are the Guidelines for its implementation, as well as recommendations for preaching and teaching, which were issued in 1974 and 1985 by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. In various countries these recommendations have been taken up and have been concretized in particular texts for specific occasions. In this way the German Bishops' Conference (1980), the Austrian Bishops' Conference (1982) and the Berlin Bishops' conference (1988) have clearly stated their position.8 Apart from these, the working paper published in 1979 and the declaration of the discussion panel, "Jews and Christians", at the Central Committee of the German Catholics of 1988, deserve special attention, because they had been worked out jointly by Jews and Christians.9 These and other documents, as well as the repeated meetings of Church representatives with representatives of Jewish organizations - the last during the pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II in Austria - are indications of the serious desire of many "that the old prejudices may be overcome and that space may be given for an ever fuller recognition of that 'bond' and of the 'spiritual common heritage'ared.
which exist between Jews and Christians" (John Paul II, 13 April 1986). The remembrance of the November pogroms ought to be a renewed incentive to interiorize these documents in their intentions and contents and to continue on this road that has been prep

3. "You Are Our Dearly Beloved"

The need to encounter one another is especially evident in theology. Over centuries, errors, misunderstandings and prejudices concerning faith and religion have heavily burdened the relationship between Jews and Christians on both sides. Here are to be found - besides political, social and economic resentments - the sources of anti-Judaism, which was also propagated among Catholics. These traditional prejudices have weakened the forces of resistance against the new phenomenon of modern antisemitism, which elevated race to the highest principle and which became the central feature of the National Socialist ideology. The extermination of Jews in the "Third Reich" has painfully brought home to us our own deficiencies and failures. "The terrible persecutions which the Jews have suffered in the various epochs of history have finally opened the eyes and roused the hearts." (Pope John Paul II, 6 March 1982) In the process we were able to rediscover - both in shame and gratitude - the Jewish people as the people of God's first and never-revoked covenant with man. Following the teaching of the Council (Vatican II), Pope John Paul II said during his visit to the Synagogue of Rome on 13 April 1986, "For us, the Jewish religion is not something 'exterior', but in a certain sense belongs to the innermost part of our religion. Our relationships to it are unlike any of moose we have to other religions. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, one could even say, our elder brothers."
This special bond between Christians and Jews is clearly evident if one traces the roots of Christianity and if one considers the spiritual heritage of Israel for the Church. The faith in one creator God is just as common to both as the commandments of the decalogue or the hope for the messiah. We Christians are called upon to reexamine our understanding of Jews and Judaism from this point of view of mutuality and to change where necessary. But there can be no question of denying what truly separates us or to make false compromises. The person of Jesus both unites and separates us; Jesus, who was a Jew and who for us christians is Son of God and redeemer of the world. But illuminating the common roots gives us a better understanding of Judaism in its true identity and at the same time helps us to uncover dimensions of our faith that have perhaps been buried. This clarification should, wherever possible, be sought by Christians and Jews together. A dialogue can unfold - fruitful for both sides - about the Old Testament or the importance of Jesus. This joint engagement, however, of Jews and Christians is urgently demanded and is of greatest importance if it concerns faith in the one God. In the face of the temptations coming from new, esoteric myths and promises of salvation, the witness is indispensable of all those who believe in God the creator and redeemer of the whole world.
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