EXCLUSIVE: Prominent American Rabbi Calls On Pope Francis to Remove Catholic Church From World’s ‘Largest Jewish Cemetery’ in Auschwitz-Birkenau
A prominent American rabbi is urging the Pope to remove a Catholic church from the site of the “largest Jewish cemetery in the world,” The Algemeiner has learned.
Rabbi Avi Weiss — founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and national president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA — sent a letter to Pope Francis on Tuesday protesting the presence of the Parish Church of Brzezinka at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Poland.
The letter was sent through New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, ahead of the Pope’s visit to the camp at the end of this week.
Weiss’ letter reads:
Dear Pope Francis,
On the eve of your visit to Auschwitz -Birkenau, I ask that you visit the church at Birkenau, whose existence is in clear violation of the 1987 agreement between Roman Catholic cardinals and Jewish leaders.
The agreement stipulates in clear language that “there will be no permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.”
I have attached an article I wrote that appeared online in the Washington Post on this issue.
I have deep respect for people of all faiths, symbols and places of worship of all faiths, but a church does not belong at the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.
It was Pope John Paul who demanded that the nuns leave the convent at Auschwitz One. I ask that you find similar courage and close the church at Birkenau, and have it moved elsewhere.
Weiss has been an outspoken critic of the presence of two Catholic institutions set up at the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1984, Carmelite nuns formed a convent in the building at Auschwitz in which the Nazis stored the deadly Zyklon B poison that was used to gas Jews to death. Around the same time, the local Catholic community founded a church in Birkenau at the site of Nazi command headquarters.
In the following years, Weiss took part in demonstrations against the Carmelite convent. According to his own account of the events, “We climbed over the fence surrounding the convent and peacefully assembled. Polish workers inside the convent poured a bucket of water mixed with urine on us, as nuns watched from the windows.” The convent was eventually shut down in 1993.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis departed for Poland, where he is expected to meet with young Catholics, tour Auschwitz, meet with Holocaust survivors and visit Catholic sites. Thousands of Catholic pilgrims have descended on Auschwitz-Birkenau ahead of the Pope’s visit. Pope Francis will become the third pontiff to visit the Nazi death camp.