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July 27, 2016 12:40 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Prominent American Rabbi Calls On Pope Francis to Remove Catholic Church From World’s ‘Largest Jewish Cemetery’ in Auschwitz-Birkenau

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Prominent American rabbi, Rabbi Avi Weiss, has called on Pope Francis to close a Catholic church located at former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo: Facebook.

Prominent American rabbi, Rabbi Avi Weiss, has called on Pope Francis to close a Catholic church located at former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo: Facebook.

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.

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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.

With blessings,

Avi Weiss

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.

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  • Martin Arndt

    A Catholic church in Auschwitz, the “largest Jewish cemetery in the world“ (A. Weiss), lacks any knowledge of history that evidences the antijudaistic and, later, antisemitic tradition of the Catholic church. The pope is reported to have written in the Auschwitz memorial’s guest book in Spanish: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”. This raises the ethical question if anyone – even a God – can be expected to forgive these unforgiveable crimes – with, perhaps, the only exception of the victims themselves. Again, the Christian god can exculpate without the perpetrators showing repentance.

  • Martin Arndt

    A Catholic church in Auschwitz, the “largest Jewish cemetery in the world“ (A. Weiss), is disgustingly shameless and lacks any knowledge of history that evidences the antijudaistic and, later, antisemitic tradition of the Catholic church. The pope is reported to have written in the Auschwitz memorial’s guest book in Spanish: “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!”. This raises the ethical question if anyone – even a God – can be expected to forgive these unforgiveable crimes – with, perhaps, the only exception of the victims themselves. Again, the Christian god can exculpate without the perpetrators showing repentance.

  • Why a church specifically here, Birkenau the place where the murdered were overwhelmingly Jews. How grotesque. ….And to pray for their souls when they did nothing to help their living, breathing bodies, except to jeer maybe when they were forced from their villages.

  • Chris Rettenmoser

    The MOST EVIL Catholic Church still works against the Jews…

  • Norman Powell

    Unfortunately, this seems like nothing more than an attempt to cover-up and limit what the world could see of the full extent of Nazi atrcoties and workings at the site. Many of those Nazis were themselves Catholic, as were the Polish workers and sympathizers that aided them. The Church was recently built there, and is certainly not an historic presence nor of any special significance, other than diminishing a sad remembrance of the Jewish people.

  • Lukas

    Poland is Catholic, it can have churches anywhere it pleases, including Auschwitz where not just Jews died but Poles and others as well. Your request will get laughed off like most others.

    • Chris Rettenmoser

      For sure, you will meet Hitler in hell…

    • The church is THE REASON all those people were murdered there. They don’t deserve to be a church at all, let alone desecrate the memory of those they conspired to murder, with their presence there.

    • Rabbi Weiss’s request won’t get laughed off, and yes, Poland is Catholic, but guess what it had 3,000,000 Jews, many of whom were gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. So, yes, Rabbi Avi Weiss has a legitimate right to ask a legitimate question.

  • Myron Slater

    They cannot leave us alone, even at this “place”. The Church in the past, has always been anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. They have hated us for centuries!

  • Close it or move it. Not a place for Catholic Church.

  • Rabbi Weiss is right. The only place of worship that should be there is “Shul” or synagogue.

  • Once again Rabbi Avi Weiss demonstrates that he is the leading rabbinic voice in American Jewry. Yishar Koah!!

  • basha kline

    To have even contemplated putting a church on the sight of one of the most dreadful episodes in history is in itself evil to the point of grotesque. Why and what is the point of even holding services in a construction built over seering annihilation of a peoples who the Catholics themselves have historically played their part in condeming? It is like a hunter putting his foot on his quarry.

  • mary

    I agree. The church should be removed as soon as possible.

  • I totally agree with Rabbi Weiss and pray that pope francis would acquiesce to the request. Shalom

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