Pope Benedict condemns Nazi genocide of Jews

By Reuters

Haaretz

Iyar 11, 5765

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI, in his first major address about the Nazi era in his native Germany, on Thursday condemned "the genocide of the Jews," and said humanity must never be allowed to forget or repeat such atrocious crimes.

Speaking exactly one month after his election, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also quoted from a famous phrase of reconciliation between German and Polish Catholic bishops issued in the 1960s: "We forgive and we seek forgiveness."

Benedict, 78, served briefly in the Hitler Youth during the war when membership of the Nazi paramilitary organization was compulsory. But he was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Hitler's regime.

He made his address in the Vatican after a screening of a new, made-for-television film on the life of his predecessor John Paul II, whose native Poland was the site of the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.

He spoke of "the repression of the Polish people and the genocide of the Jews", branding both "atrocious crimes that show everyone the evil that the Nazi ideology had within it." The Nazi period illustrated the "abysses of wickedness that can hide in the human soul", he said.

"Remembering such aberrations can only prompt in every upright person the commitment to do everything in their power so that episodes of such inhuman barbarism are never repeated."

Shortly after his election on April 19, Benedict sent a message to Rome's Jewish community pledging to follow in John Paul's path of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation.

In his address on Thursday night, Benedict said all of humanity was seriously threatened each time a totalitarian regime trampled on an individual.

"As time passes, memories should not be allowed to pale," he said, speaking in Italian.

"They must instead serve as a stern lesson for our and future generations. We have the duty to remind people, especially young people, what levels of unheard of violence the contempt for man and the violation of his rights can reach," he added.

Benedict, who will travel to Germany in August, said he believed it was "part of the divine plan of providence" that two successive popes - John Paul and himself - had lived through the horrors of World War Two on opposite sides of the same border.

Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, which started the war.

The film the Pope saw in the Vatican's vast audience hall - "Karol --the man who became pope," tells of John Paul's early days and his life until he became Pontiff in 1978.

John Paul, who died on April 2, was the first pontiff to visit a synagogue and the first to visit Nazi death camps. He led the Vatican to diplomatic relations with Israel and repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism as a sin against God.