The Pope, the nuns and Auschwitz: the real story

The 1993 order of Pope John Paul II to the Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz has been cited as guide in … Continued

The 1993 order of Pope John Paul II to the Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz has been cited as guide in resolving today’s controversy about an Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero. Persons from as different walks of life as columnist Charles Krauthammer and Archbishop Timothy Dolan have invoked the memory of John Paul II, the teacher. However, as Jeffery Feldman and others have written, the lesson taught by the pope is not necessarily what these “move the mosque” spokespersons would want to hear.

The signal stimulus behind the pope’s order to the nuns came in 1989. I remember the incident well because I was “team-teaching” at Brooklyn College with a Polish rabbi who was himself a concentration camp survivor. At that time, the Carmelite nuns had been housed in a two-story building the Nazis had used as a storehouse for the deadly Zyklon B gas. The Polish Communists leased the building to the nuns in 1984 to fulfill the desire of Polish Catholics to provide a memorial to martyrs like St. Maximilian Kolbe who had been executed by the Nazis. The red-brick structure was technically not “inside the camp,” but it had been part of the Nazi installation. It stood in full view of those entering Auschwitz.

However, as communism collapsed, the Auschwitz site experienced a surge of visitors, including many who came to view the camp’s remains as might pilgrims on a religious journey. Not surprisingly, because most of Auschwitz’s victims had been Jewish, so too were most of these foreign visitors. Not only did most seem unaware of the 1984 intention by Poles to include a Christian memorial to all victims, some found placing any Christian symbol there objectionable for theological reasons.

The agreed upon solution was to construct — not a convent — but the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim an inter-faith building “on the threshold” of the original camp. To quote its mission statement, it is “a place for reflection, education, sharing and prayer for all those who are moved by what happened here. The Centre commemorates the victims and contributes to creating mutual respect, reconciliation, and peace in the world.”

This center was not yet completed in 1989 when a New York City rabbi, Avraham Weiss, forced his way into the convent with six others dressed in prison clothing. He staged a public recitation of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. To remove these provocateurs from the convent, laymen working for the nuns poured buckets of cold water on them until finally the police arrived to stop the confrontation’s violence. As I wrote with my Jewish colleague in the Brooklyn College Kingsman, the protesters had violated the nuns’ cloister. This Catholic stricture is so severe that no male, not even a Cardinal or Bishop, can enter the area where the nuns live. In asserting his Jewish rights to pray, Weiss had violated our Catholic principles.

The resulting clash of competing claims to control “hallowed ground” was predictable. Denouncing Rabbi Weiss for his “fanatical demeanor,” Ian Buruma wrote for the New York Review of Books : “Weiss and some highly insensitive Polish prelates turned the affair into an unseemly battle over the symbols of martyrdom, degrading the memory of all those who died at Auschwitz, whether Jewish or gentile.”

Worse yet was the remorseless rabbi’s pledge to violate the convent again.

Thus, Pope John Paul II’s order for the nuns to relocate was intended to prevent violence and to encourage interfaith understanding. Given the recent ugliness in August 2010 from demonstrators against the Muslim community center, it becomes clear that right-wing thuggery is literally “around the corner.” Following the pope’s example of how to forgive and compromise, Archbishop Dolan surely knows Catholics today must defend both the Muslims and their community center from violence and sacrilege. Jesus told us to “turn the other cheek:” doesn’t this mean Catholics should accede to Muslim rights now as the Pope did then to Jewish rights?

As for Mr. Krauthammer, I’m glad he invoked Pope John Paul’s solution, even if he got the conclusion wrong. He is adept at political opinionating in print and on Fox News but he might be better off avoiding Catholic theology, about which he knows demonstrably little.

  • Climacus

    Mr. Stevens-Arroyo himself “might be better off avoiding Catholic theology, about which he knows demonstrably little.” This is pointed out to him on these pages after nearly every column.At any rate, nothing in the column seems to establish that Mr. Krauthammer drew an invalid lesson from JPII.By the way, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo is wrong about not a bishop not being able to enter a nun’s cloister (see Canon 667). That’s purely for the edification of Mr. Stevens-Arroyo, of course, as no one else will be interested.

  • Elohist

    Climacus:Didn’t you know that Carmelite nuns are under Papal cloister? (Canon 667 #3). Stevens-Arroyo is right. In fact, the pope had to intervene because the local bishop had no authority to do so. You thought you were wiseass in citing 667 #4, which is not for nuns who are entirely devoted to the contemplative life. Your ignorance is offensive, but of course no one takes your posts seriously anymore.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Archbishop Offers Mediation for Islamic CenterArchbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in New York, said Wednesday that he would gladly help mediate between the proponents and critics of an Islamic center and mosque planned for a site two blocks from ground zero.The archbishop said that it was his “major prayer” that a compromise could be reached, and that while he had no strong feelings about the project, he might support finding a new location for the center.Speaking during an impromptu news conference at Covenant House, a Catholic shelter in Manhattan for homeless youth, Archbishop Dolan invoked the example of Pope John Paul II, who in 1993 ordered Catholic nuns to move from their convent at the former Auschwitz death camp after protests from Jewish leaders.“He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address,’ ” the archbishop said. “It worked there; might work here.”Archbishop Dolan is the most prominent New York religious leader to weigh in on the Islamic center, which has spurred a fierce national debate over freedom of religion and the legacy of 9/11 that has even drawn in President Obama. READ the REST here.

  • Climacus

    Elohist,Canon 667 #4 applies to all monasteries of nuns whether they are under papal cloister or not. This should be clear to you upon rereading the text, but just in case it is not, see the relevant commentary in the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, p. 834.Also, see the specific norms for papal cloister contained in the instruction Venite Seorsum (#8), which likewise indicate that the local bishop can enter papal cloister at a female monastery for just cause (as well certain other potentially male visitors for various reasons, without papal permission).Hopefully this will make you feel a bit better, since you claim to find ignorance so offensive.

  • Elohist

    So climacus, the canons which prohibit entry are the same as allowing entry into the cloister? What a bunch of backward nonsense! The canons clearly prohibit bishops, cardinals, etc. from entering the cloister. That is the reason for the law – to stop entry and keep the nuns from outside interference. Canon 664 #4 explicitly requires that the permission of the nun’s superior be obtained before entry is permitted. Otherwise the pain of sin in incurred. What kind of Catholic is so ignorant of the long history of cloister as to think it meaningless as you suggest. All that can be seen from your pompous prattle is that you agree with the unwarranted invasion of the cloister by Jewish demonstrators and are so undereducated as not to see the logic that Catholics forgive and compromise because it is the teaching of Jesus. Stay with the letter of the law and St. Paul tells you clearly where you headed.So lighten up. Canon law prohibits the entry of males, including clerics into the cloister. That is the plain and simple truth. The commentary on Canon Law you cite makes that clear. Anyone familiar with legal codes recognizes that “just cause” is only a step below “grave cause” and in both cases badly motivated judgements are sinful.

  • paleohowie

    The writer of this article is a poor example of a commentator. In one paragraph he states that “the solution was to construct– not a convent–but the Center…” The next paragraph states the Rabbi Weiss invaded the convent. This occurred in 1989, The “Center” was not formed until 1992. The Catholic Church had agreed in Geneva, 1987 to move the “convent” in 2 years, this was not being done and hence the demonstration. It was not until 1993 that Pope John II stepped in to order the moving of the convent to a new site further away. Seven of the fourteen nuns choose not to move to the new site. As to the unpardonable sin of Rabbi Weiss and the other males violating the “no males” in the Cloister, were all the workmen female? The workMEN poured paint as well as water on the demonstrators.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Continued:Montini complainsThe suit filed at the court in San Francisco is based on earlier investigations and reports from American government agencies, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and committees of historians who researched the matter of the Jewish property in Swiss banks. The case was preceded by successful legal battles by attorney Levy and his colleagues against the CIA and the American Army to obtain secret documents. The defendants, on their part, led by the Vatican Bank and the Franciscan order and others, deny the charges against them and made every effort to have the charges dismissed. So far, the court has rejected these efforts outright and determined that the deliberations would continue. But the defendants are tenacious and now they are demanding that publication of Gowen’s testimony be prohibited.After the end of the war Gowen served as a special agent, meaning an investigations officer in the Rome detachment of American counter-intelligence. This unit’s role was to track down, among others, Italian Fascists, Nazi war criminals and their collaborators, including the Ustashe leaders (Gowen said another mission included, at the request of British intelligence, surveillance of Irgun and Lehi activists). The code name for the unit’s actions was “Operation Circle.”Parallel to the counterintelligence unit, other American army intelligence units, and mainly the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, from which the CIA developed) and British intelligence were engaged in contradictory actions. They made contact with Nazis and with the Ustashe people and enlisted them in their service as agents, collaborators and informers, with the intention of forming a front against the Soviet spread into Eastern Europe and the Balkans. “To try and find Pavelic you had to discover how the Ustashe network in Italy was constituted, how it operated, what were its bases,” testified Gowen.A key person in the Pontifical Croatian college was Rev. Draganovic, the Croatian ambassador to the Vatican. Draganovic and the college issued false papers to Croatian war criminals, among them Pavelic and Artukovic. “I personally investigated Draganovic – who told me he was reporting to Montini,” emphasized Gowen.Gowen related that at a certain stage Montini learned, apparently from the head of the OSS unit in Rome, James Angleton, who nurtured relations with Montini and the Vatican, of the investigation Gowen’s unit was conducting. Montini complained about Gowen to his superiors and accused him of having violated the Vatican’s immunity by having entered church buildings, such as the Croatian college, and conducting searches there. The aim of the complaint was to interfere with the investigation.In his testimony, Gowen also stated that Draganovic helped the Ustashe launder the stolen treasure with the help of the Vatican Bank: This money was used to fund its religious activities, but also to fund the escape of Ustashe leaders on the Rat Line.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Continued:Himmler of the BalkansUnder the leadership of Pavelic’s right-hand man Andrija Artukovic, who earned the nickname “the Himmler of the Balkans,” the Ustashe set up concentration camps, most notably at Jasenovac. According to various estimates, about 100,000 people were murdered at the camp, among them tens of thousands of Jews (it is interesting to note that some of the heads of the Ustashe were married to Jewish women). Throughout Croatia about 700,000 people were murdered. The partisans, led by the Croat Communist Josip Broz Tito, and the Chetniks – Nationalist Serb royalists – fought the Ustashe.After the war, Pavelic and other Ustashe heads fled to Austria and, with the help of the British intelligence and their friends in the Vatican, found refuge in Italy. They hid in Vatican monasteries and were provided with false documents that gave them a new identity. Secret documents that were disclosed at the court in San Francisco show that at the end of the war, British intelligence took Pavelic under its wing and allowed him and a convoy of 10 trucks that carried the stolen treasure to travel to the British occupation zone in Austria. The British did this with the intention of using him as a counterweight to the Communist takeover in Yugoslavia.The Ustashe brought the treasure convoy to Rome, where they put it into the hands of the Croatian ambassador to the Vatican, Rev. Krunoslav Draganovic. Draganovic also saw to hiding Pavelic and his aides in Vatican institutions and safe houses in Rome. American military intelligence located Pavelic’s hiding place. But according to a secret document Gowen wrote in July 1947, that was submitted to the court, Gowen’s unit received the instruction: “Hands off” Pavelic.This was an order from the American Embassy, stressed Gowen in his testimony. It is also stated in the document, which is classified as top secret, that Pavelic, via his contacts with Draganovic, was receiving Vatican protection. From Italy, Pavelic was smuggled on the Rat Lines to Argentina, where he served as a security adviser to president Juan Peron (Peron granted entry visas to 34,000 Croats, many of them associated with the Ustashe and Nazi supporters).In 1957 there was an attempt to assassinate him, in which he was wounded. The operation was attributed to Tito’s Yugoslav intelligence, although the possibility that this was an attempt at revenge by a Chetnik activist was not dismissed. Pavelic had to leave Argentina and found refuge with the Spanish dictator Franco. Two years later, in 1959, he died as a result of complications caused by the wound. The Ustashe has continued to exist over the years and until the 1980s its operatives were involved in acts of terror against diplomats and other Yugoslav targets abroad.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Tied up in the Rat LinesIt is possible that within a short time a court in the United States will prohibit the publication of the account before us. In the meantime, Haaretz has obtained the testimony given last month by William Gowen, a former intelligence officer in the United States Army, at a federal court in San Francisco. The testimony contains historical and political explosives. It links Giovanni Battista Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI, to the theft of property of Jewish, Serb, Russian, Ukrainian and Roma victims during World War II in Yugoslavia. Many studies and stories have already been written about the thundering silence of Pope Pius XII, who reigned in the Vatican during World War II. Now the former intelligence officer’s testimony has revealed that after the war, Montini, who during the war served as the Vatican’s deputy secretary of state under the pope, helped hide and launder property that had been stolen from, among others, Jews and was involved in the sheltering and smuggling of Croatian war criminals, such as the leader of the Ustashe movement, Ante Pavelic.The smuggling and hiding of Croatian war criminals was part of the extensive network known as the Rat Lines. Senior officials at the Vatican were involved in hiding and smuggling Nazi war criminals and their collaborators so they would not be arrested and tried. Hundreds of war criminals were provided with church and Red Cross papers that enabled them to hide in safe houses and then flee from Europe, mainly to the Middle East and South America. Among them were Klaus Barbie (“the butcher of Lyon”), Adolf Eichmann, Dr. Josef Mengele and Franz Stengel, the commander of the Treblinka death camp.The Vatican network was also used by leaders of the Ustashe – the nationalist Croatian Catholic movement that was active in Croatia and collaborated with the Nazi occupation. “The Reverend Dr. Prof. Krunoslav Draganovic seemed to be in cooperation with the Ustasha network. And he was given a Vatican assignment as the apostolic visitator for Croatians, which meant he reported directly to Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini,” states an American document based on a report from the Italian police; the document was recently placed in evidence at the court in San Francisco where Gowen testified.The leaders of the Ustashe headed by Pavelic are the ones who stole the victims’ property: art and jewelry – silver and mostly gold. After the war they fled with the treasure and laundered it with the help of Vatican institutions. According to Gowen’s testimony, Montini, who in 1964 became the first pope to visit the State of Israel, was also involved in the Vatican’s help in laundering the wealth.

  • menachembenyakov

    The author claims that Jews were not the largest group to be murdered at Auschwitz. Obviously he has not done his homework.Jews were not the only victims of this Nazi German killing machine – historians estimate that among the people sent to Auschwitz there were at least 1,100,000 Jews from all the countries of occupied Europe, over 140,000 Poles (mostly political prisoners), approximately 20,000 Gypsies from several European countries, over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and over 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities.

  • wagnercd

    .