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Churches and the Holocaust

Unholy Teaching, Good Samaritans and Reconciliation

By Mordecai Paldiel

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Over the centuries, the traditional Christian "teaching of contempt" held that the Jews deserved to be punished because of their rejection of Jesus and the new religion he founded. This unfortunate doctrine was expounded by virtually all Christian churches" Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. The teaching of contempt led to universal discrimination against Jews, to persecutions and outbreaks of violence, and was a major element in the ideological and emotional background against which the World War II Holocaust took place. At the same time, Christians have always been exhorted to help those in distress and to be merciful to the needy and helpless.
For some members of the Christian clergy, the conflict between compassion for helpless victims and the traditional view of the Jews posed a major moral and theological conflict. Many of them, like most other Europeans, said and did nothing. But some forthrightly stood up for the Jews as fellow human beings and helped them despite the extraordinary danger, often resulting in their own imprisonment and execution by the Nazis.
In this volume, Mordecai Paldiel, the director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute in Israel, tells the stories of some 300 Christian clerics"male and female, Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox"who have been awarded the title "Righteous of the Nations" for their courageous and honorable efforts to save Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis. The stories are fascinating and inspiring testaments to human decency and to the power of religious belief. The attitude they embody is reflected by the efforts of present-day Christian leaders to foster a new relationship of reconciliation with Judaism and the Jewish people. The teaching of contempt was rescinded by Roman Catholicism at the Second Vatican Council and has similarly been modified by many other denominations. The new attitude among enlightened Christians is best reflected in the life of the late Pope John Paul II, who witnessed the Holocaust in Poland as a young man, survived incarceration in a concentration camp, and throughout his career reached out to Jews in a spirit of love and compassion.
About the Author

Mordecai Paldiel, the director of The Righteous Among the Nations Department, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute in Israel, is the author of Path of the Righteous Gentile and numerous scholarly articles on the Holocaust.
Praise for Churches and the Holocaust
In 1953, Yad Vashem was created by the Israeli parliament--the Knesset--as the nation's memorial of the Holocaust. Part of its mission is to designate non-Jews as "Righteous among the Nations," people who had risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. Paldiel delves into the world of 300 Christian clerics who have been declared righteous and what motivated them. The author of Paths of the Righteous Gentile and numerous scholarly articles on the Holocaust, he explores both aspects of clerical aid to the Jews during that tragedy. The first is how the Christian tradition shaped the minds of religious leaders with regard to Jews and the position adopted by ecclesiastical officials when faced with Nazi anti-Semitism. The second deals with Good Samaritans--stories of help extended to Jews by clerics of the three major denominations: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Paldiel's copious research brings to readers a searing work of scholarship.
~ Booklist
Mordecai Paldiel's Churches And The Holocaust: Unholy Teaching, Good Samaritans And Reconciliation surveys an anti-Semitic doctrine promoted by Christian teachings which held the Jews deserved to be punished because of their rejection of Jesus. This teaching led to the Holocaust, and Mordecai Paldiel tells the stories of over three hundred Christian clerics across the board who have stood up for Jews to save them from death. The efforts to foster reconciliation between Judaism and the Jewish people makes for fascinating reading in this fine historic documentation of evolving relationships between Jews and Christians.
~ Midwest Book Review
In 1953 the Israeli government established Yad Vashem as a memorial to the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Ten years later commemoration was extended to non-Jews who had rescued or assisted Jews to escape from death at the hands of the Nazis or their associates. Over the years some twenty-one thousand of these "Righteous Gentiles" have been identified after careful scrutiny of depositions on their behalf. Each was honored with a tree in the stately Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles and a plaque giving the individual's name and country of origin.
Mordecai Paldiel, director of the program, has selected for publication the stories of some three hundred Christian clerics, both male and female, from a variety of denominations across the European continent. (Their names are listed by country in a useful appendix.) While much of this material is already known, Paldiel's convenient and comparative summary is welcome. His aim is to show that, despite the long history of Christian intolerance, there were Christian clerics who acted with humanity and generosity towards Jews in their hour of peril. In so doing, he claims, they paved the way for the striking change in Christian attitudes in the 1960s, particularly after the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and his memorable visit of repentance to Jerusalem in 2000 set the seal on this reconciliation and opened the way for a new era in Christian-Jewish relations.
In conclusion, Paldiel contends that most higher ecclesiastical figures were too blinded by their anti-Jewish traditions to be able to act courageously in the face of Nazi antisemitism. But some lesser clergy and members of religious orders were freer of these doctrines and so acted humanely. Twenty years later, the aftershocks of the Holocaust were sufficient to prompt the abandonment of the unfortunate teachings of contempt and supersession. Even if the belated Christian apologies for past intolerances fall short of what might be desirable, Paldiel nevertheless believes the "Righteous" clergy served as role models for a new and constructive relationship between Judaism and Christianity.
~ John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

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