Monday, April 3, 2017

Remaining A Witness - Christopher Kash

After being back for about two weeks from our travels in Poland, the experience of the trip is still alive within me. As people and friends of mine come up to me and ask about my experience, it is hard to describe to them all that I experienced in a brief conversation. I still have not yet found the proper words that will convey my experience to them. I know that they expect me to say phrases like “It was amazing” or “It was so much fun” but those are not the proper phrases to describe this experience nor do they give the experience justice. Instead, I will say that it was “Impactful and offered a new perspective” or “Words do not properly describe it” because that is the best I can do in a quick passing. However, as more and more people come up to me and ask this question, I realized that I learned two important things that I will take with me through the rest of my life. The first is that this experience taught me the importance of being a witness, and second, the continuing Jewish/Catholic relationship.

As we all know I am not a direct witness of the Shoah. However, I am a witness of the atrocities that occurred during the Shoah. I witnessed the living conditions inside Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2/Birkenau. I saw the possessions and belongings of all those who were murdered as well as the places where the murders took place. This was a systematic killing spree. 6 million Jews were killed among countless other individuals. However, despite this attempt to eradicate the Jews, the Jewish population continues to live and thrive. This makes me think of a lecture given by our main guide and professor during this experience, Dr. Procario-Foley. During this lecture, she mentioned a quote by Emil Fakenheim. The quote was taken from Fakenheim’s 614th Commandment: “Thou shall not grant Hitler a posthumous victory.” Hitler’s goal was to kill the Jews and erase them from the world. Although it seemed like he would succeed, he did not. Despite the massacre of their people, the Jews are alive today. They are creating families, working jobs and most importantly living their lives. They took away the chance for Hitler to have a posthumous victory.

The ashes of victims during the Shoah in Auschwitz 1.
In regards to the Jewish/Catholic relationship, it hasn’t always been the best. Throughout history Catholics have always referred to the Jews as inferior by depicting them as rats in works like “The Rat Catcher” which was published in Germany in 1899. Alongside other demonic depictions of the Jews, Christians also placed the deicide charge on them. This charge stated that the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus and that all Jews are responsible for his murder. Christians also viewed the Jewish religion as degenerate. This type of behavior and sentiment towards the Jews gave Hitler a platform for him to come to power and for the Shoah to take place. During the events leading up to the Shoah and even during the Shoah most Christians didn’t speak out against what was happening to the Jews. Instead, in some cases they helped the Nazis or just remained silent.

This Jewish/Catholic relationship that was seen before and during the Shoah thankfully doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, Catholics have been taking steps to mend the broken relationship between the two religions. With works like Nostra Aetate (1965), We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998), and Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity (2000), it brings to light the commonalities of the two religions and apologizes for past actions against the Jewish people. For example, Nostra Aetate is against the Deicide charge saying that not all Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus, nor can they all be presented as rejected by God. This depicts the attempt of restoring relations between the two religions. In addition, in all three works listed above, they state how Jews and Christians share the same roots and that Christianity would not exist without Judaism. People view Judaism and Christianity separately but forget to realize that Jesus was a Jew himself at his time of death and that Christianity stems from Judaism. In fact, it is stated that Jews are not only our dearly beloved brothers but also “our elder brothers”. These works also address the absence of the majority of Christians in defense of the Jews during the Shoah and promises to remember what had happened. We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah (1998) states how the common future of Jews and Christians demands that we remember, for “there is no future without memory”. The Jewish and Catholic religions have been positively moving forward in working with one another and helping to better restore relations between the two.

The inside of the Church where Pope John Paul 2 grew up near.

These two lessons that I have learned from this experience I will carry with me. I am forever grateful to have had this experience and to have learned about the Shoah through the lens of Jewish/Catholic relations.


Post a Comment