Church leaders joined heads of state on Jan. 28 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Poland.
“The silence of the victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau impels us to uphold, and order the upholding, of the dignity of each human being,” a Jewish-born French Roman Catholic cardinal, Jean-Marie Lustiger, said in a speech at the commemoration on the site of the former German-run camp.
More than one million people, mainly Jews, were gassed to death, or died of starvation and disease at Auschwitz. Victims included 75,000 Poles, 20,000 Gypsies, and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.
“We are summoned to consider the past and think about the future, so we will stay conscious of the responsibility we carry,” said the 78-year-old cardinal, whose mother died in an Auschwitz gas chamber.
The camp in German-occupied southern Poland was liberated by the Soviet Army on Jan. 27, 1945.
Pope John Paul II, in a message to the commemoration, said, “This attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will forever darken the history of humanity.”
In Germany, church leaders expressed penitence for anti-Semitism. “It was not only through its silence and neglect that the church became culpable. More than that, it became enmeshed with the systematic annihilation of European Jewry through a fatal tradition of estrangement and enmity towards the Jews,” the Evangelical Church in Germany said in a statement.
Commemorations in Germany were overshadowed by an incident in which members of a small right-wing political party, the National Democratic Party, refused to take part in a tribute, in a regional parliament, to Holocaust victims.
In response, the Protestant leaders called for a European-wide struggle against all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.
German Roman Catholics also warned against anti-Semitism.
“As we remember Auschwitz, we ask if Germany and Europe have learned from the catastrophe of the Holocaust,” the country’s bishops said in a statement.
In London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, urged that all victims of hatred be remembered.
“On the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we confront again not simply the darkness of those years but the darkness that can always take hold of the human spirit,” said Archbishop Williams.
Lutheran World Federation general secretary, Rev. Ishmael Noko, noted the Holocaust had led to commitments to banish genocide and promote international human rights law.
“But these solemn actions have neither brought an end to anti-Semitism nor prevented further large-scale slaughter of human beings from occurring,” said Mr. Noko. “What has happened in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans and Darfur, to name but a few countries, shows that the commitment never again to allow genocide to occur remains unfulfilled.”