Monday, May 29, 2006

A different Memorial Day

Memorial Day is usually about those who have fought and died in armed conflict in the United States, but today I’d like to memorialize something else.

Over the weekend, the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI, visited Auschwitz. The pope is German-born, and he was an unwilling member of the Hitler Youth as a boy, even being drafted to fight in the final months of WWII. He refused and deserted, however, yet still feared for his life as a prisoner of war by the Americans who occupied his town.

What most moved me about the CNN account of his visit to Auschwitz is his referring to the slaughter of Jews by Nazis as “Shoah.” This shows a sensitivity to a nuance of the Jewish perspective, which has not been the Catholic church’s tendency in the past.

According to James Carroll’s monumental book Constantine’s Sword, many Jews consider Shoah to be a more accurate term than Holocaust. The initial impulse for Carroll, a Catholic, to write his book was to gain a deeper understanding of the protest from Jews when Pope John Paul II erected a cross at Auschwitz to commemorate the handful of non-Jews (i.e., Catholics) who were also killed there, and to acknowledge their martyrdom. But to claim martyrdom is to claim God had a hand in these deaths. Carroll writes:

Jews as figures of suffering—negation, denial, hatred, guilt—are at the center of this long history [between the Christian church and Judaism], although always, until now, their suffering was [supposedly, to the Christian view] proof of God’s rejection of them. Is Jewish suffering now to be taken as a sign of God’s approval? Golgotha of the modern world—does that mean real Jews have replaced Jesus as the sacrificial offering, their deaths as the source of universal salvation? Does this Jew-friendly soteriology turn full circle into a new rationale for a Final Solution?

Uneasiness with such associations has prompted some Jews to reject the very word “holocaust” as applied to the genocide, since in Greek it means “burnt offering.” The notion that God would accept such an offering is deeply troubling. When the genocide is instead referred to as the Shoah, a Hebrew word meaning “catastrophe,” a wall is being erected against the consolations and insults of a redemptive, sacrificial theology of salvation. Shoah, in its biblical usage, points to the absence of God’s creative hovering, the opposite of which is rendered as “ruach.” Ruach is the breath of God, which in Genesis drew order out of chaos. Shoah is its undoing.

Carroll’s book is full of challenging ideas like this. I highly recommend it as a way to increase understanding between Christians and Jews.

I hope the visit by Benedict to Auschwitz heralds a new level of understanding on all sides, indeed a new trend of understanding between all religions. As I’ve written about before, I believe the opposite of hate is understanding.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 5/29/2006 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous ObiDon said...

Good Memorial Day reminder. This subject alone (viz. holocaust vs. shoah) could stimulate major thought and discussions

At 5/30/2006 02:42:00 AM, Blogger ENS said...

Thank you for the comment. It was so good to hear from you and your words brightened my day.

Much love to you,


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