Remarks by André Armand Cardinal Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris and President of the French Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference
March 4, 2008
The Museum is a place for public witness against antisemitism and Holocaust denial. In March of 2008, the Archbishop of Paris, André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, visited the Museum with a delegation of six bishops from the French Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Vingt-Trois has long been active in the education and formation of clergy in France, and he is a leading voice in France for interreligious understanding and dialogue.
In remarks made before a group of religious leaders and dignitaries in the Museum’s Hall of Remembrance, the Cardinal emphasized the importance of teaching Holocaust history and memory, particularly for young people: “We consider it our duty to make it crystal clear that racism and antisemitism are serious sins,” he noted. “Awareness of how deadly the sin of antisemitism is was brought about by the discovery of the horror of the Shoah. This established fact must now be transmitted to the younger generations, and I am convinced that the knowledge of history is the best means to fulfill our mission.”
Below is the full text of the Cardinal’s remarks at the Museum.
[United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Tuesday, March 4th, 2008.]
Dear Mrs Bloomfield, dear Mr Shapiro, dear Rabbis, Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, dear reverend fathers, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
For a long time already I have heard about Washington, DC’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. Father Patrick Desbois always mentions it with much emotion. I am therefore happy to discover it today, and to do so with you all. I realize how impressive it is to visit this place. I remember visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem last year. However painful such experiences are, they bear fruit, for our humanity is strengthened by confronting the reality.
An important part of your mission consists in allowing young Americans to become aware of what happened in Western and Eastern Europe, of what some men inflicted upon other men, women, and children just because they had been born Jews. Yours is a vital task, which becomes ever more necessary as time goes by and takes us ever farther away from the event of the Holocaust. It is the task of education.
Last December, during an evening of meetings between Jews and Christians, sponsored by the European Jewish Congress and the Representative Council of Jewish Organizations in France at the Paris City Hall, I was given the opportunity to invite the Catholic participants to make a number of trips. Please allow me this afternoon to renew this invitation, which I think is not improper in a federal and international institution like this Museum.
There are two trips to make on the surface of the Earth—and a third one in depth, inside each one of us.
The first trip leads to Auschwitz-Birkenau. More and more French pupils of Catholic high schools and of the Catholic chaplaincies of state schools are making this trip. Why should they have to do so? Because no one can provide a conceptual explanation of what is unthinkable. It can be assessed only through firsthand experience. No one can explain the Shoah, but one can begin to grasp what it was like by going to the places where it happened. The discovery of the Shoah has triggered in Europe a new awareness of the gravity of the sin of anti-Semitism, and this remains a turning point in our relationships with the Jews. Learning about the Shoah also means, of course, studying it as thoroughly and scientifically as possible.
The second trip leads to the Holy Land. The fact that Jesus was a Jew is not something that can be proved with conceptual tools. It can only be shown through the historical and archaeological traces of his passage there, through experiencing life in the country where he lived and meeting with the people who now live there. This is a trip which may help the younger generations get a better feeling of Jesus’s humanity, which, according to the Christian faith, is the true way to discover his divinity.
This trip also helps get a better grasp of the stakes of the confrontation and dialogue between religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, with the three communities—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim—living in Israel and in Palestine. Dialogue requires deep mutual understanding—the kind of understanding that fosters respect, which can be genuine only when it is rooted in personal, direct encounters.
The third trip goes in depth. It consists in acquiring the cultural equipment that is necessary to find the words to think about the first two trips, to become able to understand and express, to interpret and share what has been experienced. These words are brought to us through our traditions—through the Holy Scriptures of the Bible and of the Gospel, through the commentaries of the Scriptures, and through the prayers of our communities.
I addressed this call to make these three trips as we were celebrating with our Jewish friends the tenth anniversary of the Declaration in which the French bishops expressed the repentance of their Church for her weaknesses and mistakes at a time when the Vichy government was passing anti-Semitic legislation and was collaborating with the Germans to persecute the Jews. This Declaration was made in Drancy near Paris, at a former transit camp, which used to be the antechamber to Auschwitz for those who were detained there. The sharp contrast between the Drancy of the 1940s and the Drancy of 1997 illustrates a drastic turnabout in the history of the relationships between Catholics and Jews. This irreversible transformation must penetrate our hearts. The three trips I have described should help every human being assimilate this radical change. This concerns people of all ages, but especially the younger generations, as they progress and hope along the road leading to the green pastures where God is calling us.
A Museum like yours helps make the first and third trips I have talked about. It allows to confront the phenomenon of the Shoah, with all its horror, with its meticulous planning, with the brutality and hatred which were unleashed then and there. We are made to realize that those who were annihilated were creatures of flesh and blood, men, women, children, old people, whole families—human beings full of life, projects, hopes, expectations, emotions, and love, who were hunted as if they had not been human, and gassed or shot. We are also made to understand how this was carried out. For, if evil cannot be explained, the process through which educated, rational, civilized men and women can give way to the coldest hatred and the most merciless contempt has motivations that can be identified and examined. This process must be studied so that we may all make sure it can never be reproduced.
Those who carry out this work know how precarious it remains. What happened in Cambodia and Rwanda has shown that genocide still is a temptation which, under various forms, can overwhelm some people’s hearts. The tensions that can be observed in many parts of the world today remind us that outbursts of violence and hatred are not fading away. This is tragic. But we must not give up. Each one has a responsibility to struggle against all that in himself prompts him to scorn, hate, or deny the other, and also a responsibility to learn to respect what is different in the other and reveals another way of being human. It is the responsibility of states to struggle against any expression of anti-Semitism and racism, while fostering mutual respect and esteem between the citizens and toward foreign nations. The unity of a country cannot be rooted in the hate of others. On the opposite, it must even be built through the reciprocal relationships that a state may manage to develop. Educational institutions must be places where mutual respect is taught, and this means knowledge of the events that fill the memory of the others We cannot progress in reciprocal esteem unless we strive to share the recollections of the others, especially when they remember the suffering that may have been inflicted by our forebears or by ourselves.
Together with the French bishops who are with me here tonight, I then want to say how determined we are to see to it that the facts about the Shoah are taught by our Church, at the level of both academic studies and the education of all Catholics, adults as well as young people.
We want Catholic education to teach that racism and anti-Semitism are most serious sins. We will have to find means to make sure that the younger generations learn the history of the Shoah and thus realize what deadly sins were then committed.
In the field of academic work, I want to repeat our support of the researches made by Father Desbois and the Yahad-In Unum organization in Ukraine, and I wholeheartedly endorse the agreement that has been signed between your Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yahad-In Unum, and the Sorbonne. The International Symposium on the Shoah in Ukraine that took place in Paris last September allowed for the first time researchers from all countries to get together and share information on this tragedy. This conference has also allowed to launch common work on an international scale. The Research Center of the Bernardins College of the Archdiocese of Paris will help making the findings of Yahad-In Unum available to the general public. Much remains to be discovered and analyzed, even as far the practical methods of the implementation of the Shoah are concerned. In this respect, I want to acknowledge the doggedness which enabled Mr Paul Shapiro, director of your Museum’s Research Center, to discover with others some 70 million cards in the German archives of Bad Arolsen. Because of its very magnitude, the design to annihilate all European Jews has not yet been fully investigated. New fields are opening up for academic research on the Shoah in both Western and Eastern Europe. This Holocaust Memorial Museum allows students from all over the world to access millions of pages of records. The doctoral dissertations and publications they are preparing with your help are vital for the future of humanity.
Concerning the knowledge of the Shoah among adult and young Catholics, the Church in France is firmly resolute to make her best effort. The goal is to educate and—if I may say so—refine consciousness. We have in Paris a significant institution: the Museum of the Shoah. It can teach school groups and families what the Shoah was actually like, and what our Jewish brothers and sisters had to undergo. This is certainly no substitute for the trip which I have already mentioned to Auschwitz, and which I strongly encourage state school chaplaincies and Catholic schools to organize. Within the frame of catechism, we strive (I dare say, with all our might) to offer programs that may help the children and teenagers realize that the Jews make up a living people and remain the partners of God’s Covenant with their forebears, and that this Covenant is vital to a Christian understanding of God’s relationship to all men and to the salvation of humankind. We consider it our duty to make it crystal clear that racism and anti-Semitism are serious sins. Awareness of how deadly the sin of anti-Semitism is was brought about by the discovery of the horror of the Shoah. This established fact must now be transmitted to the younger generations, and I am convinced that the knowledge of history is the best means to fulfill our mission.
Dear friends, it is deeply moving for me to be received here. My emotion is shared by my brothers the bishops who have come over with me, and I do feel that you are also welcoming through us all the French bishops. As we stand here, how can we fail to remember all the Jews who now are American citizens and who had to flee from Europe to escape death? We have come humbly and fraternally to pay a tribute to all those whom the Jews of the United States keep alive in their memory. With them, we want to remember the surnames and the first names of all those Jews who were murdered. We don’t want to forget the help they may have received. We want even less to forget what they suffered—the hate, the contempt, the indifference, and the cowardice that were instrumental in their annihilation.
We have also come here to meet the people of the United Sates. We Europeans cannot forget how generously you Americans rescued us from the Nazi oppression, from the yoke of inhumanity that weighed upon our souls. What we are now experiencing together is historic. Simply allow us to share your memory and to ask God, as we too do in our prayer: “Remember our deceased brothers and sisters. Remember, we pray, o Lord, all the murdered children of the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Thank you for your attention.