Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 17, 1999
WCR Letters to the Editor
No way pope could have stopped HitlerAs a former political prisoner of the Auschwitz concentration camp for 40 months, where 16,000 Christians died, and a prisoner at various other concentration camps for an additional 13 months, I feel compelled to challenge Sigmund Sobolewski in the article "Auschwitz survivor tells his story" (WCR April 26).
I have also watched the CBC documentary Prisoner Number 88 and read Sobolewski's interviews in The Edmonton Journal. In each of these accounts he blames the Holocaust on the Catholic Church, particularly Pope Pius XII and on Polish anti-Semitism.
When Hitler rose to power in 1933 the Church suffered greatly. The book His Holiness by writers Carl Bernstein (a Jew) and Marco Politi states that the Nazis executed 1,932 priests and clerics, 850 monks and 289 nuns. How many more would have perished if the Church had openly condemned the Nazi regime?
The pope had no army to speak of. Who could stop Hitler and his cohorts from wiping out all the clergy, including the pope? Can Prisoner 88 show me one example where Hitler spared his enemies?
The Catholic bishops in Holland dared to mildly criticize the Nazi atrocities. In return all Dutch citizens who had even the least Jewish blood were rounded up and shipped to the concentration camps to perish, among them a Carmelite nun, now canonized, Edith Stein. Wouldn't it have been far better for those bishops to remain silent?
Pope Pius XII, by pretending neutrality, not only prevented a certain slaughter of Catholic clergy, but also saved countless Jews who found shelter in the Vatican, in monasteries, in rectories, as well as in Polish homes.
Sobolewski expected the Church to do what he himself did not do. As Prisoner 88, he obeyed orders to save his own life. He survived because he was in a most privileged position in the concentration camp as a member of the fire brigade. These people were an elite that was provided with the necessities of life, provided they pleased the SS henchmen.
A thoroughly documented book Zegota: The Rescue of Jews in Wartime Poland by Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski (a Jew) shows how thousands were saved by Poles - both lay people and religious. These were truly heroic deeds, since hiding a Jew in Poland was punished by executing the whole family. Sometimes entire villages were burned for this reason.
Did Sobolewski mention these facts in his book? It would have been an honourable gesture to show some gratitude for such enormous sacrifices.
During the last world war Poles suffered immensely. My father was executed and buried in one of the mass graves near Warsaw, my hometown. My middle brother worked as a slave labourer in Germany and my 14-year-old brother spent four years with the Polish underground in the forest. One month after the war my mother died at 43, leaving the three of us and my nine-year-old sister orphans.
We lost three million Polish Christian citizens - 160,000 in Auschwitz alone. There was not a single Polish family that escaped the slaughter!
Poland had the strongest underground resistance army. There was no Polish SS like in other countries occupied by the Germans or any collaborators the likes of Quisling or Petain. Yet Poland is still accused of being guilty of the Holocaust.
I feel deeply sorry for Sobolewski and his family. I understand his pain. Once four prisoners and I were hung by our wrists and whipped to unconsciousness. Why? We were not able to push a loaded truck that had gotten stuck in deep mud.
This is only one small example of the agony all us prisoners suffered. A starvation diet and lack of vitamins caused me night blindness and scurvy. The wounds have never healed properly.
Yes, fellow prisoner, I suffered a lot too. Faith and constant prayers helped me to survive. I too could write a book, but I would rather spend my energy working as a volunteer trying to help others, and work towards preventing such a tragedy from happening again.
My wife and I as school teachers taught our children and our students tolerance and respect for every human being. We never blamed anyone for the atrocities of the Second World War, other than the fascists from Germany and other countries.
It is a great injustice to blame these atrocities on the Catholic Church or other nations that suffered a great deal themselves.
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