Monday, May 29, 2006

Ratzinger at Auschwitz

This Sunday's papal visit to Auschwitz was marked by a clever speech of shameless self-promotion in which Papa Ratzinger never once apologized for his own supportive role in the regime that brought about the death camp.

His speech begins by stating that words fail before the horror of Auschwitz, then he launches into about 2,000 of them. (You can read the full text here.)

Ratzinger distances himself from the events: he refers to himself as "a pope from Germany" as if he were speaking of a coincidence, as if he had not worn a Nazi uniform and uttered and performed Nazi salutes and marches and songs. What does he think we think Hitler Youth did all day?

Throughout it all, there's not one word of personal shame. To the contrary, he praises himself for going to the site of the death camp, not once but several times.

The deafening arrogance of his speech is so overpowering that observers have already strained to hear humility where it was entirely absent. In an Agence France-Presse story run by the Brussels-based European Jewish Press the curious following sentence appears: "He asked God why he remained silent during the 'unprecedented mass crimes' of the Holocaust." One oddly placed pronoun suggests that Ratzinger engaged in a public soul-searching wholly absent from his speech.

Of course, he could not have done so. Not only was Ratzinger not silent while the ovens were burning people, he was lending his voice to sieg heil. Now Ratzinger feels entitled to pose the psalmist's rhetorical questions concerning God's silence and responsibility, but conveniently the pope evades his own, or that of his country and countrymen.

Instead, Ratzinger has cleverly turned a moment that should have been of repentance into one of whitewashing. In his roster of victims the first is a Polish priest -- Maximilian Kolbe. Then the Poles, "along with the Jewish people." Indeed, in bringing up the figure now synonymous with the Shoah -- the 6 million -- Ratzinger applies it to "six million Poles"!

The next group of victims is -- hold on to your hats -- the Germans. Welcome to modern history according to Ratzinger: those poor witless people who by the millions marched all over Europe killing, raping, pillaging and, yes, exterminating a few million Poles (and, oh yes, some Jews alongside for the ride), did all that because they had been promised "future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honour, prominence and prosperity." Oh, the suffering!

By this logic Lt. William Calley and Spec. Lynndie England, since they surely were promised something akin to honor, prominence and prosperity by George W. Bush and Lyndon Johnson, shouldn't have to bear responsibility for the My Lai massacre or Abu Ghraib torture. Who, then, is responsible for anything?

Finally, after their brief cameo appearance beside the six million Poles, come the Jews, whom an unnamed "ring of criminals" wanted to "cancel."

Hitler Youth indoctrination was obviously quite effective. Decades after it, Ratzinger cannot bring himself to utter the word "Nazi" until the 8th of the 11th paragraph in the official English text of his speech. He cannot acknowledge that Auschwitz was constructed primarily to murder Jews -- not Poles, not Gypsies (another group upon whom Ratzinger lavishes attention as soon as he dispatches the requisite brief mention of Jews).

He wraps everything up speaking of "reconciliation," but again he botches it. Ratzinger is so uncomfortable talking about what his fellow Nazis did that he misses the one thing that could make reconciliation possible: repentance.

This is basic Catholic theology and he is the pope. Shouldn't he know this?

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