PARIS (Jun. 18)
The Carmelite convent built at Auschwitz may soon be relocated, an action that would remove both a troubling symbol from the site of the former death camp and an obstacle in the path of smoother Catholic-Jewish relations.
The convent will be relocated to a site some 550 yards away from the former camp perimeter, a chief Catholic official involved in trying to resolve the dilemma reportedly has informed a Jewish leader here.
Theo Klein, who headed the Jewish delegation that negotiated the original agreement to move the convent, said he was promised in a letter from Cardinal Albert Decourtray of Lyon that the move would take place before July 22, a deadline suggested by the cardinal earlier this year.
“The cardinals have honored their pledge,” said Klein, who is immediate past president of CRIF, the Council of Jewish Institutions in France.
But World Jewish Congress officials here and in New York, who have been following the controversy closely, expressed surprise Sunday, when told of Klein’s announcement.
In fact, Serge Cwajgenbaum, director of the WJC Paris office, said that when he asked Klein for confirmation, Klein told him had “no idea when the nuns would move,” Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said in New York.
Decourtray and other Roman Catholic Church representatives signed a document two years ago agreeing that the convent would be removed by Feb. 22, 1989.
PROMPT REMOVAL OF CROSS URGED
Failure to meet that date has caused a furor among Jewish leaders, who have met repeatedly, in Europe, Israel, the United States and Canada, with representatives of the Vatican and of the government of Poland, where Auschwitz is located.
To quell the fury, Decourtray suggested earlier this year that the convent by moved by July 22 to interim quarters, where the Carmelite nuns would stay until a new convent could be built.
On Friday, Klein said he hoped the nuns would remove without delay the 24-foot cross they have erected at the convent, which soars above the site of the former death camp.
Klein said Decourtray told him that the owners of the plot of land on which the nuns plan to build their new convent have agreed to the sale and that a contract would be signed in a few days.
The new convent would be separated from the former death camp by two streets, several blocks of buildings and a row of trees, Klein said.
He said local Polish authorities have delivered a construction permit to the head of the Krakow See, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, another of the parties to the original agreement to move the convent.
But Steinberg of WJC said, “I know at present that the proposed site of the new convent is an empty plot of land with no possibility of construction until 1990, according to Decourtray.”
“We would welcome a resolution to this controversy, which casts a long shadow on Vatican-Jewish relations,” he said.
Macharski, in whose domain Auschwitz lies, has been considered the Catholic leader most able to move the nuns from their controversial location. But as recently as this month, he said he was unable to convince the nuns to move.
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)