Carmelite Convent at Auschwitz Won’t Be Relocated Until 1990

The Carmelite convent at Auschwitz will be relocated, but not by next month, as a French Jewish leader appeared to suggest this week.

The leader, Theo Klein, said earlier this week that he had received a letter from the archbishop of Lyon indicating that the convent would be relocated to a site some 550 feet away from the perimeter of the former death camp.

Klein appeared to suggest the transfer would take place before June 22, a date Cardinal Albert Decourtray of Lyon had proposed as a deadline for resolving the matter, which has created a major rift in Catholic-Jewish relations.

But a copy of the letter, obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, makes no mention of the July date and, in fact, suggests that work on the new convent will not begin before next year.

Decourtray, who has been the chief Catholic negotiator on the Auschwitz convent issue, wrote to Klein outlining agreed-upon plans that will lead to the eventual removal of the convent, as conveyed to him by Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, the archbishop of Krakow, who has jurisdiction over the convent.

Construction of a new prayer and information center on the new site can most likely be started by early 1990, the June 5 letter says.

Decourtray’s letter announces that the site, “situated about 500 meters from the Auschwitz concentration camp, has finally been secured.”

It was chosen from three alternative sites. “The new convent will be built in the part of the plot furthest from the camp. There will therefore be no ambiguity about its placement,” writes Decourtray.

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The decision on the land, Decourtray says, followed a June 1988 visit to the area by Gerhart Riegner, co-chairman of the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, and Professor A. Georges Schneck, head of the Belgian Jewish Consistory.

The site was approved March 2 of this year by regional and local authorities in Poland. Building plans were given to the Oswiecim Office of Town Planning and Architecture on May 23, and those plans now “will be theoretically approved with very short notice,” Decourtray writes.

The land is currently held by 14 separate owners, but “the purchase of the land should not pose a problem” since the 14 “have promised to sell it to the Archdiocese of Krakow.”

Decourtray quotes Macharski as saying he understands Jewish anguish over the convent’s continuing presence at a site where millions of Jews were murdered.

But he urges world Jewry to refrain from staging further demonstrations at the convent site, which would exacerbate friction between Catholics and Jews “and reinforce the blind defense of the sisters.”

Such a rupture between Catholics and Jews “would be a great unhappiness,” Macharski is quoted as saying. “We have no need for that.”

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