Holocaust Memorial Council Offers Its Aid in Breaking Convent Impasse
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Holocaust Memorial Council Offers Its Aid in Breaking Convent Impasse

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The United States Holocaust Memorial Council has offered its good offices to help resolve the dispute over a Carmelite convent on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp.

Miles Lerman, chairman of the council’s International Relations Committee, made the proposal here Sunday, noting that he was “deeply disturbed” to “see Auschwitz embroiled in sectarian strife.”

Lerman spoke as a leader of a high-level delegation of council members currently visiting Poland.

It includes among others, four U.S. senators, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the council’s chairman, Harvey Meyerhoff.

Lerman made his remarks to Polish dignitaries on the occasion of receiving a medal from the Polish State Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom.

Lerman was honored for his 10-year effort to establish a cooperative relationship between the American and Polish institutions of remembrance.

The controversy over the convent has severely strained Jewish-Catholic relations in recent years.

The situation worsened when the church failed to honor a solemn commitment made two years ago that the convent would be removed from the Auschwitz grounds no later than February 1989.


Lerman said to resolve the issue “I would like to propose that a meeting of the highest caliber — with the representation from the Vatican, the Polish prelates, France and the United States — to meet with the most respected spiritual and political leaders of the world Jewish community.”

He stressed that “this meeting must break the impasse and it must arrive at a logical and just resolution.”

Lerman criticized the Vatican for preferring to remain neutral in the dispute, “With the highest degree of respect, I would like to appeal to the Vatican to reconsider this position,” he said.

He also had firm words for Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, the archbishop of Krakow who is spiritual mentor of the nuns at the convent.

Franciszek recently suspended construction of an ecumenical prayer center off the Auschwitz grounds, where the 17 Carmelite sisters were to be relocated. He was angered by several groups of Jews from abroad who came here to demonstrate outside the convent.

Lerman noted that the cardinal “took unilateral action” that contravened the agreement he and three other European cardinals signed with leaders of international Jewish organizations in Geneva on Feb. 22, 1987.

It stipulated that the convent would be relocated no later than Feb. 22, 1989.

In fact, Macharski’s three co-signatories have taken him to task. Cardinal Albert Decourtray of Lyon declared on Aug. 11 that the Geneva agreement “is mandatory and binding on those who signed it. Its decisions cannot be re-examined.”

Concurring in that were the other two signers, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, and Cardinal Godfried Daneel, head of the church in Belgium.


The main purpose of the Holocaust Memorial Council visit was to receive artifacts from the Warsaw Ghetto and from the Auschwitz and Majdanek death camps.

These “gifts of state” from the Polish government will form part of the collection of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum now under construction in Washington.

In addition to Meyerhoff and Lerman, the delegation includes Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former U.N. envoy; former Sen. William Brock (R-Tenn.); and Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Charles Robb (D-Va.).

Other members are columnist George Will and industrialists Conrad Black, chairman of Bollinger Inc.; Gerald Greenwald, vice chairman of the Chrysler Corp.; and Albert Ratner, chairman of Forest City Enterprises.

Their visit began Saturday and concluded Monday.

The Holocaust Memorial Council was established by Congress in 1980 to plan and build the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and to plan and sponsor annual national civic commemorations of the Holocaust, known as the Days of Remembrance.

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