Convent at Auschwitz Renovated, Signs of Commerce Within Camp

The Carmelite nuns whose convent on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp has severely strained Jewish-Catholic relations in recent years show no preparations to move, even though new quarters are being built for them off the site.

Moreover, there are signs at Auschwitz that buildings on the site of the former death camp have been leased as warehouses and that a brewery has been set up there.

The convent itself has been renovated and a new extension added, according to photographs taken several days ago by Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, which circulated the photographs here.

“Is this the attitude of someone about to move elsewhere?” Cwajgenbaum asked.

The pictures of the convent show that “the roof of the old building has been totally changed and a new building has been built alongside the old one,” he said.

The photographs also show evidence of commercial exploitation on the camp grounds, which have been called the graveyard of European Jewry.

Photographs circulated by the EJC show that buildings within the camp’s perimeter have been leased to businesses for warehouses and the signs of a brewery hang on the wire fence.

Under an agreement signed by European cardinals and world Jewish leaders in February 1987 in Geneva, the convent was to have been relocated within three years. But the deadline was not met.

Construction was supposed to have begun last year on an ecumenical center some distance from the Auschwitz camp site which would include a new convent. But construction could take another four to five years, Cwajgenbaum was told when he was in Poland last week.

AUSCHWITZ AS EXPIATION FOR CRUCIFIXION

Jean Kahn, newly elected president of the EJC, a World Jewish Congress affiliate, stressed that the Catholic Church in France has always supported Jewish efforts to have the nunnery at Auschwitz relocated.

But “the Church of Poland reacts differently. We understand that the Catholic Church is not monolithic,” he observed.

Kahn, who is also president of CRIF, the representative council of French Jewish organizations lashed out at Pope John Paul II for equating abortion with the Holocaust in an anti-abortion polemic he delivered during his recent trip to Poland.

“By doing this, the pope is playing down the Holocaust and making it commonplace,” Kahn said.

He quoted a statement made by Karol Wojtyla at Auschwitz in 1972, a few years before he became the first Polish-born pope. It hinted that the Jews who died there were an expiatory sacrifice for the crucifixion of Jesus.

“For years we have been promised by the Vatican an official text on the Holocaust. Nothing has been done yet, leaving us to think that what Karol Wojtyla said in 1972 is indeed the position of the Catholic Church on the Holocaust,” the EJC leader said.

Kahn returned somewhat disturbed from Prague, where he had been invited to attend a session of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“People had prepared speeches about ‘the unacceptable period of Communist dictatorship.’ But what about Nazism, was that acceptable?” he asked.

According to Kahn, “Jews will not go back to Poland or Czechoslovakia. But there is a very important Jewish cultural heritage, mostly ruined: synagogues, cemeteries, Jewish quarters.

“The EJC intends to help those countries to preserve this heritage, particularly in Poland and the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in Krakow and the Jewish Museum and quarter in Czechoslovakia,” he said.

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