Cornerstone Laid for Building to Replace Convent at Auschwitz

The effort to relocate the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz received a boost Saturday, when a cornerstone was laid for a new convent a short distance away from the site of the notorious death camp in Poland.

The ceremony took place in the presence of more than 100 local, government and Catholic representatives, including senior Vatican officials, according to representatives of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.

The new cloistered convent is part of a three-building complex under construction at a site across the street and not visible from the Auschwitz compound.

Between a dozen and 20 nuns from the Carmelite order presently occupy a former theater at Auschwitz, a building in which the Nazis stored the Zyklon-B pellets used to kill 1.6 million Jews at the death camp.

The foundation of the new convent building has been laid and construction on the second floor is under way, Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said in a telephone interview from Warsaw.

Rudin said the conference center and library in the complex are already in use. A hospice and meditation center, which will accommodate visitors overnight, have not yet opened.

Among the church officials present at the cornerstone-laying ceremony were two cardinals: Franciszek Macharski, archbishop of Krakow, and Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

Cassidy brought the cornerstone with him from Rome, according to Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, whose president, Edgar Bronfman, is the current chairman of IJCIC.

The presence of the cardinals at the ceremony “is a concrete manifestation of the Vatican’s commitment to its agreement to move the convent,” Steinberg said.

That it was a Catholic ceremony without any Jewish participation is appropriate, he added, “since it is clear from the original 1987 agreement” to move the convent that “this is a Catholic undertaking, not a joint one” with the Jewish community.

The progress “now shows that this is a problem on the way to being solved,” said Rudin of AJCommittee, an IJCIC member agency.

The ceremony was covered in Poland by at least three daily newspapers and the television news, he said.

Ground was broken on the new convent site in March 1990. Officials of the Carmelite order have pledged to have the nuns out of the Auschwitz convent and into their new home by October 1992.

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