Carmelites’ Cross at Auschwitz Beginning to Attract Worshipers

The Carmelite convent is gone. But the cross is still at Auschwitz, and it is attracting the faithful.

Small groups of Catholic worshipers have been gathering three times a day in front of a large cross that had been erected by the Carmelite nuns at the death camp in Poland, sources say.

The prayers at the cross, which is as tall as a two-story building, come as Polish authorities are attempting to nullify a lease by which the nuns handed over control of the convent at the camp to two organizations.

The issue of who is in control of the Auschwitz grounds, long a source of concern to the Jewish community, was a principal topic of discussion when the Auschwitz International Committee held a meeting here over the weekend.

In July, the nuns left the Carmelite convent on the grounds of the Auschwitz death camp, each moving either across the road to new quarters built for them or to another convent altogether.

Their departure marked the end of a nine-year controversy that severely strained relations between world Jewry and the Roman Catholic Church, which had agreed in February 1987 that the convent should be relocated.

But the imbroglio still awaits its final conclusion, because when the mother superior of the Auschwitz Carmelite nuns finally agreed to leave the premises, she handed over her lease to two associations.

The sublet apparently contravened instructions from the Polish Catholic Church, and the matter is working its way through Polish courts.

Baron Maurice Goldstein of Brussels, chairman of the Auschwitz International Committee, addressed the issue of the ongoing occupation of the convent at Auschwitz at a meeting here Sunday.

The committee is composed of 15 national organizations representing Jewish and non-Jewish deportees to Auschwitz.

At its meeting, the committee also discussed ways to preserve the Auschwitz camp site, which attracts some 500,000 visitors each year, half of them from outside of Poland.

One of the two groups that received a sublet from the Carmelite nuns is the Association of Polish Victims of Persecution. The persecution referred to is reportedly that suffered by the Polish people under Communist rule.

The association is led by two brothers from Bielska, Poland, one of whom has reportedly been jailed briefly on suspicion of arms and gold trafficking.

The other association is called SOS Children’s Village, a Polish Catholic organization aimed at fighting abortion.

The Auschwitz International Committee is demanding that the main building be returned, empty of tenants, to the Auschwitz Museum.

Polish local authorities are trying all legal venues to nullify the subleases, but in the meantime, the large cross erected by the Carmelite nuns outside the main building is garnering attention.

Visitors recently returned from Auschwitz have told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that small groups of Catholics gather three times a day, every day, for prayers at a fence near the cross.

Each time they pray, they unfurl a large banner that reads, “Shame to the Polish Church who bowed to the Jews.”

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