PARIS, Oct. 1 (JTA) — Jewish leaders have welcomed an apology from the clergy of the French Catholic Church for its silence as the country’s Jews were being deported to Nazi death camps during World War II. “Your words of repentance constitute a major turning point,” Henri Hajdenberg, president of CRIF, the umbrella group of secular French Jewish organizations, said during a ceremony Tuesday evening at the site of the former internment camp at Drancy, near Paris. “Your request for forgiveness is so intense, so powerful, so poignant, that it can’t but be heard by the surviving victims and their children,” he said. Hajdenberg spoke after a statement of apology for the church’s silence was read on behalf of the bishops of France. “We confess our fault. We implore the pardon of God and ask the Jewish people to hear our words of repentance,” the statement said. “By their silence, the bishops of France acquiesced to flagrant violations of human rights and allowed the machine of death to be set in motion.” The statement also acknowledged the role of the Catholic Church’s traditional anti-Semitic teachings in laying the groundwork for the Holocaust. Approximately 76,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were arrested and deported from France to Nazi death camps between 1941 and 1944. Only about 2,500 survived.
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