Pope’s Meeting with Waldheim, Words at Mauthausen Offend Jews
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Pope’s Meeting with Waldheim, Words at Mauthausen Offend Jews

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Pope John Paul II has again drawn the ire of Jews.

In Austria on a five day pastoral visit, he aggravated deep resentment over his meeting with President Kurt Waldheim — for the second time in a year — by referring to Austria as a “victim” of Nazism, rather than the collaborator it was.

He further shocked and incensed Jews by omitting from remarks he made at the site of the Mauthausen concentration camp Friday any reference to Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

“The only Jew he mentions who suffered is Jesus Christ, and he did not suffer at Mauthausen,” Austrian Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg remarked bitterly in a radio interview here.

At a meeting with Austrian Jewish community leaders, the pope did not respond to their call for Vatican recognition of Israel, but spoke in favor of a Palestinian homeland.

The cumulative effect of his Austrian tour on Jews is one of deep resentment, judging from comments by Jewish leaders here and abroad.

At Mauthausen, where he conducted a solemn mass Friday, the pope decried “the lunatic ideology which set into motion a whole machinery of contempt and hatred of others. They tortured their victims, broke their bones, cruelly abused their bodies and their souls.”

But he failed to acknowledge that the primary victims were Jews. “A visit to Mauthausen without even mentioning the word ‘Jew’ once is not satisfactory — absolutely not,” said Eisenberg.


It is doubtful that the pontiff redeemed himself with Jews by his sole specific reference to Jewish — and Christian — suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

Speaking Saturday to 80,000 people at a prayer service in Lorch, near the Czechoslovakian border, the pope said, “Not far from here is Mauthausen, where Christians, Jews and others were persecuted for many reasons, including their religion.”

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, declared in a statement released Friday: “The failure of Pope John Paul to make any specific reference to the suffering of the Jews while visiting the site of the infamous Mauthausen concentration camp is a matter of deep shock to the Jewish community.

“This, together with the pope’s unwillingness to confront Kurt Waldheim over his Nazi past or address the historical complicity of Austria in the crimes of Hitler’s Germany, are failures that constitute a tragic lost moral opportunity.”

Seymour Reich, international president of B’nai B’rith, said “This kind of insensitivity is especially painful coming from a religious leader who revises history by terming the Austrian people ‘victims’ of Nazi aggression, rather than collaborators, and who has twice chosen to meet with Kurt Waldheim, an unrepentant liar with a Nazi past.”

Reich expressed hope for a “clarification” so that the Catholic-Jewish dialogue can continue.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said he was “saddened and disappointed that Pope John Paul II, on his first day on Austrian soil, helped perpetuate the myth that Austria was a victim of the Nazis.”

Foxman also objected to the fact that during the meeting with Jewish leaders, the pope “coupled two issues which have nothing to do with each other: condemnation of anti-Semitism and calling for a Palestinian state.”


Chief Rabbi Eisenberg and Paul Grosz, president of the Federal Association of Jewish Communities, were among the Jewish community leaders who met the pope Friday, before his visit to Mauthausen. They described the encounter as “disappointing.”

The meeting took place at the archbishop’s residence in Vienna. Grosz, who reportedly softened his originally planned remarks, at the request of other Jewish leaders, told the pope that “many Austrians have still not come to terms with their past.”

He was referring to the election of Waldheim in 1986 after massive evidence was made public of his complicity in Nazi atrocities as a German army intelligence officer in the Balkans during World War II.

“It is still considered patriotic to remain silent on this subject — unpatriotic to speak out,” Grosz told the pontiff.

He accused many Austrians of making anti-Semitic remarks about Jews who call for Waldheim’s resignation.

Grosz also expressed “deep regret” that the Vatican has not acted to recognize Israel.

Responding in German, the pope spoke of “a common readiness to find just and comprehensive solutions which would lead to lasting peace” in the Middle East.

The pope remarked, “The Jewish people have the right to a homeland, as any other nation according to international law, but the same goes for the Palestinian people, many of whom have become homeless refugees.”


The pope had a 15-minute meeting with Waldheim shortly after his arrival Thursday in Vienna. They were to meet again Monday, at the end of the papal visit. Waldheim had an audience with the pope at the Vatican in June 1987.

Jewish groups in Austria and some from abroad protested what they called the whitewashing of Waldheim’s past. Activists, including West German Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld and her 20-year-old son, Arno, demonstrated Thursday outside St. Stephen’s cathedral, where the pope conducted a mass, and Friday at Mauthausen.

Both were briefly detained by police. The police moved into the cathedral square after Austrians shouted epithets at Jewish demonstrators.

Austrian police used what many observers said was needless force to remove about a half dozen Jewish protestors, led by Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York.

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