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Jews Stunned by Tutu’s Suggestion Holocaust Perpetrators Be Forgiven

December 28, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s suggestion that the Jewish people forgive and pray for the perpetrators of the Holocaust has stunned Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora.

Remarks by the 1984 Nobel laureate on Tuesday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial here evoked more negative reaction than any of the various critical words he hurled at the Israeli government since his arrival here last weekend.

Tutu, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and a leading anti-apartheid activist, is well known as a sympathizer with the Palestinian cause.

In interviews published before his arrival and during his visit — spent mainly in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — Tutu repeatedly compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with the situation of black South Africans under the apartheid regime.

His visit went fairly smoothly, nevertheless, until Tutu showed up at Yad Vashem.

He placed a wreath in the Memorial Hall, studied the photographs of concentration camps and of the skeletal Jewish inmates, and wrote in the guest book: “This is a shattering experience, and the world must never forget our inhumanity to one another.”

Before leaving, Tutu sermonized to Jews. “The positive thing that can come,” he said, “is the spirit of forgiving, not forgetting.

“We pray for those who made it happen, forgive them and help us to forgive them, and help us so that we, in our turn, will not make others suffer.”


In New York, Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was quick to chastise Tutu. “No one has the right to forgive except the dead themselves,” Wiesel said, “and the dead were killed and silenced by their murderers.

“For anyone in Jerusalem, at Yad Vashem, to speak about forgiveness would be, in my view, a disturbing lack of sensitivity toward the Jewish victims and their survivors. I hope that was not the intention of Bishop Tutu.”

Stronger reaction came from Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, the largest Holocaust study institution in the United States.

He said Tutu’s call for prayer and forgiveness of those responsible for Nazi genocide was “a gratuitous insult to the Jews and victims of Nazism everywhere.

“Bishop Tutu showed the arrogance of an ancient crusader who had come to Yad Vashem with a bag full of Christian morality,” Hier said.

“The bishop surely knows where that Christian conscience was when millions of Jews and others suffered at the hands of the Nazis.”

Despite the controversy, Israeli officials are feeling relieved that Tutu’s visit did not trigger an upsurge of violence in the administered territories, as many of them had feared.

Tutu also had a cordial meeting Tuesday with the only Israeli leader he chose to see, Minister for Religious Affairs Zevulun Hammer.

The archbishop told reporters that during his Christmas visit to the West Bank, he saw “the anguish of those who are victims of injustice and oppression.”

But he said he also saw the “anxiety and fears of the Jews, and that is why we say very firmly that Israel has a right to exist as a sovereign state.

“But I pray, too, that Israel and the Israelis will hear the cry of the Palestinians that they, too, are people created in the image of God,” said Tutu.

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