November 30, 2021

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The Polish Holocaust story and Palestinian Christians

The Washington Post summarizes the story that has dominated Israeli media this weekend of Holocaust Memorial Day:

A diplomatic crisis between Israel and Poland appeared to be deepening on Sunday as Poland’s deputy chief of mission, Piotr Kozłowski, was summoned to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem over a law approved by the Polish parliament making it a criminal offence to mention Polish complicity in crimes committed during the Holocaust.

Polish lawmakers voted Friday for a bill that would fine or jail people who blame Poland or Poles for Nazi atrocities committed on its soil during World War II, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The law still needs final approval from the Polish Senate and the country’s president.

The Polish law is beyond offensive. There is a reason the death camps were built on Polish soil. The Poles were notoriously antisemitic.

Even the few Poles who saved Jews – and that includes members of my family – prove the point. These heroes had to go to extreme measures to ensure that their neighbors didn’t know they were hiding Jews, not only the Nazis. The entire automated factories of death could not have been built without the complicity of the Polish people as a whole. The Jews who had lived there for hundreds of years were not considered Poles by their neighbors.

But beyond the Polish antisemitism is another dimension. The vast majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, and most of the rest are also Catholics as well. And Catholicism was doctrinally antisemitic.

In a 1965 article on Vatican II, Commentary magazine summarized how the Church looked at Jews for most of its existence:

According to [Catholic] tradition God chose the Jewish people in the time of Abraham to serve as a preparatory stage for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, His Son, and the establishment of the Catholic Church. Once Christ came, all that was valuable and effective for human salvation was transferred from Judaism to the new Church. The Ancient Alliance between God and Israel was voided and replaced by the New Alliance between the Church and God. The Jews, as the original Chosen People, should have been the first Christians, but they elected instead to repudiate Christ. They did not accept his doctrine; they opposed him during his lifetime; they instigated his arrest; they clamored for his execution; they acquiesced in his crucifixion. For these sins they were punished in three ways by God: they ceased to be the Chosen People; they were blinded so that they could not see the truth of Christianity; they were dispersed among the nations, never to be reunited until the end of time when Christ will return to this world to judge the living and the dead. At the end of time, they will be converted as a group, but until that day they will remain blinded, dispersed, and persecuted as a sign that God has entrusted salvation to the Church alone, and that He punishes obduracy.

Roman Catholic believers drew a whole range of practical conclusions from these premises. The Jews as a people—not only the Jews of Christ’s time but Jews of all time—were guilty of having killed Christ, the God-man: theologically speaking, they were deicides. Second, because they were cursed by God to remain dispersed among the nations until the end of time, the very existence of a Jewish state must be against God’s will, and Israel must therefore be doomed to extinction after a short while. Third, the sufferings of the Jews were to be understood as part of their punishment for the crime of having rejected Christ and their original destiny. Fourth, Judaism was a useless thing, an invalid ethic, an invalid way of life, an invalid method of worship, which had been rendered pointless by the advent of Christ. And in the long history of Jewish-Christian relations more phantasmagoric conclusions still were frequently drawn. The Jews were allied with the devil, they were always entering into conspiracies—with Freemasons, with Communists, with atheists, with secularists—for the sole purpose of destroying the Church and wiping Christianity off the face of the earth.

It is hard to visualize today how antisemitic the mainstream church was only 70 years ago. And it wasn’t a reflection of the antisemitism of the members of the Church – it caused the antisemitism of the members of the Church. Jew-hatred was part of the Church’s teaching.

So while the Polish people deserve to be publicly shamed for their complicity in the Holocaust, it isn’t only because they were Poles. It is because they were following Church teachings.

Vatican II changed that. as summarized here:

 Nostra Aetate was indeed a revolution, particularly with reference to Jews and Judaism. First of all, it moved from a theology of a dead, outdated and superseded Judaism to a theology of a living Judaism. Second, it rejected the idea that all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism could, in any way, be founded on Christian or scriptural teaching. And, most important, the church came to understand that in the words of Paul the Apostle, God’s covenant with the Jewish people is irrevocable, and that Jews continue to be “the chosen people.”

Nowadays, Palestinian Arabs have two distinct sources for their antisemitism.

For Muslims, it is animated by their view of Jews as historically weak and their intense shame at having been defeated by these Jews who are supposed to be second class citizens in a Muslim-dominated area.

But for Palestinian Christians, who are mostly Catholic as well, Vatican II didn’t apply to them. They still subscribe to the supercessionist thinking of the historic Catholic church. In many ways, they are more antisemitic that the Muslims are because it is part of their religious belief system. In my opinion they influenced and intensified Muslim antisemitism since modern Zionism began.

It is important to realize, especially when articles are written about Palestinian Christians, that they have two reasons to show hatred towards Israel. The obvious one is their dhimmi status so as not to say anything that would upset their Muslim neighbors who can and do make their lives miserable. But even more important is : their religious teachings themselves. They have never purged official Church antisemitism from their doctrines, and that is something that the West continues to ignore.

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