7, 2006, 08:14
- - -
... what, I have to ask, did the pope mean
by what he said at Auschwitz?
Benedict XVI went late last month to
that place where 1.5 million people, mostly
Jews, were murdered -- that memorial to
the very worst in mankind, that factory whose
sole product was death, and this is what he
said: "In a place like this, words fail. In the
end, there can only be a dread silence --
a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to
God. Why, Lord, did you remain silent?
How could you tolerate all this?"
said more or less what I did after visiting
Auschwitz-Birkenau -- and before that, Tre-
blinka, and afterward, Buchenwald and Ter-
ezin. He said what I said after reading a shelf
of books on the Holocaust and listening to
the stories of survivors: "Why, Lord, did you
remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?"
I put it differently. Where were you, God?
I don't think You were silent. I don't even think
You were there.
people can wrestle with the pope's
remarks. What does it mean that God was
silent? That He approved? That He liked what
He saw? That He didn't give a damn? You tell
what does it mean that He could "tolerate
all this"? That the Nazis were okay by Him?
That even the murder of Catholic clergy was
no cause for intercession? I am at a loss to
explain this. I cannot believe in such a God.
is a God who was away from his desk or
something and did not notice the plumes of
human ash reaching to the heavens them-
selves. Is that what the pope wants us to
I think it is something even worse: If God
was silent, who could blame the church for
being silent, too? Is that what Benedict is
saying? If so, he is continuing the tradition
of saying nothing.
know Holocaust survivors who are religious.
I don't understand it. I know others who feel
that Auschwitz is proof that there is no God.
I understand that. I am sure there are people
who feel that way about Biafra or Rwanda or
even Hurricane Katrina. I can understand all
of that, too.
give Benedict some credit. Not from him
do we get the inane God of American opti-
mism, the deity of American politics who is
always compassionate and on our side and
will make everything just wonderful if only we
put our faith in him.
is the Chamber of Commerce God of
George W. Bush and sometimes, when Bush
talks that way, I want to scream "Auschwitz!"
at him. Auschwitz! Mr. President, have you
ever heard of Auschwitz?
is beautiful, as always, and the monu-
ments and buildings raised in the name of
religion are stunning, as always, and I want
to go directly to the Vatican, bang on the
pope's door and demand that he answer
my questions. But I imagine he would look
at me with pity because I hear nothing but
silence and he, buoyed by faith, just listens