French cardinal: To remember the Holocaust, choose life
By Regina Linskey

Catholic News Service (
WASHINGTON – To transmit the memory of the Shoah from one generation to the next, people must be determined to choose life over death and good over evil, said French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

CARDINAL SPEAKS ON HOLOCAUST – French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, retired archbishop of Paris, addresses an audience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington March 29. The cardinal, a longtime champion of Catholic-Jewish relations, spoke on remembering the Holocaust and combating anti-Semitism. (CNS)

In a March 29 talk at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the retired archbishop of Paris said that to remember the Shoah, the Hebrew word for Holocaust, the events first must be “rigorously, scientifically documented,” and the memory of those who escaped must be relived.

The Shoah was “human, rational decisions made by human, rational beings. The Shoah rises as a mystery of human liberty” and, for it to be remembered and never repeated, “moral conscience must become educated,” he said, as a real “choice between life and death.”

Because good and evil can be defined in various ways, dependent upon the context of society and the collective group, the only way to understand the difference between good and evil is to “identify good with life and evil with death,” said the cardinal, who was born of Jewish parents; his mother was killed in the Holocaust.

Cardinal Lustiger was raised by a Catholic family, converted to Catholicism at the age of 14 and changed his given name of Aaron to Jean-Marie. He has been outspoken against anti-Semitism and has promoted dialogue with Jews and with France’s growing Muslim community.

Memory is the choice between life and death, he said, and to remember the Shoah, one must “transmit the love of life.”

Those who lived through it lived good lives, “because they knew that hatred leads to death,” Cardinal Lustiger said.

But for many who escaped Nazi torture and execution, telling the story of their survival is just too hard, the cardinal told an audience of more than 200 people gathered for “Insights,” a museum program featuring speakers examining the continuing impact of the Holocaust.

“Something struck me while I was speaking to survivors, some of them were” internally silenced “because they had undergone the most degrading means of hatred,” and the only way they could continue to live was “by abandoning all hatred from their hearts,” the cardinal said.

This silence is the “paradoxical byproduct of their ordeal,” he said. “The wish for revenge, the fascination of death had to be wrung away from their consciousness,” and so silence prevailed.

And, although memory could be transmitted from generation to generation through historical narratives, the cardinal said, referring to the words of Elie Wiesel, author and museum founding chairman, “we must acknowledge that the experience of being abandoned in evil cannot be shared.”

“It is impossible for a Christian to be a Christian … without the Jewish people,” the cardinal said following the speech in a question-and-answer session.

Christians and Jews are connected by God and loved by God, he said. “What Christians believe, they got through the Jews.”

When asked if the church’s teaching prior to the Second Vatican Council contributed to anti-Semitism, the cardinal said he thought that, in one sense, the church contributed, but “even the great Western democracies didn’t protest (the Holocaust) at the time. No other nation protested the deportation of the Jews.”

Cardinal Lustiger said that Pope Benedict XVI will carry on the work of dialogue with the Jews just like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, but differently because they have different personalities and different talents. Pope Benedict has made it clear that there is “straight continuity” in their teachings about dialogue with the Jews, he said.

When asked why the Shoah is important to the Catholic Church, Cardinal Lustiger said that the question was ambiguous.

“Because the Shoah is a historical phenomenon when the fate of humanity was at stake. … If the church is not interested in this, what else do you want it to be interested in?” the cardinal said.

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