Pope to bless elderly Catholics who saved Jews from Holocaust on visit to Poland

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland – Pope Benedict XVI will bless 41 elderly Polish Catholics who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust during his visit next week to Poland, officials said Friday.

The German-born Benedict will give his blessing to the group on May 25 as he passes through Warsaw in his popemobile, Marcin Przeciszewski, head of the Catholic Information Agency, told The Associated Press.

All 41 have been honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

The blessing is a special addition to Benedict’s May 25-28 visit itinerary, and was first proposed by Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, as a way to honor the elderly Catholics.

Jewish leaders often ask themselves “what can we do for the ‘righteous Gentiles?'” Schudrich told the AP. “What is the most meaningful gift we can give to such people? It is a blessing from the pope.”

It will be offered at the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, heightening the symbolism of the moment. Benedict was enrolled in the Hitler Youth as a teen and later deserted from the German army near the end of the war.

Those caught helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland were shot, often with their family members.

Poland, most of whose Jewish citizens were wiped out by the Nazis during World War II, has the largest number of citizens honored as “Righteous Among the Nations,” reaching almost 6,000.