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November, 3, 1996 No 44 (419)

- Society


Remembrance of Things Past

Christians and Jews meeting in Torun attempt to come to terms with a troubled past in a land that was once a "paradise for Jews."

Christianity is linked more closely with Judaism than with any other religion, said Catholic Bishop Andrzej Suski, Torun ordinary, during the Oct. 15-16 "brotherly talks" in Torun. The talks were the latest stage of the historic Colloquium Charitativum (or "brotherly conversation").

Last year's talks ended with Catholics and Protestants announcing that dialogue is possible and should be continued. Encouraged by the success, the organizing committee wanted to organize a meeting for representatives of different faiths to discuss religious, social and political matters. Thus the idea of meetings between Christians and Jews came up.

Michael Shudrich, a well-known American rabbi, and scholars and clergymen from Germany were among the guests this year. Karl Reger, bishop of Aachen, Germany, apologized for Nazi crimes against Jews.

"Despite the model behavior of various individuals and groups, too frequently the German Church has turned its back on the fate of the repressed Jewish nation," Reger said. "We are deeply saddened and feel burdened by the knowledge that Christians took an active part in repressive actions."

The colloquium's main event was a panel discussion titled Poland's Role and Position in Christian-Jewish Dialogue. Prof. Hans Henrix from the episcopal academy in Aachen said there are three countries apart from Israel that are particularly important in Christian-Jewish dialogue: Spain, Germany and Poland.

"For centuries Poland was a paradise for Jews because it gave them shelter from repression in Western Europe," Henrix said. "And now the terrible heritage of German national socialism throws a deep shadow on Polish lands."

"We're dealing with a clash of two different memories," said Father Waldemar Chrostowski, vice-president of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. "We keep on telling the Jews: Remember, we sheltered you. It was here that you had your `Jewish paradise.' This part of the national memory we, as Poles, like. But there's another side to it. It's very painful for us to accept opinions like those of Elie Wiesel."

Chrostowski cited Wiesel's statement for Le Nouvel Observateur: "Even if it's true that not all victims were Jews, all of the Jews were victims. If it's true that Poles were the victims of Germans, then we, Jews, were the victims of the victims. Anti-Semitism was even present in the Polish underground resistance. Jews hid in the forests to escape repression, and there they were cruelly killed by the partisans."

Wiesel's words visibly aggravated those present.

"Partisans indeed constituted a threat for Jews. It's not that Wiesel invented this," said Stanislaw Krajewski, chairman of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. "What could Jews hiding in the forests do if they had no money and there was nobody to help them? They had to steal to survive. And when they stole, they were treated like bandits. General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, the Home Army (AK) commander, issued a clear order: Eliminate the bands and kill their ringleaders."

Zbigniew Nosowski, a Catholic columnist, quoted Simon Wiesenthal, who has accused Wiesel of being too critical.

Chrostowski said that the "pedagogics of dialogue" involve talking and listening rather than teaching.

"Christians should create a vision of Judaism that won't be a caricature from the Jewish point of view, and vice versa," Krajewski said. "It's a task for several years to come. Because of dialogue, Jews become better Jews and Christians become better Christians."

At the end of the two days of talks, participants signed a letter of good wishes to Pope John Paul II to mark the 18th anniversary of his pontificate. Both sides agreed that no other pope has done so much for Christian-Jewish dialogue.

The original Colloquium Charitativum took place in Torun in 1645. King Ladislaus IV initiated the talks, which brought together 76 Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist theologians for three months of debate on ways of restoring unity within the Christian faith.

The first forum brought no breakthrough compromises, but the meeting had a strong impact on a Europe that was then in the throes of religious discord (the Thirty-Year War was just underway).

Today, the Colloquium Charitativum is considered to lie at the roots of modern ecumenism. During his 1983 pilgrimage to Poland, the Pope called it a "meeting of love." Last year he referred to it as "a milestone on the road to ecumenism."

Marek Janicki, Torun

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