Auschwitz trip deeply personal for Paris cardinal

10th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 8 (AFP) - When Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, travels to Auschwitz as the pope's representative for the 60th anniversary of the former Nazi death camp's liberation this month, he goes with a heavy heart - having lost his mother and much of his father's family there during the Holocaust.

PARIS, Jan 8 (AFP) - When Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris, travels to Auschwitz as the pope's representative for the 60th anniversary of the former Nazi death camp's liberation this month, he goes with a heavy heart - having lost his mother and much of his father's family there during the Holocaust.

Cardinal Lustiger, who converted from Judaism to Catholicism when he was 14, seven years after the Nazis assumed power in Germany, will represent Pope John Paul II at the ceremonies January 27.

He said the pope had probably chosen him "because I am directly, personally affected by this anniversary since my mother died there along with a large part of my father's side of the family." He was also going there for "the others," the millions who perished in the camps.

"This is not just a diplomatic role," the 78-year-old, who was born into a Jewish family of Polish origin and has been archbishop of Paris since 1981, told AFP in an interview.

"This is a mission (I need) to carry out for the others, to recall the memories of this event that traverse the history of the world, and of the West in particular."

"I think it's important (to go) not just because it was a horrible crime of the past, but because falling back into the same errant behavior remains a risk that humans still run today.

Lustiger, who was already in Auschwitz once in 1983, welcomed pilgrimages to sites of Nazi or other human atrocities - because it allowed history to come alive.

"Taking people there can perhaps show them just how far it can go when humans are guided by hate or contempt."

He stressed the particular importance of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because it "will be the last commemorated by the survivors. For the 70th anniversary, no more witnesses will be alive."

Out of the many expected to speak at the ceremonies honoring the camp's liberation by Soviet Red Army troops are three survivors of the concentration camps - former Polish foreign minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, former French health minister and European parliamentarian Simone Veil, and leading German Roma and Sinti figure Romani Rose.

Some 10,000 people, among them some 30 heads of state and government, are expected on January 27 at Auschwitz in southwest Poland for the ceremonies.

Roughly 1.1 million Jews were murdered at the camp between 1940 and 1945, in addition to nearly 250,000 Polish non-Jews, Roma and citizens of the Soviet Union. Some 77,000 French Jews were deported to Nazi death camps, mostly to Auschwitz, and only a tiny fraction returned.

Lustiger hailed the reconciliation between Christians and Jews, which has culminated in recent years with a pilgrimage by John Paul II to Jerusalem and the repentance of French bishops in 1997, when they admitted their silence during the war in the face of anti-Semitism and the deportations.

"What matters is that in making an effort in uncovering the truth about the past, admitting the facts ... (and) the mistakes, mutual respect, esteem and confidence have been established between the Catholic Church and the Jews," he said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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