Quantcast

Jewish Journal

Pope Pays Homage at Babi Yar

by Ruth E. Gruber

June 28, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Pope John Paul II prays with Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich (left), chief rabbi of Kiev, in front of the Babi Yar memorial in homage of the thousands of Jews killed in Kiev, on the third day of his five-day visit in Ukraine. AFP PHOTO/GABRIEL BOUYS

Pope John Paul II prays with Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich (left), chief rabbi of Kiev, in front of the Babi Yar memorial in homage of the thousands of Jews killed in Kiev, on the third day of his five-day visit in Ukraine. AFP PHOTO/GABRIEL BOUYS

In his first visit to a Jewish site since a controversial May appearance in Syria, Pope John Paul II paid tribute this week to thousands of Ukrainian Jews killed by the Nazis in one of the bloodiest slaughters of the Holocaust.

The 81-year-old pope bowed his head and prayed in silence for five minutes Monday beside the ravine at Babi Yar, where the Nazis gunned down nearly 34,000 Jews during three days in September 1941.

As many as 150,000 Jews and 50,000 others were killed there over the course of two years.

Jews had looked to the Babi Yar visit with particular anticipation, as it was the pope's first major participation in such a ceremony since his trip to Syria.

During that visit, the pope stood silently by as Syrian President Bashar Assad said Jews had betrayed Jesus and had tried to betray and kill the Prophet Mohammed.

Throughout his papacy, John Paul II has frequently paid homage to Holocaust victims and condemned anti-Semitism.

Recently, as part of a policy of self-examination that marked the Christian millennium, he asked forgiveness for Catholics who were anti-Semitic or who failed to help persecuted Jews.

But Jewish groups felt the pope -- who has tried to atone for centuries of Christian persecution of Jews based on the church's views -- made a major error by failing to confront the Syrian dictator.

The chief rabbi of Ukraine, Yaakov Bleich, accompanied the pope to Babi Yar. He reportedly urged the pope to open Vatican archives so that children who were born Jewish but were saved and raised by Catholics during World War II could learn about their origins.

During the ceremony, Bleich handed the pope a statement saying, "Babi Yar is a name that still inspires awe and disgust as one of the prime symbols of evil and cruelty."

Bleich said, "It is here that Hitler and his henchmen successfully created a Kiev that was 'Judenrein,'" the German term for "cleansed of Jews."

During the Soviet era, Communist officials further obliterated Jewish memory by erecting a monument that failed to mention that most of the victims at Babi Yar were Jews.

Only in 1991 could Jews erect a second monument to the Jewish victims.

The pope went to Babi Yar on the third day of a five-day visit to Ukraine. One of the themes of his trip was to encourage reconciliation and harmony among religions.

On Sunday, he met with leaders of various Ukrainian religious denominations and told them that the Babi Yar massacre was "one of the most atrocious of the many crimes" of the 20th century.

He said the Jewish people "suffered injustices and persecutions for having remained faithful to the religion of their ancestors."

Bleich told reporters he was very happy that the pope had paid homage at Babi Yar, and he praised the pope's role in improving Catholic-Jewish relations.

"Thanks to the efforts of John Paul II, we can hope that there will never be more Babi Yars," he said.

{--Tracker Pixel for Entry--}

COMMENTS

We welcome your feedback.

Privacy Policy
Your information will not be shared or sold without your consent. Get all the details.

Terms of Service
JewishJournal.com has rules for its commenting community.Get all the details.

Publication
JewishJournal.com reserves the right to use your comment in our weekly print publication.

ADVERTISEMENT
PUT YOUR AD HERE