The Catholic Church in Poland has called on Polish Catholics to care for Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and other physical traces of the pre-war Jewish population, and also care for the graves of Holocaust victims.
The Polish Episcopate made the appeal in a statement issued Thursday — the day marked in Poland as the church’s 18th Day of Judaism, an observance aimed at promoting Catholic-Jewish dialogue and relations.
“It is our moral duty to take care of the places where people who had been our neighbors for many years were murdered and buried,” Bishop Mieczysław Cisło, chairman of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Episcopate’s Council for Religious Dialogue, told the newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
The appeal issued Thursday called on priests to lead the initiative “to commemorate the Jewish community in those places where they lived, and to the faithful and local authorities to help in this work.”
The bishops said no one should just shrug and say it’s none of their business. Rather it is a “duty of conscience” to see that former synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and the graves of victims of the Holocaust “do not go forgotten.”
“Do not let the signs of life and faith disappear from the face of the earth,” it said. If material evidence is gone, then as a sign of memory a memorial plaque informing about the Jewish community living here should be placed. This, it said, would also be “an important gesture to the contemporary Jewish community which, though small, is developing dynamically in Poland as part of a pluralistic society.”
It said people often no longer realize that for centuries Jews, “our elder brothers in faith, neighbors and fellow citizens” lived and worked in Polish towns and cities alongside Catholic Poles. This history, it stated, was captured in the permanent exhibition of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which was opened in October. “It is our duty as Christians to care for the salvation of their memory and transmit their memory to our children and grandchildren,” it said.
The appeal echoed the words of the late, Polish-born Pope John Paul II who, years ago, declared: “These Jewish cemeteries are part of our common history. These are places of particularly profound spiritual, eschatological and historical importance. Let these places unite Poles and Jews for together we await the Day of Judgement and Resurrection.”
Many non-Jewish Poles already care for Jewish heritage sites and preserve Jewish heritage: about 200 of them have been honored for their activities at an annual “Preserving Memory” ceremony held during the Krakow Jewish Culture festival each summer.
The awards, a joint program of the Israeli Embassy in Poland and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ), were established in 1998 by the American lawyer Michael Traison, who has an office in Warsaw and spends part of the year in Poland. The honorees are mostly volunteers and mostly from small, far-flung towns, and they have been honored for activities ranging from cleaning up Jewish cemeteries to running Jewish museums to carrying out school projects on Jewish history and memory.
Writing on the Virtual Shtetl portal, Krzysztof Bielawski, who also has documented hundreds of Jewish cemeteries on his web site www.kirkuty.xip.pl/, called the Church’s appeal a “commendable gesture” and said it is “very important that the Church has voiced its opinion in this case.”
But, he added, “How will the Church members react to it? In how many towns will Jewish cemeteries and graves be taken care of by the residents? The coming years will bring answers to these questions.”[NOTE: the link to this article no longer exists]