German Pope condemns Nazi genocide of Jews

Pope Benedict, in his first major address about the Nazi era in his native Germany, has condemned "the genocide of the Jews", saying that humanity must never be allowed to forget or repeat such atrocious crimes.

Reuters reports that the Pope was speaking exactly one month after his election, quoting from a famous phrase of reconciliation between German and Polish Catholic bishops issued in the 1960s: "We forgive and we seek forgiveness."

The media has often reported that Benedict, 78, served briefly in the Hitler Youth during the war when membership of the Nazi paramilitary organisation was compulsory. But he was never a member of the Nazi party and his family opposed Hitler's regime.

He made his address in the Vatican after a screening of a new, made-for-television film on the life of his predecessor John Paul II, whose native Poland was the site of the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.

He spoke of "the repression of the Polish people and the genocide of the Jews," branding both "atrocious crimes that show everyone the evil that the Nazi ideology had within it."

During the three-hour-long film the Pope watched pensively as the Nazis blew up a synagogue, rounded up Polish Jews and university professors and took them to crematoria at Auschwitz.

In his address, parts of which were read in an emotional voice and drew repeated applause from the crowd, the Pope said the Nazi period illustrated the "abysses of wickedness that can hide in the human soul."

He added: "Remembering such aberrations can only prompt in every upright person the commitment to do everything in their power so that episodes of such inhuman barbarism are never repeated."

Shortly after his election on 19 April, Benedict sent a message to Rome's Jewish community pledging to follow in John Paul's path of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation.

In his address on Thursday night, Benedict said all of humanity was seriously threatened each time a totalitarian regime trampled on an individual.

German Pope condemns Nazi genocide of Jews (Reuters 22/5/05)

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23 May 2005