More than 40 years ago, I was shattered by Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning. How, I asked myself, could a place like Auschwitz have existed within the very heart of so-called "Christian Europe"? How could human beings separate Jews from others in the human family, force them into concentration camps, demean and starve them, then funnel them into gas chambers and burn them in ovens?
Where were the Christian churches? Why didn't Christians help the Jews in their time of need? What, I asked myself, happened to the great teachings Jesus taught to Christians: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you"; "What you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me"?
I remember being quite shaken by the realization that none of this seemed to matter very much when it came to helping Jews during the Holocaust. Why? I wondered. Why did the teaching of good and evil in organized societal and religious institutions fail to prevent the Holocaust?
Today these seem like naïve questions, but 40 years ago, I didn't yet know that Hitler and the Nazis had built their deadly ideology on the twin foundations of racist anti-Semitism and theological anti-Judaism in Christian theology. It was only later, after much agonizing study in scripture and other branches of theology, renewed and re-energized by the fathers of Vatican II, that I came to understand what unleashed such evil upon the innocent.
For almost two millennia, Christians clung to the "belief" that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. This so-called "deicide" charge kept alive anti-Jewish prejudice and hatred. It was used to justify everything from the persecution and expulsion of Jews from Spain, England and elsewhere in Europe between 1050 and 1650 to the vicious pogrom against the Jews known as Kristallnacht in November 1938, a pogrom engineered by the Nazis and their collaborators in Germany and Austria.
It was my study of the Holocaust and of the failure of the Christian churches to prevent it that encouraged me to do my small part to promote better relationships between Christians and Jews.
FULL STORY: Mercy sister on Jewish-Christian relationship (National Catholic Reporter)