Pope Francis on Monday recalled the great suffering endured by the Jewish community in Slovakia during the Holocaust, and encouraged Jews and Christians to be united in condemning violence and anti-Semitism.
“Dear brothers and sisters, your history is our history, your sufferings are our sufferings,” the pope told Slovakia’s Jewish community in the capital, Bratislava, on Sept. 13.
“Now is the time when the image of God shining forth in humanity must no longer be obscured. Let us help one another in this effort,” he said.
Francis noted that “in our day too, so many empty and false idols dishonor the Name of the Most High: the idols of power and money that prevail over human dignity; a spirit of indifference that looks the other way; and forms of manipulation that would exploit religion in the service of power or else reduce it to irrelevance.”
“But also forgetfulness of the past, ignorance prepared to justify anything, anger and hatred,” he added.
“I repeat: let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned.”
Pope Francis met around 180 members of the Jewish community in Rybné Square, which sits just north of the Danube River in the Old Town area of Bratislava. The square was part of the city’s former Jewish quarter.
Bratislava had a large Jewish minority for centuries, with the first record of the Jewish community in the city dating to 1251.
In 1930, 15,000 Jews lived in Bratislava, which at that time had a total population of 120,000. In the late 1930s, the community was threatened by anti-Semitic riots and attacks on synagogues. The Slovak State, created in March 1939, also introduced discriminatory measures against the Jewish minority.
During World War II, almost all of Bratislava’s Jews were deported to concentration camps or labor camps. Around 11,500 of the more than 15,000 Jews then living in the city were murdered in the Holocaust. https://9117e9cc7eb7fe96a2171d3565a3d945.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Today, Bratislava has the largest Jewish community in Slovakia, numbering around 500. Slovakia, with a population of 5.5 million, is a majority Catholic country.
Pope Francis told the Jewish community he came to Rybné Square “as a pilgrim, to visit this place and be moved by it.”
“For centuries [the square] was part of the Jewish quarter. Here the celebrated rabbi Chatam Sofer labored. Here a synagogue stood alongside the Cathedral of the Coronation,” he said, adding that the architectural setting was “an expression of the peaceful coexistence” of the Jewish and Christian communities, “and a striking sign of unity in the name of the God of our fathers.”
“In later times, however, God’s name was dishonored: in a frenzy of hatred, during the Second World War more than 100,000 Slovak Jews were killed. In an effort to eradicate every trace of the community, the synagogue was demolished,” the pope said.
At the start of the encounter, Francis heard testimony from one of the around 3,500 Holocaust survivors from Slovakia, the 79-year-old professor Tomáš Lang.
Lang, who was born in May 1942, was saved from the Holocaust by nurses who hid him and other children in a hospital ward after his father died fighting in Ukraine and his mother died on a death march in Germany.
The nurses wrote the names of infectious diseases on the doors to the wards to deter armed men from entering. The hospital was later bombed and only 15 children and one nurse survived.
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