Alan Simons

NOVEMBER 3, 2009 – The annual Holocaust Education Week has taken place in Toronto, Canada for the past 29 years. This year, from November 1 to November 11, more than 30,000 participants are expected to attend the 170 educational and cultural programmes that include two operas, an art exhibition and several films.

Holocaust Education Week is a vast undertaking. It is regarded as the largest event of its kind in North America. The majority of  programmes take place in synagogues, churches, public schools, hospitals, universities, public libraries and seniors’ residences. Eighty volunteers, with the support of two staff members of Toronto’s Holocaust Education Centre are responsible for the week. It is unfortunate that once again Toronto’s vibrant Muslim community of 342,000 lacked the courage to participate and extend their community’s involvement against racism, hate and intolerance.

During the week, one programme will highlight the work of the Sisters of Sion in France, Belgium and Italy, who rescued many Jews during WW II.  Sisters of Sion: The Story of Rescue, comes at a time when the Catholic Church continues to gather more documentation that, according to Frank Ruffolo of Zenit News Agency, “prove Pope Pius Xll played a major role in saving over 80% of Italy’s Jewish population during the Second World War. . . “Pope Pius XII 2

Sister Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., a leading scholar on the life of Pope Pius XII, has led the fight to defend Pius against charges he did little on behalf of Jews during World War II.  She writes:

Ever since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, every pope from John XXIII to Benedict XVI noted his sanctity. In fact, in his first Christmas message, John XXIII said his predecessor was worthy of canonization and called him, “Supreme doctor, light of holy mother Church, lover of the divine law.” Pope John Paul II at the start of his 1987 visit to the United States, defended Pius XII during a meeting with Jewish leaders, recalling “how deeply he felt about the tragedy of the Jewish people, and how hard and effectively he worked to assist them during the Second World War.”

It was Pope Pius XII who authorized false baptismal certificates to save Jewish lives. He also distributed visas for Jews to enter other countries, and ordered the superiors of convents and monasteries to open their doors and hide Jews and other victims of the Nazis and Fascists. Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) who also distributed many certificates stated that all he was doing was following the Pope’s directives.

The Jewish Community publicly acknowledged the wisdom of Pope Pius XII’s diplomacy. In September 1945, Dr. Joseph Nathan—who represented the Hebrew Commission—stated: “Above all, we acknowledge the Supreme Pontiff and the religious men and women who, executing the directives of the Holy Father, recognized the persecuted as their brothers and, with great abnegation, hastened to help them, disregarding the terrible dangers to which they were exposed.” In 1958, at the death of Pope Pius XII, Golda Meir sent an eloquent message: “We share in the grief of humanity. … When fearful martyrdom came to our people, the voice of the Pope was raised for its victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out about great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.”

There are two documentaries relating to the Pontiff and the Holocaust that have recently come to my attention.  “A Hand of Peace. Pope Pius XII & The Holocaust” details can be viewed at  http://www.saltandlighttv.org/prog_special_hand_of_peace.html

In addition, marking the anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s death in October 1958, a new documentary is available that “looks into the Pontiff’s role in saving Jews from the Nazis.” Pius XII and the Holocaust: The Secret History of the Great Rescue is being sold by the Vatican Television Center. The 30-minute documentary highlights the story of a Holocaust survivor who tells how he was hid in a convent in Rome. It also includes firsthand accounts of Pius XII’s clandestine efforts on behalf of the Jews.”  Check it out here. www.hdhcommunications.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=128&products_id=244

For Jews, both documentaries will surely initiate no shortage of discussion.

Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week programme can be viewed at: HEW

(Photo credit: redicecreation)


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