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The World Apologizes

By Jennifer Block, Cold Spring Harbor
High School, New York

[ Student Drawing -- Tears, Barbed Wire, Train Tracks ]

Over the past year, governments, world leaders, and world organizations have reevaluated not only their actions during World War II, but their lack of action during the Holocaust. Because of the recent release of documents from archives around the world, many apologies have made the news. Here are some notable expressions of regret that have been reported in The New York Times, Newsday, and other newspapers around the globe.

In August 1997, Croatia apologized to the Jewish people for crimes committed by a Nazi puppet regime, clearing the way for Croatia and Israel to establish full diplomatic relations. The statement read, "New, free and democratic Croatia completely condemns Nazi crimes of the Holocaust and genocide over Jewish people in many European states, including Croatia."

This was one of the most strongly-worded public statements renouncing the pro-Nazi regime that the nationalist government of President Franjo Tudjman has delivered since he came to power in 1990. That regime was responsible for killing tens of thousands of Serbs and Jews.

Then, in September, France's Roman Catholic Church and Bishops asked God and the Jewish people to pardon it for the silence of its elders when 76,000 Jews were deported from France to Nazi death camps in World War II. More than 1,000 Jews and Christians united for an emotional ceremony at Drancy, outside Paris. Bishop Oliver de Berranger recognized that the church of France failed in offering help during the Holocaust. He begged for God's forgiveness and for the Jewish people to listen to his words of sorrow.

Henry Hajdenberg, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions, responded to Berranger by saying, "Your words of repentance constitute a major turning point. Your request for forgiveness is so intense, so powerful, so poignant that it can't but be heard by the surviving victims and their children." In all, approximately 76,000 Jews were deported from France between 1941 and 1944. Only 2,500 survived.

In October, the Red Cross organization acknowledged that it had morally failed by keeping silent while the Nazis murdered six million Jews. The Red Cross previously apologized for "all possible omissions and mistakes made" during the war years, but the organization's most recent statement was the most explicit admission that the Red Cross could, and should, have done more.

The Red Cross gave Israel 60,000 pages of World-War-II-era documents. These documents include reports from field workers about mass deportations and killings of Jews; rulings by the organizations and its governing bodies; orders to field workers; and, correspondence with Nazi Germany and the Allied governments. These reports cover every aspect of the Red Cross' work relating to the Jews, hostages, and political detainees. Copies of the documents were also given to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and to the Center for Jewish Documentation in Paris.

Also in October, in a major address after a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Patriarch, the spiritual leader of 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide, said, "the dreadful indifference of people during the Nazi mass murders was a thorn in the side of human history." The Patriarch also admitted that he respected the role of Israel as a subsidizer of the Jewish people's existence. The Patriarch's statement indicated that this was a time of reckoning for Christians while memories of the horrors remained.

That same month, Pope John II blamed centuries of anti-Jewish prejudice for "deadening" Christian resistance to the Nazi persecution of Jews; he steered clear, however, of blaming the Church itself. In his address, the Pope did not issue a direct apology as some Jews had hoped he would, but he clearly acknowledged that many Christians had not done all they could have to help the Jews. The Pope explained that "antisemitism is totally unjustifiable and absolutely condemnable." During the nineteen years of his pontificate, John Paul has made significant progress in improving relations between the Catholic Church and Jews. This address, once again, emphasized the common heritage that binds Christians and Jews.

Finally, in January of 1998, France's Roman Catholic daily La Croix apologized for printing antisemitic editorials a century ago in the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. La Croix explained that the editorials betrayed Christian beliefs by saying, "Down with the Jews," and describing Dreyfus, a French military officer jailed on false charges of spying for Germany, as "the enemy Jew." Dreyfus spent nearly five years in the Devil's Island penal colony for a crime that another officer committed. He was ultimately acquitted and released.

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