The Auschwitz Cross
During a silent walk through the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in my native Poland, I saw a cross.
It was unlike the crosses that have attracted great media attention. Although there isn't any other symbol I cherish more than the cross, these other crosses deserved to go.
A group of Nationalist Catholics (and possibly anti-Semites) erected 303 crosses at the Auschwitz-Birkenau execution site three years ago. But their intent was less a memorial than a response to radical Jewish groups who unsuccessfully called for the removal of one large cross that had been erected for the pope's 1979 Auschwitz visit. Following an international-scale controversy, the smaller crosses were removed. And rightly so.
Their appearance exploited the Christian symbol. The papal cross still stands, goading some Jews in ways I cannot fully understand. I do know this: While 70,000 Poles murdered in Auschwitz were probably Catholic, 90 percent of the 1.5 million who died there were Jewish. This means that most of the victims' relatives do not think "redemption" when they visit the site of their nation's suffering. And in case any modern crusader still wonders, no Jew has repented at the sight of the many crosses.
The confiscation of the crosses took place thanks to a mutual decision of the Polish government and the Catholic episcopate, I was told by the Rev. Stanisław Obirek, professor at the University School of Philosophy and Pedagogy "Ignatianum" in Kraków. Now, the 303 crosses reside in a less-political environment, at a Franciscan monastery several kilometers outside of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
"Using the cross as religious polemic is a great misunderstanding on both sides," Obirek told me at his office in Kraków. (This irenic priest is director of ...