Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Academy Award-winning producer of Holocaust-related documentaries, has called for a letter-writing campaign to block sainthood for Pope Pius XII, saying it would desecrate the memory of the Shoah because of his silence during World War II.
"Such a nomination demeans the meaning of sainthood for countless others who are truly deserving of such a tribute," he declared during his State of World Jewry address last week at the 92nd Street Y.
"I call upon every person of conscience, Jew and non-Jew, to write to Pope John Paul II, asking him not to go forward with Pius’ nomination." He said letter writers should point out that his nomination would rewrite history and "cause great pain and suffering to the tens of thousands of survivors who heard no saintly words from Rome, only silence as the cattle cars crisscrossed Europe taking them to the death camps."
Rabbi Hier, whose second Oscar was awarded for 1997’s "The Long Voyage Home," also called on the Vatican to open its wartime archives to determine the truth of the Holy See’s Holocaust activities. Speaking before a lively crowd of 500, the Brooklyn native said, "Let the world finally know the truth about those years."
Rabbi Hier said he was certain the archives "would prove conclusively that Pius XII knew all about the ‘Final Solution.’ In fact, Pius was better informed about the killings than any other world leader."
Though Rabbi Hier acknowledged that Jews should not tell Catholics who their saints should be, Pius XII "is surely an exception to that rule because elevating him to sainthood desecrates the memory of the Holocaust."
Rabbi Hier warned against becoming obsessed with the Holocaust, however, "of seeing every neo-Nazi attack in Germany as evidence that a Fourth Reich is imminent, or by extension in the Middle East by convincing ourselves that the Palestinians or Syrians are about to throw the Israelis into the sea." He called such views "delusional."
But he said the Holocaust has brought many Jews back to Judaism. "Steven Spielberg, for example, was not turned on to Judaism by the Sabbath, the holidays or by a good Jewish education. Rather, he came to it by his encounter with ‘Schindler’s List.’ "Rabbi Hier rejected criticism that emphasis on the Holocaust takes money from Jewish education. He said that even 37 years ago, when he started in Jewish education, funding was hard to come by.
"It seems there are always distractions when it comes to Jewish education," he said. "Jewish education is treated like an orphan because it’s never in vogue and it’s not personal."
On education in general, Rabbi Hier argued that the massacre at Columbine High School shows that American schools need a tolerance and sensitivity program "in every curriculum." The Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center’s "Tools of Tolerance" program is taught in some California schools.
Rabbi Hier also touched on several other topics, including the split among Jews. "We have become our own worst enemies," he said. "We don’t like each other very much. In fact, some of us don’t think much of Judaism either."
In Israel, he said, the divide between secular and religious threatens to dismantle the country from within. Of the haredim or non-Zionist ultra Orthodox, Rabbi Hier said, "They don’t go to the army. They give the appearance of having an aura of superiority about them. They almost have nothing to do with the nonreligious … treating their [Conservative and Reform] brothers and sisters as they were not a part of the same people."
Of the nonreligious Rabbi Hier said, "Many have never spoken to a chasid or a yeshiva student. We tend to stereotype them. We don’t like them because of their black garb. Perhaps we should remember our grandparents and great-grandparents wore those same clothes."
He called for a "change of lens and a change of heart."
Rabbi Hier said if would be the greatest tragedy "if the descendants of those who stood together on Mount Sinai and who again stood together at the selection camp at Auschwitz should now be separated from each other because of our own prejudices."