The editorial “A Mosque Near Ground Zero” (July 30) creates faulty history about the Carmelite nuns at the convent adjoining Auschwitz. The convent generated searing controversy in 1989 when five colleagues and I joined Rabbi Avi Weiss in climbing over its fence in peaceful protest and, at the nuns’ behest, workmen in the building attacked us.
The convent was in the same building the SS stored the Zyklon B gas pellets used in the gas chambers. Though certainly Poles were murdered at Auschwitz, leading European rabbis and Jewish organizations denounced the convent as utterly insensitive to “the very significant silence on part of the Church” during the Shoah. European Jewish leaders and Catholic cardinals signed an agreement in February 1987 that the nuns would vacate in two years. The nuns defiantly refused, expanding the convent by one-third, and it was the workmen doing the expansion five months after the deadline who so violently assaulted us, to widespread condemnation. Newsweek (July 31, 1989) said the attack was “one of the worst cases of anti-Semitism in Poland” in the previous 20 years.
To me and to many others, the nuns at the Auschwitz convent were not there for quiet, prayerful expiation, but for Catholic triumphalism at the largest Jewish cemetery in the world. Why then the towering 23-foot-high cross next to the convent?