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A seminar on “Teaching remembrance through cultural heritage” was held in Cracow, in Poland, from 4 to 6 May. It brought together education ministers from the 48 signatory states to the European Cultural Convention and looked at new approaches to teaching remembrance. We invited Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger to express his views.
Question: Until very recently you were Archbishop of Paris. You are also of Jewish origin. What for you is the importance of such a seminar in Poland, just a few kilometres from Auschwitz, on Holocaust Remembrance Day?
Jean-Marie Lustiger: I find the subject of this colloquy highly relevant because it raises the question of the universality of human rights. Is Auschwitz simply the symbol of a historic drama between the Jewish people and Nazi Germany or do we remember Auschwitz as a point in human history that is fundamental to our past and future?
Question: How do you view the continued controversy about the Vatican's role in the Second World War?
Jean-Marie Lustiger: For the generations that lived through this period the scars still remain, but people now recognise that the situation was not straightforward. To understand the Vatican's role, it is also necessary to question the silence of the United States and its allies, and the attitude of Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, the criticisms levelled at it show that – quite reasonably – higher standards are set for the Vatican than for the victors of the Second World War. The Church has clearly understood this, as John-Paul II in particular demonstrated.
Question: Is there any significance in a German pope succeeding a Polish one?
Jean-Marie Lustiger: I do not believe that the nationality of Benedict XVI was taken into consideration in his election, but I am convinced that this fact marks the final end to the tragic history of European wars that cast a shadow over the second millennium. Cardinal Ratzinger first spoke out many years ago about Germany's past. He did so courageously and lucidly and highlighted its philosophical and religious sources. But electing a pope of German origin to succeed a Polish one is something only the Church could have accomplished, in a continent shaped by two thousand years of Christianity. The Germans are well aware of this.