Oregon Holocaust Memorial
Sculpture of child’s teddy bear at Oregon Holocaust Memorial.
Oregon Holocaust Memorial
Sculpture of child’s teddy bear at Oregon Holocaust Memorial.
This first appeared in the St. Mary Cathedral parish bulletin.

To the Catholic Sentinel:

I attended the dinner/fundraiser marking the 10th anniversary of the Oregon Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park.  Planning for the memorial began 20 years ago.  Like all things dealing with the Holocaust, the memorial was controversial.  It took 10 years of meetings, discussions, permits, and strong advocates to turn planning into reality.  The Archdiocese of Portland was a major supporter of the memorial, and Archbishop Alexander Sample was invited to give the invocation at the dinner.

The main speaker was Rabbi Yitz (Irving) Greenberg, a scholar/ theologian who specializes in the Holocaust.  This area of study asks the question, Where was God when 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis?  This question remains a difficult one, for both Jews and Christians.

The response of Rabbi Greenberg, and others, is that God never abandons his people-—whether at the Holocaust, or even the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in 70 AD.  But who can explain this tragic and cataclysmic event, knowing and believing that a loving God exists and cares for his people?

Among Rabbi Greenburg’s conclusions is the recognition that God expects his people to take responsibility for their own actions. One cannot expect a divine intervention when good people are hurt, or tortured, or murdered by the evil and cruelty of others.  But we can expect human intervention.  And where there was human intervention for Jewish lives during the Holocaust, many were saved.  Ultimately, the question is this: What responsibility do each of us bear in the atrocities that happen around us?  

Rabbi Greenburg has made it his life work to raise awareness of the Holocaust with the hope that such events will never again take place.  Through greater education, dialogue, and mutual forgiveness, Rabbi Greenburg calls upon all people of good will to end hatred, discrimination, prejudice, and violence.  Only then will the true love of God for all people be evident.

The Catholic Church has made enormous strides since Vatican II and its document Nostra Aetate in recognizing its own history of prejudice and discrimination against the Jewish people.  Catholics and Jews today enjoy a relationship of great mutual respect and constructive dialogue.  Saint Pope John Paul did more than any other pope to heal our broken relationship with the Jewish people.  

When he visited Jerusalem in 2000, he placed in the Western Wall a prayer to God expressing deep sadness for all wrongs done to Jews by Christians.  It ended, “Asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant,” a Covenant that has never been broken.

Msgr. Patrick Brennan
Portland