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(photo credit: AP [file])
Yad L'Achim, a haredi anti-missionary organization, called Monday on Pope Benedict XVI to help find thousands of European Jews who as young children were saved from the Holocaust by Catholic clergy and laymen and were never told of their Jewish origins.
"During his visit here, we want the pope to call on all members of the Catholic Church to reveal the identities of thousands of Jews saved by the church from the Nazis," said Rabbi Shalom Dov Lipshitz, who heads the organization. "We believe that hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jews and their offspring can be discovered if the Pope makes an unequivocal announcement while in Israel that every Catholic has an obligation to reveal the Jewish roots of those saved from the Holocaust."
Lipshitz said that Yad L'Achim had a list of about 2,000 names of children believed to have been handed over to Catholic families, orphanages and other Church institutions to hide them from the Nazis.
A sample page from the list was sent to The Jerusalem Post. It includes the names, birthdates, places of birth and last known addresses of the individuals thought to be Jews.
All of the people on the list were from Holland, and all were born between 1920 and 1938.
Lipshitz said Yad L'Achim's list, based on information collected after the war, also included Jews from France, Italy and Belgium.
The organization also wrote an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI.
"As you know, during the Holocaust, thousands of Jewish parents deposited their children with Christian families to protect them from the Nazis, fully intending to retrieve them and return them to their families and their nation after the war. Tragically, a very large percentage didn't survive, and these Christian families refused to reveal to the children their true identity," the letter read.
"We view with utmost gravity media reports that these families were acting on [the] order of Pope Pius XII, who stated that the orphans should not be told they are Jews," it said.
Father David Neuhaus, patriarchal vicar for the Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel, said that it was impossible for the Catholic Church to adopt an overall principle for dealing with Jews who had been raised as Catholics.
"Tremendous complexities arise, and each case must be treated individually," said Neuhaus.
"Human lives are involved in these tremendously complex, emotionally charged cases," he explained. "Besides the theological issues of what faith these people belong to, there are also very human issues of relationships. Catholic families who raise a Jewish orphan feel that he or she is their very own. To whom should this orphan be returned? To a distant relative that the survivor does not even know? To the Jewish people?"
He added that "even after these Jews are told of their origins, they react in many different ways. A simple declaration on the part of the pope is not going to solve these problems."
Some prominent Jewish leaders were saved by Catholics. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was hidden from the Nazis by a Catholic nanny who had him baptized and raised him as a practicing Catholic. Foxman's parents survived the Holocaust and reclaimed him.
But many young Jewish children never returned to their families and were raised as Catholics.
Grzegorz Pawlowski, formerly Zvi Hersch, serves as a priest in Jaffa. He was rescued by Polish Catholic nuns and never returned to the Jewish faith, although he is aware of his Jewish roots. He moved to Israel to be near his brother, who remained Jewish.
Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee's Department for Interreligious Affairs, who is helping to coordinate the pope's visit to Israel, said that Holocaust survivors with Jewish roots had the right to know about it, but doubted that the pope was the right person to petition.
"It is more appropriate to meet with the local archdioceses and attempt to track [them] down on a local level," said Rosen. "It is a bit sensationalist to turn to the pope."