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Germany's top Roman Catholic official, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, has said that a contentious comparison made this week by a group of German bishops between conditions in the West Bank and the Holocaust was "not appropriate." But Lehmann stopped far short of condemning the bishops' comparison.
Lehman's comments, made in a letter to Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, came after Israel's Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority blasted the German comparison between the Palestinian-controlled West Bank cities and the Warsaw Ghetto as "political exploitation and demagoguery."
The German cardinal wrote to the Yad Vashem director that the "oppressive situation" in the West Bank, "in the shade of security fences and walls in Bethlehem," was "reflected in some harsh statements, of which some of them were certainly not appropriate," according to a English translation of the March 7 letter released Thursday by Yad Vashem.
"I am very aware also that things which are said while concretely experiencing must know their limits and stay sensitive for the complexity of a situation, and must not hurt the feelings of others, especially in regard of past suffering," Lehmann wrote.
"Completely independent of the situation, one cannot connect in any way current problems or situations of injustice with the national socialist mass murder of the Jews.
"For this reason, I can well comprehend that a statement, which referred to the Warsaw Ghetto in the face of Palestinian suffering, caused irritation and objection."
The German bishops' comparisons stunned Yad Vashem officials, who had hosted the senior Christian leaders just hours earlier on a tour of the Holocaust Museum, where they had talked about guilt, joint liability and remaining shame.
"Photos of the inhuman Warsaw ghetto at Yad Vashem in the morning, in the evening we go to the ghetto in Ramallah - that blows your lid off," Eichstaett Bishop Gregor Maria Franz Hanke reportedly said.
Bishop Joachim Meisner, who serves as the Archbishop of Cologne, reportedly described the conditions at Israeli security checkpoints as "something done to animals, not to humans."
The response by Germany's top Catholic official, who led a delegation to Israel and the West Bank last week as the head of the German Bishops Conference, came one day after Yad Vashem had lambasted the comparison as an appalling distortion of history.
"The remarks illustrate a woeful ignorance of history and a distorted sense of perspective," Shalev wrote in his Tuesday letter, which was first published in The Jerusalem Post.
"These unwarranted and offensive comparisons serve to diminish the memory of victims of the Holocaust and mollify the consciences of those who seek to lessen European responsibility for Nazi crimes.
"I urge all people to keep the Holocaust out of cheap political exploitation and demagoguery," Shalev concluded.