(photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Yad Vashem lambasted a group of visiting German Catholic bishops on Tuesday for comparing the situation in the Palestinian territories with the Holocaust, calling the contentious remarks "political exploitation and demagoguery" and a gross distortion of history.
The sharp condemnation by Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority followed reports in the German press of comparisons made by senior German bishops between conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and current conditions in Ramallah, resulting from Israeli military activities.
"The remarks illustrate a woeful ignorance of history and a distorted sense of perspective," Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev wrote in a Tuesday letter to Cardinal Karl Lehmann, who led the Conference of German Catholic Bishops on a 10-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The group visited Yad Vashem last Friday.
"Making analogies between the mass murder that was part of the plan to annihilate the Jewish people, carried out under the German Nazi regime and the current situation in Ramallah, and using words whose rhetorical power is immense, does nothing to help us understand what is going on today; such words only further poison the atmosphere making it that much more difficult to find workable solutions to deeply entrenched and thorny problems.
"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," he wrote.
The German bishops' bitterly contentious comparisons stunned Yad Vashem officials, who had hosted the senior Christian leaders just hours earlier.
"In the morning, we saw the pictures at Yad Vashem of the inhumane Warsaw Ghetto, while in the evening we were in the Ramallah Ghetto," Bishop Gregor Maria Franz Hanke reportedly said.
Another visiting 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."
In his letter, the head of Yad Vashem noted the words of of the late Pope John Paul II when he visited Yad Vashem in which he said "no one can diminish the scale" of the Holocaust.
"I urge all people to keep the Holocaust out of cheap political exploitation and demagoguery," Shalev wrote.
"Such use of the Holocaust misrepresents both today's reality as well as that of the Shoah; it distorts historical facts and context, and trivializes the memory of the Holocaust's victims and events," he concluded.