The Christian Churches and the Shoah: a plural exhibition in Paris

titled “+By the grace of God+, the Churches and the Shoah” and presented until February 2023, the exhibition intends “decipher and deconstruct controversies“, assures AFP the historian Nina Valbousquet, one of the two commissioners.

Because, except until very recently, historiography tends to be binary“, she adds.”Above all, we tend to focus on the controversies that concern Pope Pius XII“.

The sovereign pontiff (1930-1958) is accused of having remained silent during the extermination of the six million Jews, but is also extolled by his admirers who retain in particular that the Church hid at least 4,000 Roman Jews.

Also the exhibition, installed in three rooms of the Memorial, wants to “demonstrate that the question goes beyond“of these binary oppositions.”The picture that emerges is much more nuanced“, adds the commissioner.

The three Christian religions are discussed, in France and in Europe. “Whether it is the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Church, we realize that none is a monolith“, abounds Caroline François, another commissioner.

Including over time.

For example in France: until 1942, the French Catholic hierarchy, which supported the work of national restoration carried out by Vichy, was made aware of the question of the Jews first from the angle of “converted” (to Catholicism), explains Ms. François. She does not understand that “exclusion from a community leads to its social death. Awareness really took place in 1942, with the first raids and the arrest of women and children“.

– archive”unpublished“of the Vatican –

The visitor will thus be able to read the letters of five bishops, including Mgr Pierre-Marie Gerlier in Lyon or Mgr Jules Saliège in Toulouse, addressed to the faithful of their diocese in the summer of 1942 after the Vel d’Hiv roundup. Denouncing the deportations, they were read at mass.

Newspaper clippings also show the decision of the pastors of the Protestant Federation of France to read a text in all the temples of the country on September 4, 1942 (eight pastors refused) condemning the persecutions and calling on the faithful to show solidarity with the Jews. .

Documents also show the rather complacent position of the Orthodox clergy in Romania vis-à-vis the anti-Semitic persecutions, from the 1940s. And, on the contrary, the protests of the Bulgarian Orthodox clergy to the government to denounce the latter’s anti-Semitic policy.

The actions of Christians mobilized in mutual aid and resistance networks are also underlined, such as the commitment to “mother Mary“, this Russian Orthodox refugee in France who saved three Jewish children from the Vel d’Hiv roundup.

Finally, the exhibition presents “unpublished documents“of the Vatican, made possible by the very recent opening to researchers – in 2020 – of the archives relating to the entire pontificate of Pope Pius XII, underlines Caroline François.

These include diplomatic correspondence, reports or internal notes showing different sensitivities and thanks to which “we can clearly see that the Vatican is not monolithic“, she specifies.

We better understand the factors that pushed Pius XII to remain silent“- the will of the majority of Vatican administrators to keep a “neutral state“, a “anti-communism“important or even”fairly strong anti-Jewish prejudices“-, adds Ms. Valbousquet.

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