Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jeffrey Feldman Headshot

Lie About Auschwitz Fuels Park51 Hysteria

Posted: Updated:

Leave it to right-wing pundits to lie about Auschwitz to fuel the anti-Muslim hysteria taking over the Republican Party.

When Republican media elites like Charles Krauthammer compare the Park51 cultural center to the 1988 Carmelite controversy at Auschwitz, they not only spread a lie, but also lend false moral justification to the crazed hatred of the Park51 project that has whipped American conservatives into a frenzy.

In his August 13 column, Krauthammer wrote:

Pope John Paul II ordered the Carmelite nuns to leave the convent they had established at Auschwitz. He was in no way devaluing their heartfelt mission to pray for the souls of the dead. He was teaching them a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.

What was Krauthammer's lie? That the Church decided a Catholic prayer center so close to this horrific memorial site would be wrong.

Based on Krauthammer's selective use of the Carmelite example, one would logically conclude that the Catholic Church had decided it was not appropriate to build any center dedicated to prayer and understanding within, say, "two blocks of" (e.g.) the Auschwitz concentration camp. And, thus, when Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and every Fox News media host repeated this same example -- viewers and listeners would draw the exact same conclusion: no Catholic prayer centers close to Auschwitz, no Muslim YMCA close to Ground Zero.

Easy enough, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, like every other flash point in this ginned-up non-controversy controversy, Krauthammer's deftly dropped factoid is -- you guessed it -- 100% false.

Not only is there a Catholic center for prayer and understanding within several blocks of the former Nazi gas chambers and torture cells at Auschwitz -- not only was it put there with the blessing of Catholic leadership after the Carmelite controversy -- but, and this is key: it is a wonderful place that achieves peaceful outcomes commensurate with those the planners of Park51 have proposed to bring to Manhattan.

Listen to right-wing media -- conclude that Auschwitz proves why Park51 should be run out of town with torches and pitchforks.

Check the actual facts -- conclude that Auschwitz proves why Park51 should be welcomed with open arms.

When it comes to whipping up hysteria against Muslims, it seems, even the Holocaust is fair game for right-wing propaganda.

The Catholic Center At Auschwitz
Called the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, it is located, according to its website, "On the Threshold of Auschwitz." The center's mission statement includes the following (emphasis mine):

The aim of the Centre, which in 1998 took the name of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz and was built in the neighbourhood of the Auschwitz concentration camp, is to create a place for reflection, education, sharing and prayer for all those who are moved by what happened here.

The Centre commemorates the victims and contributes to creating mutual respect, reconciliation, and peace in the world.

How close is this center to the Auschwitz camp?

According to Google Maps, the Catholic center for prayer and understanding at Auschwitz is 550 meters from the concentration camp perimeter:


View Larger Map

And yet, the fact that the center is so close to the camp is not a negative in anyway, as I can attest from personal experience.

In the early 1990s as part of my graduate school training, I had the opportunity to spend a week learning firsthand about the Nazi concentration camp sites in Nazi occupied Poland. During several days of seminars and workshops at the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum and memorial, I enjoyed the hospitality of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer. A warmer and more welcoming place is hard to imagine.

Is the Center for Dialogue and Prayer at Auschwitz some kind of victory church celebrating Catholic conquest over Jews? The question itself is too ridiculous to even answer.

And that should be the case with such charges leveled at Park51 by the right-wing establishment.

Instead, Americans have been manipulated to see Park51 as threatening and dangerous by right-wing talking points that turn out, on closer inspection, to be false.

A lie amplified by Fox News to generate mass hysteria against a minority? Welcome to Rupert Murdoch's America.

Enter The Archbishop
But it gets worse.

No less than Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, is the latest high-profile person to take Krauthammer's propaganda bait.

In a recent press conference, Dolan offered to "mediate" a solution (read: pressure the Park51 planners into moving their project) because the situation reminds him of -- you guessed it -- the Catholic church's decision to move a prayer center away from Auschwitz.

From the August 18 article in the New York Times:

Speaking during an impromptu news conference at Covenant House, a Catholic shelter in Manhattan for homeless youth, Archbishop Dolan invoked the example of Pope John Paul II, who in 1993 ordered Catholic nuns to move from their convent at the former Auschwitz death camp after protests from Jewish leaders.

"He's the one who said, 'Let's keep the idea, and maybe move the address,' " the archbishop said. "It worked there; might work here."

Once again, based on Dolan's statement, any reader would logically conclude that, unlike the Park51 planners, the Church had disagreed in 1988 with the idea of putting a center so close to Auschwitz. In other words: Krauthammer's lie.

The very existence of the Catholic Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz renders Dolan's statement disingenuous at best. At worst it is more fuel for the right-wing anti-Islam hysteria fire. Happy Ramadan.

Why, one might ask, would one of the most powerful figures in the American Catholic clergy step into this anti-Muslim hysteria waving a lie?

Maybe somebody on the Archbishop's team is a regular viewer of Fox News? Maybe they all are?

Then again, maybe Archbishop Dolan has never been to or heard of the Centre in Auschwitz?

Doubtful.

As it happens, in 2005 Dolan, then Archbishop of Milwaukee, participated in a trip to Auschwitz as part of an interfaith dialogue visit to Poland sponsored by the Sacred Heart University's Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding.

While I was unable to locate a press photograph of Dolan standing in the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer during his 2005 visit to Auschwitz, it seems virtually impossible that such a high profile member of the Catholic clergy would not have visited--or at least been aware of--the most high-profile Catholic center near the camp. Then again, five years is a long time. Maybe his Excellency just forgot.

Whatever the case, the Archbishop of New York, by virtue or keeping alive a slippery lie about no Catholic centers close to Auschwitz, has now added his voice and his stature to the media melee converging with torches and pitchforks on the Park51 center like some lost scene from Boris Karloff's Frankenstein.

What a tragedy it would be, if a Catholic Archbishop with a fish tale about the Church closing its centers near Auschwitz were to be the decisive factor in preventing the Park51 project from opening on private property.

A tragedy indeed.

Register To Vote