In a special pastoral letter entitled 'The shared spiritual heritage of Christians and Jews', the Episcopate stressed that “anti-semitism and anti-Judaism are sins against the love of thy neighbour.”
The letter notes that the Church organises an annual 'Day of Judaism', affirming however that “Christian-Jewish dialogue must never be treated as 'the religious hobby' of a small group of enthusiasts, but it should increasingly become part of the mainstream of pastoral work.”
The Polish clerics also acknowledged that the Holocaust, which was planned by “Nazi Germany and largely carried out on the territory of occupied Poland,” nevertheless “sometimes met with indifference among certain Christians.”
According to the Episcopate, “if Christians and Jews had practised religious brotherhood in the past, more Jews would have found help and support from Christians.”
In that respect, the Espiscopate particularly praises the 'Righteous among Nations' who “risked their lives and those of their loved ones, heroically rescuing Jews” during the war. Under the Nazi occupation, giving shelter to Jews by Poles was punishable by death.
“In many places in our country there are no Jews, only traces of their religion and culture, often in neglected cemeteries,” the letter notes.
“The Love of thy neighbour, and the spiritual bond with our older brothers in the faith obliges us to care for the places that bear witness to the centuries-long presence of Jews in Poland and the memory of their contribution to the culture of our multinational and multireligious country.”
The document pays tribute to the conciliatory efforts of previous members of the Roman Catholic Church, including Polish pontiff Pope John Paul II, who was the first pope to visit a synagogue, and a committed leader of dialogue with Jews.
The so-called 'Nostra aetate' (In our time) declaration made during the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago under Pope Paul VI is regarded as a breakthrough regarding relations with non-Christian religions.
During the communist era, academic debate concerning the Holocaust was largely frozen in Poland.
An anti-Zionist campaign led by the government in 1968 compelled several thousand Polish Jews who had survived the war to emigrate. After that, Jewish issues were taboo in many aspects of officially endorsed Polish culture.
It was not until the 1980s that a reassessment of Polish-Jewish relations began in earnest, a trend that gathered pace following the collapse of communism in 1989.
Previously little discussed stains on Poland's wartime treatment of Jews have been highlighted in recent years, owing to books such as Jan Gross's Neighbours (2001), which focused on what had been a largely forgotten massacre of Jews by ethnic Poles in the town of Jedwabne, north eastern Poland.
Such issues remain highly emotive and divisive in Poland. (nh/rk)