Prague, Czech Republic — Under gray, rainy skies, dozens of curious onlookers huddled together Wednesday to watch the unveiling of a new addition to the gleaming centuries-old crucifixion statue overlooking the historic Charles Bridge — the first in more than 300 years.
And some hope it could signal improved relations between the city’s Christians and its small, struggling Jewish community.
On the eve of Pope John Paul II’s historic trip to Israel, scheduled for March 20-26, the Vatican is offering the world several apologies for sins committed by Christians over the past 2,000 years, including its treatment of Jews.
The “apologies” stem from a campaign by John Paul for a collective examination of conscience as the Church begins its third millennium.
The Pope has made repentance and reconciliation a theme of this Holy Year observance.
All eyes now turn to Jerusalem. Not satisfied with Pope John Paul II’s general apology to the world on Sunday, some Jewish leaders are hoping the pontiff will come through with an unprecedented and specific declaration about Christian responsibility for the Holocaust and 2,000 years of anti-Semitic acts when he visits the Yad Vashem memorial next Thursday.
He will meet with survivors from the Polish town of Wadowice, where the Pope was born 79 years ago.
Israel and Jewish organizations adopted a wait-and-see posture Tuesday following the resignation of Joerg Haider as leader of Austria’s rightist Freedom Party, even as Haider’s successor vowed to prove wrong critics of the party.
“I don’t see any racism or xenophobia in the party,” Susanne Riess-Passer told The Jewish Week by phone from Vienna. “We have a good program and we will succeed in acting according to our program. I’m sure that many critics will be ashamed in the end.”
The president of the Austrian Jewish community lashed out at the head of the Jewish Agency for calling on Jewish groups to refrain from negotiating Holocaust-era claims with Austria as long as the rightist Freedom Party is part of the government.
“It is up to us to sit down and find a common solution, and not up to politicians of the Jewish Agency to make politics on our behalf,” said the president, Ariel Muzicant.
The plaintiff is British, a historian of World War II who has asserted that Jewish claims of genocide by the Nazis are exaggerated, that the Auschwitz gas chambers were built after the war by the Polish government as a tourist attraction, that Adolf Hitler did not become aware of the full extent of the Final Solution until 1943.
The defendant is American, a scholar and leading authority on Holocaust denial.