March 12, 2000

CNN interviews Baruch Tenembaum


CNN: From our New York studios we have Mr. Baruch Tenembaum to give us his thoughts on what occurred today at the Vatican. Mr. Tenembaum is the founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation of the non-governmental organization, Casa Argentina en Jerusalem. This is an ecumenical organization that received many distinctions on behalf of the Vatican precisely for its work in promoting ecumenism. Thank you for joining us.

How important is it for the world that the Pope asks forgiveness for errors committed years, centuries ago?

BT: Truthfully, this is the culmination of work begun by Pope John XXIII thirty-five years ago. We should recall that John XXIII was the Papal ambassador in Istanbul and supported Raoul Wallenberg during his attempt to rescue the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. This is the result of a long process and will surely be interpreted as a demonstration of brotherhood for all peoples. I would like to point out that today while reading the headlines we were surprised by coming across something seemingly uplifting. Allow me to read what the Pope said today during the reading of the document. Permit me to translate:

”We are profoundly saddened by the conduct of those who through the course of history have harmed your children and by imploring your forgiveness we enjoin ourselves to practice brotherly and genuine relations with the Jewish people.”

This was the Pope’s personal declaration and I believe that it is of utmost importance. Of course, the Jewish people are not a monolithic group, but rather a profoundly democratic people that offer everyone the right to be different. Obviously we will have various reactions to the Papal plea for Forgiveness. Some will praise it while others will be critical. Some will say that this came too much late like the recognition of the State of Israel by the Vatican, forty-seven years after the its founding. Overall, I believe that this is significant because the highest power of the Catholic Church acknowledges this in a personal way and expresses the need for forgiveness from the Jewish people and not from a higher authority. Without a doubt, this plea for forgiveness will initiate a time of dialogue, an attitude that we had already begun in Latin America thirty-five years ago with an ecumenical movement that two years ago accomplished the task of erecting the world’s only Holocaust Remembrance Mural in a Catholic place of worship, the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires. If a critical remark needs to be made we should direct it at the media, with the obvious exception being CNN. Other forms of media have not given this occurrence the adequate coverage that corresponds to such an unprecedented success. It was, after all, the first permanent act of forgiveness directed towards the Jewish people.

CNN: Without a doubt, Mr. Tenembaum, you have just made a reference to the Holocaust. Many had wanted the Pope to make a direct reference to the Holocaust but he did not. How would this affect his next visit to the Holy Land?

BT: Well, this is a geopolitical matter because we must also note that the Pope is also head of state. I hope that another 500 years will not go by like the time elapsed after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by the Inquisition in order to find, reveal and express a plea for forgiveness. I would like to make especially clear that I am speaking on behalf of people who come from different religious backgrounds; our work does not serve the interests of one particular religion. The head Rabbi of Israel, who is a survivor of the Holocaust, said it straight out: he was expecting a direct reference to the Holocaust. But let’s take into consideration that the Pope knows Poland very well and is aware of the Holocaust. He is the first Pope ever to visit a synagogue and knows where the critics are coming from. We therefore hope that this will be the beginning of a movement of brotherhood because the Papal Plea for Forgiveness is transcendental, historic and important. With the support of CNN and the communities of the Americas we should be proud that we started on the road to reconciliation even before this historic act on behalf of the Pope with the ideals embodied in the Holocaust Remembrance Mural at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires.

CNN: Thank you very much, Mr. Tenembaum. Mr. Tenembaum is the founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.