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In Argentina, Catholics Opposed to Pope Francis Challenge His Legacy of Jewish Relations

Last week’s protest at a Buenos Aires Kristallnacht commemoration was a display of denial—and ignorance

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A woman attending a ceremony that marks the beginning of the Holocaust, left, tries to stop ultra-traditionalist Catholics from interrupting an interfaith event at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov. 12, 2013. (Rodolfo Pezzoni/AP)
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And yet it is difficult to imagine what impact such public disapproval might have on the men who came to condemn the commemoration of a mass genocide, except to give them the attention they wanted in the first place. In the images from that night, one sees blank stares in the eyes of those praying, the unwillingness to listen or engage in any kind of dialogue at all. “They were like machines that were repeating things, that didn’t know the meaning of what they were saying,” said de Antueno. “Something completely without meaning.”

But the sentiments they voiced, and the challenge to the memory of the Holocaust they represent, weren’t entirely new to Argentine public discourse. Days before the commemoration, Jaime Durán Barba, a campaign consultant to the mayor of Buenos Aires, stated in an interview that “Hitler was spectacular.” He meant it within the context of the Nazi propaganda machine, apparently, but to many Jews, it sounded uncomfortably like praise for the most ruthless tyrant of the modern era.

“What stood out to me was that the reaction to what he said only came from the Jewish community,” Diana Wang told me. What about the rest of Argentina, she wondered. Shouldn’t they care that he speaks this way about Hitler? Sergio Widder, the Latin America representative for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told me that terms like “Nazi” are today thrown around quite easily—a trivialization that “dilutes the real meaning of the term and significance of what it is.” He felt both sadness and anger about what happened that night—because, he noted, “it took advantage of a moment that was very sacred. It was a commemoration of Kristallnacht, one of the most painful moments for the Jewish people in the history of the Holocaust.”


Yet there are those who feel that the real danger to memory may lie in the performance of commemorations as a ritual empty of meaning. Jack Fuchs, a survivor from Lodz, Poland, was at the event that night. Fuchs has written extensively about the Holocaust and is the subject of a recent Argentine documentary about his experience as a survivor, El Arbol de la Muralla. It was not his first time commemorating Kristallnacht at the cathedral; in the past, he had been invited to light a candle in memory of the dead. Fuchs was a young man when the war ended and he was freed from Auschwitz. But now, almost 60 years later, in a place so far from Nazi Europe in both time and space, he wonders, how much do people care about what happened? And what value do these public interfaith memorial events really have? “I guess everybody wants to act like open people, liberal and progressive, so they want to show this can be done,” he told me. “But it is all a show.”

Reflecting on what happened last week, Fuchs told me that he was less concerned about the protesters than he was about the future of Holocaust memory in Argentina. “What value does lighting a candle have for survivors, who are now very old?” he asked. Can an act of memory really impart an understanding, an understanding necessary for the tolerance that would challenge the likes of the Society of St. Pius X protesters? “I don’t know what is more dangerous,” he commented, mournfully. “Denying the existence of the Holocaust or not knowing anything about it.”


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In Argentina, Catholics Opposed to Pope Francis Challenge His Legacy of Jewish Relations

Last week’s protest at a Buenos Aires Kristallnacht commemoration was a display of denial—and ignorance

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