Stolen churches, stolen Jews (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MICHAEL FREUND 02/02/05)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
In the old Juderia, or Jewish district, of Segovia, Spain, the Corpus
Christi church sticks out like a sore thumb and, as it turns out, not
without good reason.
Located northwest of Madrid, Segovia is best known as a popular site
for Spanish tourists, who flock to see its imposing Roman aqueduct
and the famed Alcazar, a medieval castle of the Castilian monarchy.
Less well-known is its Jewish past, which came to an end in 1492 when
the Edict of Expulsion compelled Segovia´s Jews to leave. Despite the
passage of time, though, the injustice of that act remains very much
For the Corpus Christi compound, which now houses a convent and
church, had in fact served as Segovia´s Great Synagogue until it was
seized by the ecclesiastical authorities like brigands pouncing on
After paying an entrance fee of a few euros I walked into this
building, where Sabbath prayers once echoed and the haunting tunes of
Yom Kippur were uttered in awe, only to gaze in astonishment at the
Catholic icons hanging incongruously on the wall.
Bewildered and incensed, I walked out, only to find myself standing
next to none other than the mother superior herself. Noticing the
yarmulke on my head, she asked me with a smile if I had come for a
visit. Yes, I told her, before politely asking why she would not
return the synagogue to the Jews.
The smile on her face quickly disappeared, giving way to a decidedly
un-heavenly frown. "Because it is a Christian site," she insisted.
"Yes," I said calmly, "but it was a synagogue before that, so
shouldn´t you give it back?"
"Now it is for all people," she snapped, before turning and walking
Somehow, I doubt that the founder of Christianity would have approved
of this, as a Jewish house of worship was pilfered from its rightful
owners and transformed into something it was never meant to be.
Corpus Christi is hardly unique. There are unfortunately many similar
examples to be found throughout Europe, where the Catholic Church
frequently helped itself to Jewish property and assets in the wake of
various expulsions, massacres and persecutions.
But buildings were not the only thing the Church was interested in
confiscating. As a recently discovered document makes clear, the
Vatican had its eye on snatching Jewish children, too.
Datelined October 1946, the document in question was a directive sent
to the Vatican´s Paris representative, Angelo Roncalli, stating that
Jewish children hidden from the Nazis should not be returned to their
parents if they had been baptized while in the church´s care.
"Avoid, as far as possible, responding in writing to the Jewish
authorities, but do so orally," the document instructed, adding that
its contents had been approved by Pope Pius XII.
Since it was first published in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere
Dela Sera on December 28, the directive has caused a firestorm of
controversy, and rightfully so.
After everything that the Jews of Europe had endured under Nazi rule,
how could the Church possibly be so cruel?
While the Vatican has sought to undercut the document´s authenticity,
it has also rejected requests by groups such as the Anti-Defamation
League (ADL) to open its archives, which would allow researchers a
chance to corroborate or rebut the charges.
Similarly, Rome is refusing to publish wartime baptismal records,
which might shed light on what became of numerous Jewish children who
survived the war.
ADL Director Abraham Foxman, who was hidden and illicitly baptized by
a Polish nanny, has noted that as a result of the Church´s
policy "There may have been tens of thousands of rescued and baptized
Jewish children who to this day are not aware of their true origins."
The directive, he said, "which most likely was not limited to France
but reached Catholic clergy throughout Europe, adds a level of
responsibility for the church to actively participate in revealing
the truth about those who were baptized."
Historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has gone even further, arguing that
the document is a "smoking gun" which "proves the pope´s and the
Church´s policy was to systematically kidnap Jewish children."
Just last week the international community marked 60 years since the
liberation of Auschwitz, decrying the crimes committed there. But by
hiding the truth regarding Jewish children entrusted to its care
during the Nazi period, the Vatican is keeping alive the wounds of
This is simply intolerable, and it is time for Israel and world Jewry
to turn up the pressure on Rome to come clean. The Vatican must open
its archives and release the baptismal records at once.
It is bad enough that they plundered Jewish property over the
centuries. They cannot be allowed to get away with stealing Jewish
Shortly after my encounter with the nun at Segovia, I was reminded of
the Talmud saying that the Diaspora´s synagogues and study halls will
one day be physically relocated to Israel. Apparently, their
connection with the Jewish people is so strong and so enduring that
even the stones and bricks that comprise our houses of prayer will
not be left behind in exile.
If that is true of inanimate objects, how much more so does it apply
to our fellow Jews?
We must do whatever we can to find these unknown and unknowing Jews
and bring them home. The truth, at last, must finally be allowed to
The writer, a former aide to prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
founded Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), an organization helping "lost
Jews" to return to the Jewish people. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY