Scholar to speak on Holocaust

June 06, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Both believed in a higher power and the brotherhood of man. But during the Holocaust, Christians turned their backs on Jews, said the director of church relations for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"It cost hundreds of thousands of lives," said Peggy Obrecht, a Baltimore resident who is a Jewish history scholar at the Washington museum.

Tomorrow, Mrs. Obrecht will discuss the sensitive issue of what Christians did during the Holocaust and the current relationship between Christians and Jews.

Members of Community Building in Howard County Inc. (CBHC), a group formed in 1989 to address concerns about ethnic and cultural diversity, invited Mrs. Obrecht to speak at 7:15 p.m. at Howard Community College.

The program is the first in a series of planned activities to promote better understanding between different ethnic groups and cultures in the county.

"The goal is to bring together people who don't normally come together," said CBHC president Jean Toomer.

"There's a real relationship between Judaism and Christianity," said the Rev. Jesse Logan of Faith Tabernacle Assembly of God in Mt. Airy. "Judaism has a beautiful, deep spirituality and serves as a cultural and historic foundation for Christianity."

Much of the hostility between Christians and Jews stems from Christians blaming Jews for Jesus' death, Mrs. Obrecht said.

"The text of the New Testament has negative images of Jews and Judaism and these can have tremendous repercussions," she said.

Anti-Jewish teachings spawned widespread anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed during World War II, Ms. Obrecht said. At that time, many Christians did not want to kneel and pray at the Communion rail with Jews who had converted to Christianity, she said.

Ms. Obrecht cautioned that while Christians were a Holocaust "by-stander" and that some followed anti-Jewish laws, they were not to blame for the genocide.

"I think it's important that the Holocaust isn't blamed on the church," she said, adding that anti-Semitism and the "super-structure of hatred" were to blame.

Jewish and Christian leaders in the county said they welcomed such a program aimed at stimulating understanding.

"It's a good idea," Rabbi Martin Siegel of the Columbia Jewish Congregation said.

Jews have been persecuted and discriminated against for generations, he said.

But Columbia represents the opposite, he said, referring to the city's tolerance of religious freedom, evidenced by its interfaith centers.

"I think people spiritually motivated need to work together for our society," Mr. Siegel said.

Mrs. Obrecht agreed, saying each branch of Judaism is willing to discuss the differences with Christians. "We may have something to learn from Christianity," she said.

The Rev. Robert A. F. Turner of St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church in Wilde Lake said that "there are theological differences between Christians and Jews, but we all are human beings so we ought to learn how to live together."

"We should not let that which distinguishes us, separate us or divide us," he said.

Since the Holocaust, Christians have gradually changed their views about Judaism, with Catholics leading the way in the growing dialogue, Mrs. Obrecht said.

The evolution is important so "we no longer carry on the stereotypes of the past," she said.

In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church -- the world's largest Christian denomination -- formally recognized Judaism as a valid faith. It has also become more sensitive in its teachings and has established inter-religious centers, Mrs. Obrecht said.

In December, leaders from Israel and the Vatican signed a recognition agreement to begin an end to the historic Jewish-Christian hostility.

The change in attitude toward Judaism is witnessed daily at the Holocaust museum, where 60 percent of the 2.5 million annual visitors are non-Jewish, Mrs. Obrecht said.

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