In the wake of a global furor triggered by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to lift the excommunication of four traditionalist Catholic bishops, including one who cast doubt on the Holocaust, another leader in the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X has questioned whether the Nazis used gas chambers for anything other than “disinfection,” and said that people who hold revisionist views on the Holocaust are not anti-Semites.
Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz, a pastor and spokesperson for the Society of St. Pius X in northeastern Italy, also referred to Jews as “a people of deicide,” referring to the death of Christ, and suggested that the Jewish Holocaust has been “exalted” over what he called “other genocides,” such as the Allied bombing of German cities and the Israeli occupation of the Gaza strip.
On the other hand, Abrahamowicz insisted that the traditionalist movement founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre is not “anti-Semitic.” Among other things, Abrahamowicz said, he himself has Jewish roots on his father’s side.
The comments came in a Jan. 29 interview with the Italian newspaper La Tribuna di Treviso. (An NCR translation of the full text of the interview appears below.)
Related story: Pope Benedict's reconciliation efforts continue to fall short
Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior of the Society of St. Pius X, has apologized for the remarks of Bishop Richard Williamson, who in a recent interview with Swedish television claimed that the Nazis had not used gas chambers and estimated the number of Jewish deaths during World War II at no more than 300,000. Fellay has also barred Williamson from further comment. However, the Abrahamowicz interview suggests at least some degree of sympathy for Williamson’s views within the traditionalist group.
Reacting to protest in Italy over the Abrahamowicz interview, the Italian superior of the Society of St. Pius X, Fr. Davide Pagliarani, issued a press release saying that the society confirms Fellay’s earlier statement on Williamson and “reproves every single word inconsistent with it.”
Abrahamowicz is himself a well-known figure in Italy. In 2006, he gave a television interview in which he said that Erich Priebke, a German SS officer convicted of war crimes for a 1944 massacre in Rome, in which 335 Italian civilians were killed in reprisal for the deaths of 33 German soldiers, should not be seen as an “executioner” but rather a soldier who acted “with regret and a heavy heart.” In 2007, Abrahamowicz celebrated a Latin Mass for Italian politician Umberto Bossi, leader of the far-right Northern League party. Bossi and his party have sometimes been accused of xenophobia, particularly towards Muslim immigrants.
In 2008, after Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan had expressed support for Muslims seeking to open new mosques in Italy, Abrahamowicz said on Italian radio that Tettamanzi was an example of “infiltrators” attempting to “subvert the church from within.”
Abrahamowicz’s latest comments come just one day after Benedict XVI pledged his “full and indisputable solidarity” with the Jewish people, and recalled the deaths of “millions of Jews” in the Nazi concentration camps.
La Tribuna di Treviso
Interview with Fr. Floriano Abrahamowicz, Jan. 29, 2009
By Laura Canzian
Fr. Floriano, is the Lefebvrite community anti-Semitic?
It’s truly impossible for a Catholic Christian to be anti-Semitic. I myself, on my father’s side, have Jewish roots. My last name even suggests this. This entire polemic regarding the statements of Bishop Williamson concerns the existence of gas chambers, and has been strongly instrumentalized for anti-Vatican purposes. Williamson simply expressed his doubts, and his ‘denial’ is not of the Holocaust – as newspapers have falsely said – but of the technical aspect of the gas chambers.
In your view, what’s the ‘technical aspect’ of the gas chambers?
Certainly, it was imprudent of Williamson to get into technical questions. In the famous interview, you can see that the journalist was obviously leading up to this specific aspect. But you have to understand that the theme of the Holocaust is situated on a much higher level than the question of knowing whether the victims died from gas or from other causes.
What do you think? About the gas chambers, I mean.
Truly, I don’t know. I know that gas chambers existed at least for disinfection, but I don’t know if they were used to kill people or not, because I haven’t studied the question. I know that, alongside the official version [of events], there’s another version based on the observations of the first Allied technicians who entered the camps.
Do you cast doubt on the number of victims of the Holocaust?
No, I don’t cast doubt on the numbers. There could have been more than six million victims. Even in the Jewish world, the number has a symbolic value. Pope Ratzinger says that even one person killed unjustly is too many, which is a way of saying that it’s equal to six million. To speak about numbers doesn’t change anything with respect to the essence of genocide, which is always an exaggeration.
An exaggeration? In what sense?
The number [of six million] is derived from what the head of the German Jewish community said to the Anglo-Americans shortly after the liberation. In the heat of the moment, he fired off a number. But how could he know? For him, the important point was that these victims were unjustly killed for religious motives. If there’s a criticism to be made of the way in which the tragedy of the Holocaust has been handled, it’s in giving it a supremacy with respect to other genocides.
To which other exterminations are you referring?
If Bishop Williamson had gone on television to deny the genocide of 1.2 million Armenians by the Turks, I don’t think that all the newspapers would have talked about his statements in the same terms they’re using now. Who has ever talked about the Anglo-American genocide in the bombing of German cities? Who has ever talked about Churchill, who ordered the phosphorous bombing of Dresden, where there were not only many civilians, but also many Allied soldiers? Who has spoken about the English air force, which, in the bombing of the cities, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians? And the Israelis certainly can’t tell me that the genocide they suffered from the Nazis is less serious than that of Gaza, simply because they’ve taken out a few thousand persons, while the Nazis took out six million. This is where I fault Judaism, which exasperates rather than honoring the victims of genocide decently. It’s as if there were only one genocide in history, that of the Jews during the Second World War. It seems like you can say anything you want about all the other exterminated peoples, but no one at the global level has spoken in the terms in which people are speaking today after the declarations of Bishop Williamson.
Why do so many people still cast doubt on the Shoah? Why is it a subject that still divides people so viscerally?
Because the whole history of humanity is marked by the people of Israel, who initially were the people of God, who then became the people of deicide, and who at the end of time will reconvert to Jesus Christ. Behind it all is a mysterious theological aspect, which is that of the people of God which rejected its Messiah and which still combats him. It’s a mystery of doctrine. Anti-Semitism is born from the illuminated liberal and Gnostic world. The church throughout history has always protected the Jews from pogroms, as one reads, for example, in Domenico Savino’s book on ritual homicide.
What do you think of [Holocaust] denial?
Denial is a false problem, because it focuses on methods and numbers and doesn’t address the substance of the problem. Those who have studied the technical data, and who have cast certain doubts on the versions that we find in history books, aren’t anti-Semites. It’s enough to recall that the first ones to find this data were also those who saved the Jews, meaning the Allies.
Do you want to offer a message to the Jewish community?
One message: As a Catholic Christian, adding that little Jewish blood that runs in my veins, I express the hope that the Jews will embrace Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.