The episcopate issued a declaration remembering the victims of the Nazi genocide and warning about the emergence of new anti-Semitic tendencies.
"As no other place, Auschwitz represents the symbol of the annihilation of European Judaism," the bishops write in the document issued Monday, to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 27, 1945, liberation of the camps by Soviet soldiers.
The prelates also recall the "hundreds of thousands of nomads and Gypsies," all victims of the "mass murder under the sign of National Socialist racial madness" or of "pseudo-scientific experiments."
The prelates further mention the many thousands of Red Army soldiers, forced to work in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps and then systematically murdered.
"Our remembrance is addressed to all these victims, also to the witnesses of the Christian faith," the bishops state.
The declaration mentions how the camp was imprinted in a particular way in the "Calvary" of an occupied Poland "where all the Jewish population was murdered and a great many Polish intellectuals."
The anniversary, the German bishops state, is also to recall "the innumerable Allied soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of Europe from the criminal system of National Socialism," and, in particular, the "Red Army, which liberated the victims who were still alive in the Auschwitz camp."
But they add: "We do not ignore the terrible consequences for the local populations of the conquest of a large part of Germany by the Red Army. Encouraged by their leaders to seek revenge for the terrible crimes of the Germans against the Russian population, the Soviet soldiers were not only committed to a just struggle against Hitler, but were also at the service of the criminal Stalin."
"The suffering inflicted, which had repercussions on the German population under the form of vengeance for the German crimes, cannot make us ignore, however, that without the terrible tribute of blood spilled above all by Russian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian soldiers, the Auschwitz murderers would not have stopped," the bishops state.
"Our people have taken much time to face the responsibility for the monstrous crime committed by the Germans and in the name of the Germans," they continue. "Even today, mechanisms are used to distance themselves," and although it is true that it "is right to reject the idea of collective guilt," it is also "equally true that the number of Germans personally guilty is higher than that of persons prepared to confess their co-responsibility."
"Guilt is not only of the agents in the places and of the political leaders. Also responsible at different levels are the sympathizers and all those who pretended not to see," they add.
The German bishops are aware of "the pressure to which the population was then subjected," "the degree of public disinformation and the effectiveness of intimidating methods."
"Nevertheless, from our people is expected the admission that Auschwitz was possible because very few had the courage to oppose resistance," they state.
The German bishops say that the Catholic Church must also ask itself about its alleged co-responsibility in the events that occurred. "We must account for a long tradition of anti-Judaism among Christians and in our Church," they write.
In this connection, the declaration mentions that the 1998 Vatican document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" inspired the appropriateness of asking oneself "if the persecution of Nazism in regard to Jews was not facilitated by the anti-Jewish prejudices present in the minds and hearts of some Christians."
The bishops also mention the Catholic Church's admission of guilt before the world on March 12, 2000, pronounced by John Paul II.
"Let us pray that, in recalling the sufferings endured by the people of Israel in history, Christians will be able to recognize the sins committed by not a few of them against the People of the Covenant and of the Blessings, and so purify their hearts," the German prelates exhort.
The prelates evoke, moreover, John Paul II's gesture during his visit to the Holy Land in 2000, when he paused for a long time at the Yad Vashem memorial.
"This act of the Pope has become a source of renewal," they write. "The Pope proceeds with determination in his efforts to improve relations with Judaism and encourages the whole Church to find common ways with our 'elder brothers in the faith.'"
"Because of this, we thank all those who, often with great commitment, exert themselves for the dialogue between Judaism and Christianity," they continue.
"The memory of Auschwitz makes us ask ourselves for how long Germany and Europe have learned from this catastrophe," write the prelates, putting Germans on guard in regard to the anti-Semitic tendencies that continue to manifest themselves.
Expressing their gratitude for the fact that "in the last years many Jews have had the courage to come to Germany," the prelates recognize that they still have "a long way of purification," but are "guided by the hope that the encounter in faith will enrich all and will bring us to the common God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."