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Israel Observes Holocaust Memorial Amid Row With Vatican


Israel is holding a solemn observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem, the annual commemoration comes amid a row between Israel and the Vatican over the Church's role during the war.

Israeli officials, Holocaust survivors and foreign dignitaries gathered at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem as Israel remembered one of the darkest chapters in Jewish history.

Flags were lowered to half staff across the country.

Six torches were lit in memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the keynote address.

He said Israel rising from the ashes of the Holocaust is the pinnacle of Jewish victory.

But the ceremony was overshadowed by a public dispute between Israel and the Vatican over the role of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust. The Vatican's ambassador to Israel, Antonio Franco, threatened to boycott the observance because of a controversial picture of the wartime Pope, Pius XII, in the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem. The caption says the pope turned a blind eye to the Nazi genocide, and the Vatican wants it removed.

Yad Vashem said it would consider changing the caption if the Vatican opens its wartime archives. British historian Martin Gilbert agrees.

"Until we can see what the pope was actually communicating from Rome to the cardinals in France, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia and so on, all over the world, we won't know," said Martin Gilbert. "We may find that he was the most vicious anti-Semite. We may find that he was the most righteous of the righteous."

Yad Vashem expressed "shock and disappointment" at the Vatican envoy's planned boycott, but in a goodwill gesture, it said it was prepared to consider the Church's objections. The envoy, in turn, agreed to attend the ceremony.

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