Brazilian bishop criticized for Holocaust remarks

Friday, April 3, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A Roman Catholic archbishop whose statements about the Holocaust have come under fire met with Jewish leaders this week to clarify his claim that Jewish domination of the media has obscured the toll of non-Jews killed by the Nazis.

Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League condemned the comments by Archbishop Dadeus Grings, who was quoted by Brazil's Press magazine last week as saying: "More Catholics than Jews died in the Holocaust, but this isn't known because the Jews control the world's media."

Grings, who leads one of Brazil's largest dioceses and is the chancellor of the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, has been criticized before for his views on the matter. In 2003 he argued that only 1 million Jews died in the Holocaust, although he backed away from that in an interview this week, saying it "is evident that 6 million Jews were killed."

However, he repeated the suggestion that Jewish media power was distorting the picture.

The ADL issued a statement Wednesday saying: "The incident involving Archbishop Grings, who has a history of Holocaust denial, marks the third time in as many months where a Catholic clergyman has publicly denied or diminished the Holocaust."

Last month, a British bishop was removed from leading a seminary in Argentina after claiming that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. That bishop, Richard Williamson, has not recanted.

In January, Italian priest The Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz was quoted in an Italian newspaper as saying "I know the gas chambers existed at least for disinfecting but not whether they caused deaths or not."

Henry Chmelnitsky, vice president of the Jewish Federation of Rio Grande do Sul, said that in claiming more Catholics than Jews were killed, Grings was including Catholics who died on the battlefields of World War II, whereas "The Jews, the Gypsies, the communists and the handicapped were persecuted for being who they were."

The bishop is "mixing things that cannot be mixed," he said before meeting with Grings in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state.

The two men co-authored a letter published on the Press magazine's website Wednesday. In it they agreed to deepen the Catholic-Jewish dialogue in southern Brazil, reject any denial of the Holocaust and Jewish death toll, and repudiate the spread of ideas that could provoke anti-Semitism.

According to most historians, the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews and millions of other victims. Michael Berenbaum, a former director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said the toll includes approximately 5 million non-Jews, among them large numbers in mainly Catholic Poland, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, homosexuals, mental patients, political prisoners and other "undesirables."

Grings said Press magazine misunderstood -- but did not misquote -- his remarks. The magazine's editor gave the AP a recording of the interview.

Grings said he was trying to advocate for the millions of non-Jewish victims.

The Jews have defended their victims vigorously and "I have nothing against this, to the contrary," Grings told the AP. "What I would like to highlight is, yes, there obviously was a Holocaust. But the Jews weren't the only victims."

He said: "The Jews have tremendous media power. So they are able to show the barbarities that they suffered. That is one thing the Gypsies never had -- they never owned television or radio stations or newspapers to publish the barbarities and massacres they suffered."

In 2003, Grings claimed in an essay published on a Brazilian Catholic Internet portal that only 1 million Jews died in the Holocaust, and that the Nazis were responsible for 22 million deaths overall.

Asked to explain himself at the time, Grings told Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Brazil's largest, that the figure of 6 million Jewish dead was unproven, and that "We Catholics were the main victims of the Holocaust."

About 150,000 Jews live in Brazil, a mainly Catholic nation of 191 million people. About 12,000 Jews live in Rio Grande do Sul, according to Chmelnitsky.

"Our worry is with the fact that the archbishop represents the majority of the population in Porto Alegre, which is Catholic," Chmelnitsky said.

Associated Press writer Marco Sibaja contributed to this report from Brasilia.

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