One of the most moving encounters in Pope Francis’ papacy took place on Feb. 20, 2021. That day, the pope paid a visit to the home of Edith Bruck in Rome.
Bruck, 88, is Jewish and a Holocaust survivor. Born in Hungary in 1932, she and her family, including her parents, two brothers and one sister, were taken to a ghetto in Budapest when the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944. They were later sent to concentration camps, where her parents and one brother died. Bruck and her sister, Eliz, survived concentration camps in Auschwitz, Dachau, Christianstadt and Bergen-Belsen before being liberated by the Allies of World War II in 1945.
After a series of personal struggles (she was married and divorced three times before age 20), Bruck moved to Italy in 1954, where she met and married her fourth husband, Nelo Risi, a poet and movie director. Bruck began a career as a writer, sharing her memories of the Holocaust through books, including her latest, Il Pane Perduto (“The Lost Bread”).
A week after the release of The Lost Bread, an interview with Bruck appeared in “L’Osservatore Romano,” the Vatican’s daily newspaper. The interview began with an editor’s note: “Edith Bruck, now almost 90 years old, has dedicated her life to bearing witness, keeping a promise she made to two strangers in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, who asked her to bear testament: ‘Tell our story. They will not believe you, but if you survive, tell it, for us too.’ Edith kept her promise.”
Pope Francis read the interview with Bruck and arranged to meet with her at her home. “I have come here to thank you for your testimony and to pay homage to the people martyred by the insanity of Nazi populism,” the pope told Bruck.
In her Jan. 27 interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Bruck recalled some of the horrors of those years, as well as what she called moments of light “which did not seem so at that time and which I only recognized later on.”
Near the end of the interview, Bruck was asked what she fears today and what gives her reason for hope.
“I fear intolerance, lack of dialogue and mistrust of others,” she said. “I fear the winds of fascism that blow ever more often and spread dangerously in our lives. I have hope in the younger generations, in a more rooted and widespread human and civil consciousness.”
Bruck’s fears are valid. Think back to the siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and the anti-Semitic images worn by “patriotic” insurrectionists. These included a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie and another wearing a shirt that read: 6MWE, which means “6 Million Weren’t Enough,” a reference to the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
It is for these reasons that education about the Holocaust is so important, especially in our schools. That is why legislation before the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly needs passage.
The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), on behalf of Wisconsin’s Catholic bishops, submitted written testimony in favor of Assembly Bill 55 on March 10. AB-55 is a bipartisan bill that would require Wisconsin public and private schools to incorporate lessons about the Holocaust and other genocides into middle and high school social studies classes.
“While the WCC does not generally support mandates imposed upon private schools, in this instance, the subject matter is of such great importance that our duty to educate and condemn genocide compels our support for AB-55,” the WCC said in its written testimony.
AB-55 is expected to pass the Assembly this week, according to Kim Vercauteren, WCC executive director. A companion bill, SB-69, has already passed the State Senate. The timing of this legislation is important, as the United States observes Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in April. The observance actually ran April 4 through April 11.
Before departing from his visit with Bruck last February, Pope Francis told her, “With sincerity, I repeat the words I pronounced in the heart of Yad Vashem (the world Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem) and which I repeat before every person like you who suffered so much because of it: ‘Forgive, Lord, in the name of humanity.’”
Remembering, especially by educating our youth about the Holocaust, is one way we can honor the lives of those who died and respect their final wish to “tell our story.”