How the Bulgarian Jews Survived the Holocaust (Online)

The New Jersey Commission on Holocaust and Genocide Education and the Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher Endowment are sponsoring the online event, “How the Bulgarian Jews Survived the Holocaust,” on Friday, April 21, 2023, from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Microsoft Teams.

Joseph Benatov, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, will be this year’s guest speaker.

On April 21, he will present two workshops:

  • “How did Bulgarian Jewry survive the Holocaust?” from 9:15–10:40 a.m.
    (includes an introduction on Bulgarian Jewry)
  • “Resources for teaching Bulgarian Jewry and the Holocaust – history books, novels popular works and film” from 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.

The event is free, but you must RSVP in advance by calling (973) 761-9751 or emailing me at

I hope you will join us!

Father Edward H. Flannery (1912-1998)

Father Edward H. Flannery

We in the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies are delighted that Father Edward H. Flannery has been inducted into the Rhode Island Hall of Fame! This is a sign that his many decades as an educator with a special mission to promote understanding and harmony between Christians and Jews is appreciated!

Father Flannery joined Msgr. John Oesterreicher in the Institute at Seton Hall University in 1965 and remained on campus after becoming the officer in charge of Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference in 1967. When all of these offices were consolidated, he moved to Washington, D.C. in 1970.

We are fortunate that Father Flanner donated his papers to Walsh Library on the Seton Hall campus, where they are available for research.

You can read the report on this honor in the Rhode Island Catholic here.

2023 Day of Judaism and Christian Unity Week

Christian Unity Week

Christians have been joining together for an octave of ecumenical prayer (January 18-25) for 115 years. This observance seeks the fullness of unity in Jesus’ prayer:

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21, New American Bible)

This tradition of praying for peace and harmony, once referred to as the Church Unity Octave (eight days) and now called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was established in January 1908 by Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement in Graymoor, NY. Over the years, it has flourished into global observance by people of all denominations throughout the world.

The Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute’s, “Brief History of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, 2020,” provides an excellent outline of the historical development of the prayer for unity. Refer also to my 30-minute interviews “Prayer for Christian Unity in the Context of Christian Unity Week” with Monsignor John A. Radano and “Christian Ecumenism and the Society of the Atonement” with Sister Lorilei Fuchs, SA, of blessed memory.

In the 1990s, the Bishops of Italy in partnership with leaders of the Jewish community promoted a “Day of Judaism” for January 17th on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Bishops of Poland, Austria and other European countries have adopted similar annual days of Christian-Jewish reflections with variations.

A liturgical day of remembrance, the “Day of Judaism” reminds all Christians to explore the roots of Christianity in its Jewish matrix and to value the enduring significance of Judaism and its Sacred Scriptures. This reflection on the Biblical heritage that we share with the Jewish people is an ideal way to inaugurate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The theme for the 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Do good; seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17) and this year’s texts for use each day was prepared by the Minnesota Council of Churches.

“The context from which these materials were first drafted is the aftermath of the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd and the trial of the police officer responsible for his death. As the Christian communities of Minnesota sought to respond to the anguish of these events they also recognised their own historical complicity in perpetuating divisions which have contributed to racial injustice. The Church is called to be the sign and instrument of the unity God desires for the whole of His creation (cf. Lumen gentium, 1) but the division between Christians weakens the Church’s effectiveness. Christians must repent of their divisions and work together in order to be a source of reconciliation and unity in the world.” (“Texts for 2023 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” The Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity)

The suggestions for each day of the week of prayer are available on the website of the Friars of Atonement at

May these days of interfaith and ecumenical prayer and reflection lead us to implement just deeds that effect peaceful relations throughout our world!

Anatomy and Medicine in the Nazi Period

A doctor examining a child in the ghetto clinic in Bedzin, Poland, with a nurse at his side wearing the Jewish badge.

The Graduate Program in Jewish-Christian Studies (JCST) is offering an online Teachers Study Day, Anatomy and Medicine in the Nazi Period, on Microsoft Teams, from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., on Monday, April 25, 2022. We invite educators and other interested individuals to attend the program, which is free.

Sabine Hildebrandt, MD is our guest speaker. She is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Harvard University. Her publications include The Anatomy of Murder: Ethical Transgression and Anatomical Science during the Third Reich and a biography of Jewish refugee physician Käthe Beutler.

Dr. Hildebrandt is co-editor of Recognizing the Past in the Present: Medicine before, during and after the Holocaust. She is also a member of the American Association for Anatomy Task Forces on Legacy Collections and the one on Structural Racism.

On April 25, Dr. Hildebrandt will present two workshops:

  • “Introduction to the History of Medicine, Nazism and the Holocaust”
    (from 9:15 a.m. to 10:40 a.m.); and
  • “From Routine to Murder – Anatomy in Nazi Germany and Its Legacies for Today” (from 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.)

This study day was developed for New Jersey teachers of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. It offers three Professional Development/Continuing Education Credit hours for educators. However, the study day is open to all those interested in the study of the Holocaust and Genocide.

To register, contact me via email at I will reply with information about joining the Microsoft Teams program after you register.

I hope you will join us on April 25th!

Counteracting Hatred

Over the years many educators and other people of goodwill have fostered ways to promote proper relationships within society. Some explicitly cite the Golden Rule in one of its many forms to provide a foundation for such expression of human decency.  See Scarboro Missions:

In the past year and more, we have experienced the wrath of a pandemic that has caused many to retreat into isolation with its concomitant tensions and worries. It seems that some people have made a practice of lashing out against others. This has included acts against individuals and groups of especially vulnerable people. Besides decrying the abuse and violence we invite leaders in every community to offer guidance to those who show vicious forms of hatred, especially against Asians and Jewish people.

The Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies endorses the statement of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, “A Call for Solidarity with Our Jewish Colleagues and Neighbors:”

We also pray for peace in the Middle East and for the success of efforts to overcome the scourge of Covid-19.

Protestant Convention in Jerusalem, April 2001

The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary organized the Protestant Convention in Jerusalem. This is a photo of their Motherhouse in Darmstadt, Germany.

Motherhouse of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany. derbrauni, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The visit of Pope St. John Paul II to the Holy Land, especially his days in Jerusalem, made a profound impression on Christians throughout Europe. This became the stimulant for the Evangelische (Protestant) Sisters of Darmstadt to organize a Protestant convention, “Changing the Future by Confronting the Past,” in Jerusalem from April 17-22, 2001.

During the Pope’s visit to Israel, ordinary Jewish citizens were asking, “Where are the Protestants?” So we were thankful that more than 700 Christians from over 25 countries, especially throughout the Protestant tradition, joined us in April. ‘We were astonished by the harmony of purpose experienced between people from different nations, different cultures, yet all drawn together by a common purpose- a desire to repent for what his or her country had done to the Jews,’ to quote one delegate. The wider the spectrum of Christians represented at this act of repentance in Jerusalem, the more meaningful it would be to the Jewish people.  Though not necessarily sharing the same theological views, we were united in repentance and in our desire to demonstrate our support for the Jewish people.*

I was privileged to be the Catholic speaker at the conference that reviewed the history of Christian-Jewish relations over the centuries. The text of my presentation is here.

How did I receive the invitation? A Brother in the Community working with the Darmstadt Sisters is from Millburn, N.J. When he visited his father, he came to see me, and we discussed our common hope for positive developments in Christian-Jewish relations.  Shortly before the Convention dates, the Catholic speaker was no longer available so Brother Sylvestro contacted me. It was a memorable privilege to join with this large group of pilgrims for those days.

The most solemn part of the Convention is described by the Sisters:

The climax was the repentance service on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel, led by an international team of clergy.  A hush fell on the gathering as Bishop Christian Zippert of Germany opened with a prayer to the Eternal Father, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘Following the example of Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel, who confessed their sins and the sins of their fathers at crucial times in their nation’s history, we want to begin this new millennium with a public confession of sin before God and the Jewish people here in Jerusalem, where the Church began.’*

In attendance were over 1200, including 200 members of the Jewish community.  A declaration repudiating anstisemitism and signed by over 32,500 Christians in 36 countries was received by Rabbi Paul Laderman on behalf of the Jewish community with the assurance it would be permanently stored in the National Archive of the State of Israel.

Twenty years have passed, and the prayerful work of repentance and peacemaking continues. May the goodwill and hope of this and many other encounters dispose us, Jews and Christians, to be recipients and vehicles of divine blessings!

*Taken from the letter of thanks to those who supported “Jerusalem 2001 Convention: Changing the Future by Confronting the Past.” © The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary  Darmstadt, Germany.

New Program in Jewish-Christian Studies

Recently the Cardinal Bea Centre of the Gregorian University (Rome) has announced that a two-year interdisciplinary graduate program will lead to a Licentiate in Judaic Studies and Jewish-Christian Relations. A licentiate is the ecclesiastical degree equivalent to a Master’s degree in other settings.

In a webinar on April 21, 2021, Father Etienne Veto, the Director of the Bea Centre, presented the program. Sixty to seventy percent of the courses will be in Judaic Studies on a range of topics, including art and literature, leading to a deep understanding of Judaism. The second facet of the program will be Catholic-Jewish relations, leading to a Christian self-perception in the light of Judaism. Following the Second Vatican Council, Catholics will understand that the Jewish people have not been replaced by the Church. Rather, the Church “draws nourishment from the good olive tree onto which the wild olive branch of the Gentiles have been grafted (see Romans 11:17-24)” (Declaration Nostra aetate no. 4)

Graduates of this program will be equipped to pursue interfaith collaboration and peace-building through research and teaching.

The guest speaker in the webinar was Father Norbert Hofmann, of the Salesians and the long-time Secretary of the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews. He drew attention to the words of Pope Francis in an audience with members of the American Jewish Committee. The Pope presented three goals for Catholic-Jewish encounters:

  1. Collaboration in works of charity on behalf of the poor and suffering.
  2. Building on the heritage of the Second Vatican Council for mutual esteem and friendship.
  3. Deepening the Christian theology of Judaism on the basis of the statement for the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican II Declaration in 2015, “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

Father Hofmann drew attention to the need for involvement of young people in Catholic-Jewish relations. The Commission has promoted this through biennial international “Emerging Leadership Conference,” which brings fifty young people together for several days of study.

Seton Hall University’s M.A. Program in Jewish-Christian Studies welcomes this new development of the Gregorian University’s Cardinal Bea Centre!  As our program enters its 45th year we look forward to opportunities for collaboration!

M. L’Abbé Kurt Hruby (1921-1992)

Photo of Father Kurt Hruby

Father Kurt Hruby

The centennial of a birth is a good time to remember the life of a benefactor. Kurt Hruby was born in Austria in 1921, the son of an Austrian Christian who divorced his Jewish wife after the Nazis took over Austria in March 1938. Kurt joined his mother in her flight to Palestine. There he acquired a fluency in modern Hebrew and a profound knowledge of the Ashkenazi (eastern European) rabbinic tradition. His survey of “Post Biblical History of the Jews” is published in The New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2010.

On visits to Paris in the 1960s and 70s I would spend time in the library of the Fathers of Sion. There I met Father Hruby and benefited from his erudition and sense of humor. On occasion we met at international gatherings of those promoting Christian-Jewish relations. He was editor of the Swiss journal Judaica from the early 1970s until his death.

Father Hruby was a younger member of the generation of pioneers who prepared the Church for the Second Vatican Council and the new encounter between Christians and Jews. May they rest in peace and may our work build upon the foundation that they set in place!

Directory for Catechesis: New Document of the Holy See

A copy of Titian’s “The Descent of the Holy Ghost” appears on the cover of the updated “Directory for Catechesis.” Titian / Public domain

The rapid changes brought about in the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been overwhelming to many. However, leaders have stepped forward to assist people in adapting in the face of grave exigencies. Our increasing dependence on the internet has accelerated, but already the challenge was recognized in many religious communities. A recent publication of the Holy See (“The Vatican”) provides insights into the Church’s effort to respond to the difficulties and opportunities that the Church sees on the road ahead.

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has issued the third Directory for Catechesis since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The preface notes that a span of 26 and 23 years separates these documents, the second building on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the third on the Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, followed by the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, of Pope Francis (2013). The new developments that challenge the Church are “the phenomenon of digital culture and the globalization of culture” (p. 4, italics in the original).

The Directory refers to the kerygma, which in ancient times was a herald’s brief proclamation of important news. For Christians, the kerygma is the brief proclamation of the Death-and-Resurrection of Jesus (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)  in its salutary  impact on the world, as accepted by the faith-filled community. “All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the Kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis…” (Evangelii  Gaudium 164-165).

Many points in this Directory of 278 pages should be pondered by Catholic teachers of our faith. I draw attention to Chapter X, “Catechesis in the Face of Contemporary Cultural Scenarios.”  Here one finds reference to the context of inner-Christian ecumenism and catechesis in relation to Judaism. The two sections on Catholic-Jewish relations are rooted in the Second Vatican Council Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate) and documents from the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews:

Thanks to her Jewish roots the Church is anchored in salvation history. To understand better some aspects of her own life, the Church brings back to light the spiritual riches preserved in Judaism. The goals of dialogue will also include a firm stance against all forms of anti-Semitism and the shared commitment to peace, justice, and development among peoples (347).

Catechists on every level must teach that Jesus was a Jew at home in the Jewish tradition and “was decisively shaped by this religious milieu.” They must emphasize the unity of the two Testaments and that “the New Covenant does not replace God’s Covenant with Israel” (348).

The next section, “Catechesis and Digital Culture,” presents the positive and negative aspects of a new culture, “changing language, shaping mentalities and restructuring value hierarchies” (359). This technology can extend and enrich human cognitive capacities, but this environment may promote loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence. “These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate” (361).

The challenge in this new context is to move “from religious information to accompaniment and to the experience of God…Catechesis is called to find adequate means for addressing the big questions on the meaning of life, corporeality, affectivity, gender identity, justice and peace…” (371). The goal of religious instruction is to foster a transition “from the individualistic and isolated world of social media to the ecclesial community, the place where the experience of God creates communion and sharing of life” (372).

Building on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and recent magisterial documents, catechesis must deal with questions of bioethics (373-378), the integrity of the person (379-380), environmental engagement (381-383), options for the poor (385-388), social engagement (389-391) and the work environment (392-393).

Within the Christian and Jewish communities many teachers are grappling with the various challenges integral to the communication of faith to the younger generation, as well as “lifelong learning,” so emphasized in the Jewish tradition. There may be ways of building upon the responses being made to the rapid moving and global outreach of the technology that shapes our societies in so many ways. Are there approaches that can be shared?

Music of Those Persecuted by the Nazis

The prisoners’ orchestra in Buchenwald concentration camp. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Gedenkstaette Buchenwald

Music is an art that can transcend the limitations of language, bringing people together and allowing us of a later time to share something of an insight into their experience.  The study of music during the Nazi period, and especially in the concentration camps, is a special discipline that gives inspiring evidence of spiritual resistance to the brutality of the Nazis and their collaborators.

The New York Times offers a report by Milton Esterow, “Music From the Death Camps: Alive and Being Readied for a New Home.” The text focuses on the plan of Mr. Francisco Lotoro of Barletta in southeast Italy to build a museum, library and theatre dedicated to the study of music by “Jews… political and other religious prisoners in many countries and music created by musicians ‘of any national, social or religious background’.”

An organization called the Exil.Arte Centre at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts was founded in 2017 to recover and study music banned by the Nazis as “degenerate.” It arranges performances, prepares recordings and publishes books.

In addition to Mr. Esterow’s survey of other centers focusing on music that survived that tragic period, I wish to draw attention to the extensive work of Tamara Reps Freeman, D.M.A. (Rutgers University), who is an Adjunct Professor of Holocaust Music at St. Elizabeth College in Morristown-Convent Station and Montclair State University.  Visit her website at

Lastly I would like to make reference to the global education network, ORT. This organization also maintains a website dedicated to the role of music in the Holocaust: The website features:

  • articles that describe the wide range of musical activities that took place in camps and ghettos across Nazi-occupied Europe
  • sound recordings of music and songs written and sung by victims
  • full-length compositions written primarily in Theresienstadt
  • a “Resources and References” page,which offers materials that have been created specifically for secondary school teachers as well as for those educators who are interested in including music in their Holocaust commemoration events”