A Catholic cardinal and a Polish government minister dug the first spadefuls of earth Monday to build an interfaith center near Auschwitz in a move intended to end a Jewish-Catholic dispute. The center will be a home for Carmelite nuns, whose convent beside the former World War II Nazi death camp in which 2-million people were killed has soured ties between Catholics and Jews.
Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Edgar Bronfman, president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress, met in Warsaw Monday and said the start of construction would help end the dispute and improve Poland's relations with Jews. "We expressed the conviction that today's laying of the cornerstone for the Auschwitz center marks the beginning of solving this problem," Mazowiecki said after the meeting.
Bronfman, who visits Auschwitz today, said there were signs of a rise of anti-Semitism in Poland, but added: "There are no outstanding problems between the Jewish people and Poland."
At Auschwitz, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski and Cabinet minister Jacek Ambroziak dug earth to symbolically launch the project. There were no Jewish representatives at the ceremony.
The new center's site is 800 yards from the present convent, built in 1984 in the former theater where Nazis are believed to have stored gas used to kill prisoners. Jewish organizations protested the convent's location and were outraged by the church's failure to honor a 1987 agreement to move it by February of last year.