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Welby at Auschwitz reflects on human propensity to evil

20 January 2017


Silent reflection: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Auschwitz-Birkenau last week

Silent reflection: the Archbishop of Canterbury in Auschwitz-Birkenau last week

HUMANITY “must protest to the limit against evil — before it occurs, as it happens, and in its aftermath”, the Archbishop of Canterbury urged last week after his third visit to the former Nazi German concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland.

“But there is also a need for silent reflection — in which we honour the victims, mourn our capacity for evil, and learn to beware,” he wrote in reflections posted on his Facebook page on Thursday of last week.

Archbishop Welby went on a three-day retreat to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, with clerics from the Learning Community, last week. The group considered “issues of human evil: how we recognise it and how we respond”, he wrote.

“The vulnerable, the disabled, marginalised minorities, and above all the Jews: children, adults and the elderly, taken from a train to their deaths in as little as 30 minutes. Accounts were kept, profits were sought. No one can deny the reality of what happened.”

The perpetrators at Auschwitz tried to dehumanise their victims at the cost of their own humanity, the Archbishop wrote. “People killed people. . . it was idolatrous and demonic. It was evil in the strict sense of human-created alternatives to the grace and providence of God.”

Archbishop Welby went on to praise the “powerful” reflections of the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Canon Sam Wells, and the Dean of Liverpool, the Very Revd Dr Peter Wilcox — who joined him on the retreat — on four questions: “Having seen this terrible place, could we still speak of God? Could we still pray, and, if so, in what way? Could we hear the tunes of evil in such a way that we recognise their modern variations? Even if we recognised evil, how could we know we would have the courage to protest, to lament — and not be silent when horror threatened?”

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