A Survivor and a Cardinal: Chicago's Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Reflects on Cardinal Cupich's Recent Visit to Auschwitz

It was quite natural, given the long history, of Catholic-Jewish dialogue in Chicago, that one of the early invitations Cardinal Cupich received after becoming archbishop was to visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. During that visit, he met Museum President Fritzie Fritzshall, herself a holocaust survivor.  From that meeting, a new friendship was formed. Both were concerned about the rise in hate speech and anti-Semitism and as the years went on, they collaborated in efforts to combat both.  

This past year, Fritzie told the Cardinal that she was going to return to Auschwitz with a delegation from the Museum. While it would be a personally difficulty trip, given her age, she felt it important to return, for perhaps the last time, to continue her life work of making sure the world never forgets the Holocaust. Cardinal Cupich immediately volunteered to accompany her.  So it was that a Cardinal and a holocaust survivor visited Auschwitz and he heard her own memories of that dark time of history, now seven decades later.

While at the camp, Fritzie asked Cardinal Cupich, “How could this happen?” Reflecting on that moment later,  Cardinal Cupich wrote: “My first reaction was to say there really is no response to how members of the human race could be so callous and brutal, to the point of targeting people for extermination because of their heritage and religion, . . . Yet, that is not a satisfactory response. Such brutality does not come naturally to human beings; it is taught progressively through the creation of a false narrative about others, which, step by step, is accepted as the new normal.”

Cardinal Cupich has always been outspoken against defamation and hate speech. But his friendship with Fritzie has personalized that conviction. Personal relationships are the foundational and most important aspect of dialogue. They make it impossible to think of another human being as “other.”

The Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima is vicar for ecumenical and interreligious affairs of the Archdiocese of Chicago.