Is there a chance that the religions of the world can live together in peace, or, to be more concrete, Judaism and Catholicism?

EW: The second question is the simpler one. Since I come from a very religious background I study the history of religions and the philosophy of religions. When I was very young I did nothing but study the Talmud and the Bible. When I took up my lessons I forgot about everything else. That is why I still study today, and I have studied Catholicism too. There have been periods in Catholic history that involved my people which were not particularly happy ones for them. The Inquisition in Spain: I cannot understand it; to this very day I cannot understand it. Recall Dostoevsky; he has a powerful section on the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor, who thinks that everything he does is for Christ. Finally, Christ comes to him, yet he drives him away and says: "You are bothering me. Go away!" I cannot understand how people can be persecuted and put to the torch in the name of love and in the name of love of God. I simply cannot understand it.

Just as little do I understand the Crusades. At the origins of the Crusades there is perhaps a good idea, from a Catholic perspective: to go to Jerusalem and save the holy places. But on the way they killed Jews. Every time. They had nothing to do with Jews, but they killed Jews. I cannot understand it.

I would like to tell you something more, which might be painful for you. I owe it to you to be honest. As a Jew I feel what my people feel. I try to go beyond it and feel what you feel. But the best example is that of the cross. For you the cross is a symbol of love and compassion. Not for my people. For there have been times—naturally not today, hut there have been times—when the cross symbolized, indeed incarnated, suffering and horror. Does this mean that Christians today are responsible for that? God forbid! What happened years and centuries ago in Catholic history is not your work. That is why I can come into an open dialogue with you.

Turning to the first part of your question, about the community of religions, I wish I could be more optimistic. I believe that the Messiah will come one day, and then all peoples will joyfully embrace all other peoples. But until then? Until then there are so many problems: religious, economic, political and ecological. Show me a human being who does not have any problems. There aren't any. On the other hand, I do believe that there is progress. Economic progress is taking place all around the globe. More and more Jews and Catholics are meeting one another. More and more Jews and Christians are meeting one another. And Muslims. This is extremely important. We should come together and discuss our past and our present—without any prejudice, without any despair. Just the fact that we can meet with one another is a sign of the greatest, immeasurable hope.

Look. Superficially there are so many things that divide us: you, a young German Christian, and me. Not just age and language, but history. I belong to a people which has experienced tremendous suffering at the hands of your people. I remember this, and you should remember it just as much. This does not mean, this should not mean, that we cannot form a deeply felt relationship. I do not believe—I will repeat this to my dying day—I do not believe in collective guilt. I have never believed in it, and I will never believe in it. I will never accept the idea of collective guilt. Only the guilty are guilty. Only the passive onlookers have some part in this guilt—on a different level. You have struggled with the same question as I: What do we make of our past? I am certain of this: for you it is a burden. For me, no. My past means something different for me. I bear it. I take it up. I want it to become more and more a part of my awareness as well as my consciousness. If possible, I want it to be transformed for me as a writer into an act of creativity. If I were a musician, I would say: into music. One thing is clear to me: I must take hold of yesterday's images and transform them into a bridge, into a connection, a burning connection. And this connection should not separate me from you—rather, the opposite. It should bring me closer to you and, so I hope, also you to me.

 

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