Pope honors Slovak Holocaust victims on site of demolished synagogue

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By Robert Muller

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) -Pope Francis, at a memorial to the more than 100,000 Slovak Jews killed in the Holocaust, said on Monday that it was shameful how people who said they believed in God perpetrated or permitted "unspeakable acts of inhumanity".

At a somber ceremony at a spot where a synagogue wasdemolished during the post-war communist era, ostensibly to make room for a bridge, the pope said the real reason was because "they wanted to cancel every trace of the (Jewish) community."

"Here, in this place, the Name of God was dishonored, for the worst form of blasphemy is to exploit it for our own purposes, refusing to respect and love others," the pope told representatives of the Jewish communities of Slovakia.

"Here, reflecting on the history of the Jewish people marked by this tragic affront to the Most High, we admit with shame how often his ineffable Name has been used for unspeakable acts of inhumanity!" Francis said.

The open space, which is adjacent to a Catholic cathedral and other buildings what were spared, is now a memorial to the dead. The Jewish community in Slovakia now numbers about 2,600 people.

"How many oppressors have declared 'God is with us' but it was they who were not with God," Francis said, before listening to testimonies by a survivor who lost his parents in the Holocaust and a nun who spoke of Catholics who risked their lives to save Jews.

At the end of the ceremony a cantor sang in Hebrew while standing near stones from the demolished temple.

Jozef Haľko, an assistant bishop of Bratislava, told reporters at the site that it was "paradoxical" that the communists decided to destroy the synagogue while letting other buildings there stand.

Last week, Slovakia marked the 80th anniversary of the Jewish Codex - a legal framework for the persecution of Jews. Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger apologised to the Jewish community on behalf of the country on the anniversary.

A survey by Globsec think-tank last year said 51% of respondents said Jews held too much power globally and that they were controlling governments and other institutions.

During World War Two, the Slovak State, a puppet regime established under the auspices of Nazi Germany in 1939 after the breakup of Czechoslovakia, had even pledged to pay the Nazis for each Jew transported out of the country.

The wartime President, Catholic priest Jozef Tiso, is still revered by some groups in Slovakia, including members of a far-right party whose logo and other symbols are inspired by those used then by Tiso. He was sentenced to death and executed for war crimes in 1947.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Philip Pullella, William Maclean)

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