A letter with a return PO box address arrived in my mailbox the other day. “Most likely another appeal for support from a worthy institution,” I thought. Surprise, surprise! It was a letter from Sister Gemma Del Duca, the founder of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill. Originally from Greensburg, she has lived in Jerusalem since 1975.
The letter was in response to a note I wrote in reply to a correspondence from Seton Hill a while ago. It took several months for it to reach Sister Del Duca, who is a widely known speaker and educator, primarily teaching Catholics about the Holocaust. My note remarked upon the coincidence that a well-known philanthropist from New York City, Dr. Ethel LeFrak, had recentlly donated a sizeable sum to the department of Holocaust Education at Seton Hill. It so happens that I was associated with a LeFrak organization for 23 years while in New York. In her letter, Sister Del Duca invited me to the next Kristallnacht program at Seton Hill in the fall.
Sister Del Duca’s letter was a ray of light from sunny Jerusalem. But as I researched Sister Del Duca and the work she has been doing, I soon came across voices of opposition, dark voices who label her as “The Kapo Nun,” and Israel, Yad Vashem and all other institutions that work to ensure that the facts of the Holocaust are not forgotten as “counterfeit.” These are the voices of the “radical traditionalist Catholic movement,” that I have been told is a tiny group within the Church, but still 100,000 people worldwide.
I am reminded once again how important it is to keep one’s antennae sensitized to speech that could lead to violence. When individuals like Sister Del Duca create powerful institutions like the National Center for Holocaust Education we must be aware that voices will rise up to dispute them. If we are complacent, thinking that these voices will never again become influential enough to inspire violence, we may be committing our children or our grandchildren to life in a world where such violence against many minorities in many societies is once again taken for granted.