Members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops-Canadian Rabbinic Caucus Bilateral Dialogue put on a screening of the 2000 Czech film ‘Divided We Fall’ at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto. Photo by Michael Swan

Movie night spotlights growing relationship between Christians and Jews

  • May 16, 2018

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his government would formally apologize for sending refugee Jews back to Nazi death camps during the Second World War, Canadian bishops, rabbis and their supporters were down the street watching a movie.

The movie night at Beth Tzedec Congregation — North America’s largest Conservative Jewish congregation — was put on by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops-Canadian Rabbinic Caucus Bilateral Dialogue as a way of bringing their conversation about Christians and Jews to a larger audience. About 150 showed up to see the 2000 Czech film Divided We Fall, a comedic drama about a Catholic Czech couple hiding a Jewish neighbour in the pantry of their Prague apartment.

At the end of the May 8 screening, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, senior rabbi at Beth Tzedec and a member of the CCCB-CRC dialogue, announced the planned apology to warm, sustained applause from both Catholics and Jews in the audience.

“In that case, there was no room in the manger and people died as a result,” Frydman-Kohl said.

The MS St. Louis ocean liner carrying over 900 Jewish refugees was turned away from ports in Canada, the United States and Cuba in 1939. Unable to find safe refuge, 254 passengers were eventually murdered in the Nazi camps. Also in 1939, an anonymous Canadian Immigration official was asked how many Jews would be allowed to enter Canada after the war and he replied “None is too many.” Over the six years of the war, Canada admitted a mere 5,000 Jews.

“It is our hope that this long overdue apology will bring awareness to our failings, as we vow to never let history repeat itself,” Trudeau told a fundraising dinner for the annual March of the Living.

Each year the March of the Living takes young people to Germany, Poland and Israel to learn about the Holocaust that killed six million Jews. 

That the Holocaust was also the subject of the CCCB-CRC film night was more than coincidence. The tragedy is still the starting point for a new relationship between Jews and Christians that was forged after the war and given formal religious expression from the Second Vatican Council.

Before the Holocaust “Catholic culture lost sight of the common humanity that Catholics share with Jews,” said Gatineau Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher.

In Divided We Fall, the film culminates with a plea before members of a militia who are taking over as Nazis flee the city: “Be human.”

“We’re so messed up in that we lose the sense of our humanity,” said a tearful Durocher as he delivered a Catholic response to the movie.

“We are seeking to build the bridges to acknowledge our common humanity,” said Frydman-Khol. “There are also covenantal relationships that we share. The next steps are to build those bridges.”

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