Monday, August 8, 2011

Tzadik Or Rasha?

Reverend Hugh Grimes was a Church of England minister in Austria during the second world war. After the German occupation of Austria, Reverend Grimes started baptizing Jews en-masse with the hopes that as Christians they would be allowed to leave. According to the BBC:

"You can actually fit the baptisms to the chronology of what was going on in Vienna. On the 23 July, the identity card was introduced with a "J" on it.
"On the day after that, 129 people were baptised here. The following day there were 229. I mean, the church itself only sits 125 people."
Before long, baptism queues were forming down the street outside Christ Church.
The reason for all this appears to be the hope that baptism certificates would help the city's increasingly persecuted Jews escape the country.

So is Reverend Grimes a Tzadik or a Rasha? both views are presented in the BBC piece. On the one hand are those who see the baptisms as a cynical use of the plight of the Jews, desperate to escape Nazi occupation:

But looking back, Jewish historian Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway, University of London, is appalled by what appears to him like a crass recruitment exercise of vulnerable people by a proselytising church.
"Any Christians who took advantage of the pressure on Jews to baptise them were doing just that. They were using leverage of the most terrible sort.
"There were many other ways that members of the Christian clergy could have helped Jews - offering hiding places, false papers and other kinds of assistance."

On the other hand are those stressing that the Reverend Grimes helped save the lives of those Jews, using the only means available to him. 

The question of whether he is a saint or a villain can only be determined by answering the question of what was the motive of Reverend Grimes. Was he primarily concerned with saving the Jews, or "saving" their soul. The BBC article certainly portrays him in a favorable light as does the write up in Wikipedia, which claims that 1800 Jews were saved through the baptisms.   

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