Refugees on Macedonian-Greek border.
Refugees on Macedonian-Greek border. Reuters

To help European countries cope with the onslaught of refugees from Syria and other countries, Pope Francis on Sunday urged Catholic institutions to open their doors and house refugees until they could get on the their feet. "May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe host a family, starting from my diocese of Rome,” Francis said at the end of a prayer service in Rome Sunday. The refugees, he said were fleeing from “war and hunger,” and it was only right that the Church open its doors to aid refugees.

By way of example, he said, the Vatican’s two parishes would take in two refugee families.

For Jewish observers and Holocaust survivors, many of the aspects of the current crisis have been bringing back chilling memories – and renewed misgivings about how governments and churches in Europe did little to nothing to rescue Jews who were to be murdered by the Nazis. In the Czech Republic, for example, officials halted a program in which they were marking refugees with numbers to identify them for aid purposes. Activists compared the action to the tattooing of Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust, and after an uproar, the Czech government halted the practice.

Observers compared the call by Francis to house Syrian refugees with the underwhelming reaction of the Catholic Church to the Jewish refugee crisis during World War II. According to historians, while there were exceptions, the vast majority of church personnel during the Holocaust “were mostly silent while Jews were persecuted, deported and murdered by the Nazis,” according to historian Victoria J. Barnett, an expert on church activity during the Holocaust.

The role of Pope Pius, who reigned during the Holocaust, has been sharply debated, with supporters claiming that he was able to “silently” save tens of thousands of Jews, and detractors saying that he could have done much more to save Jews – but chose not to. “Apparently the Church has learned the lesson of the Holocaust,” said one observer. “It's too bad that it took the deaths of six million Jews to teach those lessons.”