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The Pope in the Holy Land: Visit to Holocaust Museum a 'Turning Point' to Some, Disappointment to Others

Aired March 23, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: "A single moment that held within it 2,000 years of history," that's how Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak described the emotional visit today of Pope John Paul II to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial. One Holocaust survivor called the visit a "turning point." But others are dismayed by what they did not hear.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel joins us from Jerusalem with more -- Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, whatever it was, whatever it was not, this was a very emotional ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Pope John Paul II insisted that this be an element, a strong element in his rather unique Holy Land pilgrimage. And when he laid wreath paying tribute to the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis, he -- after that, he delivered what was a very emotive identification with the victims and with the survivors.

But if some Israelis, some Jews had been anticipating that there would be more and that the pope would take a stand and refer to the position of the church during the Holocaust, the -- before World War II and during it -- the controversial actions, as some see it, of the war-time pope, Pius XII, whether he could have done more, whether he should have spoken out, there was nothing of that in the pope's statement.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, mentioned the "silence," as he said, silence that did not only come from the heavens. But apart from that, Mr. Barak did seem to be willing to receive that outstretched hand of reconciliation, which the pope offered, perhaps the friendliest pope, regarded as the friendliest pope, to the Jewish people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Your coming here today to the Tent of Remembrance at Yad Vashem is a climax of this historic journey of healing. Here, right now, time itself has come to a standstill. This very moment holds within it 2000 years of history. And the weight is almost too much to bear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KESSEL: Another poignant moment when, instead of them coming over to him, the pope went over to six Holocaust survivors and greeted them. And it was particularly emotional when he greeted one woman, who was said to have been carried at the age of 19, having survived the Holocaust, by the pope after the end of the war in the liberation to a railway station where she joined other survivors, being carried on the pope, who was then a young seminarian in Poland, to the -- into the arms of other survivors.

It was a poignant moment, but if there was -- this whole controversy continuing over whether the pope had said enough, about the controversy of the war-time role of the church and what the church did do or did not say during the Holocaust. It is a controversy that is set to continue.

I'm Jerrold Kessel, CNN, reporting live from Jerusalem.

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