The War of the Crosses at Auschwitz began in 1979 when Polish Catholics placed a small Christian cross at the site of “the little white house” in the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau. The cross was placed there on the occasion of the announcement by the Vatican that the Catholic church was initiating the beatification process for Edith Stein, a converted Jew, who had become a Carmelite nun before she was gassed in Bunker #2, aka “the little white house.”
Beatification is the first step toward sainthood, but before that, there must be some indication that the candidate for sainthood was a martyr, or at least that he or she performed a miracle. Edith Stein qualified as a martyr because she was gassed in Bunker #2.
After the Catholics fired the first shot in the War of the Crosses, the Jews fired back when they erected symbols of their own in honor of the Jews who were gassed in “the little white house.” The war was to last for ten years. The War of the Crosses was fought to establish whether or not the Jews had the right to claim Auschwitz as their own, with the exclusion of all other groups that had also suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Edith Stein was gassed because she had been born a Jew, but the Catholics were claiming her as one of their own because she had converted to Catholicism.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II returned to Poland, his native land, and said Mass before a crowd of 500,000 Polish Catholics at Birkenau. In 1988, the huge 26-foot Cross that had been used at that Mass was placed inside a former gravel pit on the back side of the Block 11 building, which is inside the Auschwitz main camp. The gravel pit was the spot where 152 Polish Resistance fighters had been executed by the Nazis during World War II.
In 1984, some Carmelite nuns moved into the former theater building just outside the main Auschwitz camp and converted it into a convent. The building is shown in the photo below.
The Jews were offended because this was a sacred building that had been used during the Holocaust to store the cans of Zyklon-B for gassing the Jews at Birkenau. (The stored Zyklon-B had also been used for disinfecting the clothing at the Auschwitz main camp.)
In August 1998, almost ten years after the start of the War of the Crosses, Polish nationalists put up around 300 Christian crosses in response to the demands of the Jews that the Cross from the Mass be removed. The “Save the Cross” campaign was started by Polish patriot, Kazmirierz Switon. He was the one who called for crosses to be placed in the former gravel pit in response to the demand of the Jews that the Papal Cross be removed. The gravel pit was a sacred place for the Poles because 152 Polish patriots had been executed there.
My 1998 photo above shows the Theater building which the Carmelite nuns used as a convent and a memorial to the 152 Polish Resistance fighters who were executed in the gravel pit.
After the Catholics refused to take down the Crosses, an agreement was finally reached in March 1997 between Jewish leaders and Polish representatives, which stated that no religious, political or ideological symbols would be allowed at Auschwitz. The agreement was signed in December 1997; the 26-foot Cross used by Pope John Paul II when he said Mass at Birkenau in 1979 was not included in the agreement. The Polish Parliament passed a new law which established a one-hundred-meter neutral zone around Auschwitz and eight other Nazi camps. On May 28, 1999, Polish police removed the 300 crosses that had been put up by the Catholics at Auschwitz.
The War of the Crosses is over, but not forgotten. It is still taught in American Universities. For example, it is taught at the University of Michigan where a Sociology professor has written a book about it which you can buy on Amazon here. This website has a list of articles on the Internet about the War of the Crosses, including my article on my scrapbookpages.com web site here.
The Catholics won the war because the Papal Cross is still up, but who knows when the war will start up again.