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February 13, 1987 - Image 40

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-02-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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THE IWTROIT .IFWISH NFWS

Church Not Bothered
By Trifa's Association

FRANKLIN H. LITTELL

Special to The Jewish News

T

he death of Valerian
Trifa on January 28, in
a hospital in Cascais,
Portugal, reminds us of the
way in which many criminals
lied their way into the United
States — and only a few were
caught. Trifa was the center of
considerable controversy be-
fore the United States finally
deported him in 1984. In that
controversy some of the Chris-
tian church leaders played a
less than estimable role, for
Trifa was an archbishop of the
Rumanian Orthodox Church
and had even served on the
governing board of the Na-
tional Council of Churches.
A look at the facts of the
Trifa Case may illuminate the
larger question about forgiv-
ing and forgetting. Trifa did
not become a clergyman until
after he entered the United
States. His earlier history was
political. Among his other "ac-
complishments" was leader-
ship in the Iron Guard, a
traitorous fascist movement in
Rumania that was best known
for anti-Semitism and servility
toward Nazi Germany.
Trifa entered the U.S. in
1950, lying about his past and
claiming to be a DP (Displaced
Person) who had been in a con-
centration camp in Germany.
In fact he had — as the Rus-
sians overran the eastern front
— lived with special privileges
inside Germany. Significantly,
he entered the U.S. during the
years when American vigi-
lance against facism and
Nazism was weakened by Sen.
Joseph McCarthy and his na-
tive right-wing extremist al-
lies. The McCarthy politics of
polarization, which weakened
the middle ground of honest
liberalism and honest conser-
vatism, led some Americans to
forget that both Communist
to-
Facist/Nazi
a nd
talitarianisms are unaccept-
able to patriotic Americans.
Trifa made much of his
"anti-Communism." Entering
the priesthood, he made a rapid
rise within his own denomina-
tion and within interdenomi-
national agencies such as the
National Council of Churches.
Semi-public agitation to bring
Trifa to trial began in 1975 and
1976. Some of us in the Chris-
tian ranks joined with Jewish
activists in demanding expo-
sure of the facts.
A personal vignette may
interest readers and also help
to show where the real Chris-
tian problem is to be found in
such cases. During the winter
of 1975-1976 a group of Jewish
students came from downtown
Manhattan and staged a
demonstration against Trifa —

Rev. Littell is the founder of
the Anne Frank Institute in
Philadelphia.

Valerian Trifa: Who should
forgive?

then a member of the policy-
setting general board — at the
offices of the National Council
of Churches at 475 Riverside
Drive. They had tipped off the
newspapers and TV in ad-
vance, and the resulting pub-
licity was embarrassing to the
church bureaucrats.
The bureaucrats took refuge,
however, in some rule of the
organization to the effect that
each denomination chose and
sent its own delegates. That
did not answer the question, of
course, of why the National
Council of Churches couldn't
— publicly, preferably! — ask
that Trifa be withdrawn and a
decent delegate sent in his
place.
A few days later I was hav-
ing lunch with the key figure of
one of the denominations, also
a member of the general board.
I asked him what was being
done about the Trifa case, since
it was embarrassing to have an
anti-Semite and escaped war
criminal in such a key position.
The response which astonished
me, coming from a generally
very quiet and restrained
churchman, was a condemna-
tion of the Jewish students' ac-
tion (which made dodging the
issue more difficult). His exact
words were these: "Those Jews
didn't do themselves any
good. . ." I was appalled, and
still am, when I think of what
he really said in that outburst.
Instead of dealing with the
issue at hand, which was the
disgrace to the churches of
Jesus Christ in having a Trifa
helping to govern their affairs,
the ecclesiastical bureaucrat
did what we see so often: he
changed the subject to a con-
demnation of "the Jews." The
dead weight of centuries of
theological and cultural anti-
Semitism made it impossible
for him to face honestly an
issue there a wrong done "the
Jews" was a major part of the
equation.
He was in fact the most

dangerous kind of anti-Semite
in America: not the KKK or

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