Holocaust Victims and Baptisms for the Dead

Timeline

August 15, 1840

Joseph Smith introduces the concept of vicarious baptisms for the dead.[1]

1990

Nine people submit approximately 380,000 names of Jewish Holocaust victims. They are posthumously baptized.[2]

1991

Ezra Taft Benson[BIO] orders all posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims to cease.[3]

June 1992

Gary Mokotoff,[BIO] President of the Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, discovers Jewish Holocaust victims in the IGI database.[4] Mokotoff expresses his concern to David Mayfield,[BIO] director of the Family History Library.[5]

1993

Gary Mokotoff sends a letter to Elder J. Richard Clarke,[BIO] protesting the inclusion of Jewish Holocaust victims in the IGI.[6] Elder Clarke responds that they have updated their policy to prevent this.[7]

Spring 1994

Gary Mokotoff's letter to Elder Clarke is published in the Spring 1994 issue of AVOTAYNU.[8]

July 1994

Gary Mokotoff meets with the Family History Department and is told that the Church will not remove the names of the Jewish Holocaust victims from the IGI database.[9]

November 21, 1994

Ernest W. Michel[BIO] of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (AGJH)[BIO] petitions President Howard W. Hunter[BIO] for a meeting over Jewish Holocaust baptisms for the dead.[10]

January 6–May 3, 1995

AGJH and Church leaders meet[11] and the Church agrees to support measures to remove names, both existing and future, from Church databases.[12]

April 11, 2005

AGJH and Church leaders meet to reaffirm the 1995 agreement and to establish a joint oversight committee to ensure Holocaust survivors do not accidentally appear in Church databases.[13]

February 9, 2008

Helen Radkey[BIO] releases a report accusing the Church of continuing to posthumously baptize Holocaust victims.[14]

November 10, 2008

D. Todd Christofferson[BIO] issues a statement reaffirming the 1995 accord between Church and the AGJH.[15]

September 2, 2010

The Church and the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants[BIO] signed a joint statement.[16]

February 14, 2012

Huffington Post publishes "Elie Wiesel: Mitt Romney Should Tell Mormon Church To Stop Performing Posthumous Proxy Baptisms On Jews"[17] which results in the Church issuing a statement that condemns submission of the Elie Wiesel[BIO] family into their database.[18]

March 2, 2012

The First Presidency[BIO] reiterates the warning that those who submit names of Jewish Holocaust victims may have their FamilySearch privileges revoked and "other corrective actions may be taken."[19]

Does the Church posthumously baptize Holocaust victims?

No, at least, there are policies in place to try and avoid it.[20]

What's the current policy on this?

The First Presidency has directed members that “without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims.”[21]

Baptisms of Holocaust victims done inadvertently, or purposely, by Latter-day Saints are done against Church policy[22] and may result in having their FamilySearch privileges revoked.[23]

Why did the Church make this policy?

It's unclear why President Benson initially restricted posthumous baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims in 1991,[24] but the 1995 policy was made in direct response to a request from the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.[25] The Church made this policy out of respect for the Holocaust survivors and their family members.[26]

The 1995 accord included removing an estimated 380,000 Jewish Holocaust victims from the International Genealogical Index.[27]

Did the Church issue an apology for baptizing Holocaust Victims?

Sort of. They issued a joint statement with the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants[BIO] which stated that the Church had "unintentionally caused pain"[28] and that through discussions and policy changes, the issues had been resolved.[29]

The Church also specifically issued a statement that they "sincerely regret" an accidental baptism of famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.[30]

Is the current policy really enough though? 

Yes, probably. According to Rabbi David Sandmel, the Anti-Defamation League’s Director of Interfaith Affairs, the current (as of 2017) policy is reasonable.[31]

Can't the Church control who gets baptized in their temples?

Mostly. The Church is a complex, global infrastructure that millions of volunteers utilize.[32] There are policies in place to control temple baptisms, but the process isn't perfect.[33]

Is it true that Anne Frank has been posthumously baptized 9 times?

Probably. In 2012, the Deseret News reported that Anne Frank had been posthumously baptized "multiple times."[34]

Isn't it the person's choice to accept the posthumous baptism in the spirit world?

Yes, Latter-day Saints believe that departed spirits can choose to accept or reject the baptism.[35] Because the baptism is not binding, the Church does not add the name to the membership records.[36]

What's the problem with posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims?

These posthumous baptisms could be interpreted as stripping the identity away from people who died for their identity[37] or implying that Jews need help from the Mormons to get to heaven.[38]

How would members of the Church feel if Catholics started to baptize their dead ancestors?

They probably wouldn't like it. It's understandable that some people are not happy with the Church trying to posthumously baptize others.[39]

On the other hand, some may see it as an act of love, even if they do not share the same beliefs.[40]

Some People Say . . .

"Everyone deserves the opportunity to be baptized, so of course baptisms for the dead would be done for Holocaust victims, and they get to choose whether to accept it or not."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • In 1990, about 380,000 names of Holocaust victims were posthumously baptized.

  • In 1991, the Church enacted a new policy to disallow posthumous baptisms of Holocaust victims.

  • In 1992, the Jewish community and leaders expressed concerns about these baptisms.

  • In 1995, the Church and Jewish leaders agreed that the Church would remove the names of Holocaust victims from their system and put policies into place to prevent this.

  • The current Church policy is that people who submit Holocaust victims' names may be subject to revocation of privileges.

Our Take

Temple baptisms can be a complicated issue, especially as they intersect with other religious groups or even just those who are unaffiliated with the Church and its teachings. What's more, baptisms for the dead is mostly a unique doctrine, which defamiliarizes it to most people of other beliefs. Posthumous baptisms can raise questions about legacy, identity, and the nature of salvation.

Those kinds of questions are highlighted in a situation like this—one involving Holocaust victims. Does a baptism for a deceased person disrespect their memory or impose a religion on them? If Church doctrine states that the baptized still have agency to accept or reject the ordinance, does that change anything?

The Church recognized the need to respect religious beliefs and freedoms and responded to the concerns of the Jewish community. Out of this respect, the Church has enacted a strong policy to prevent work done for Holocaust survivors. Church members, while they exercise faith in universal saving ordinances, need to respect the identity, beliefs, and culture of others.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Fred
    I'm curious. I've known Jewish Church members, and even attended the baptism of a Jewish family in Monterey many years ago. Are they prevented from doing temple work for their own families?
  • Tim L
    This helps me understand the side of Jewish people who are opposed to baptisms for the dead. I thought it wouldn't matter because it doesn't baptize them, it just gives them the opportunity to accept baptism after death, but I can see why people would be bugged by it now.
  • Nolan F
    I wonder about consent. A big part of God's plan is respecting our free agency. This topic bothers people because the consent part happens where we don't see it, on the other side of the veil. So it looks like our ordinance is being forced on people, but it's a misunderstanding.
Footnotes