Berlusconi's Jewish Joke Draws Rebuke From Vatican

'An offense to the sacred memory of six million victims of the Holocaust,' fumes official Catholic Church newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

The Vatican journal and the Italian bishops' daily newsletter yesterday condemned a "Jewish joke" told by Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi on his birthday last week.

Berlusconi, who turned 74, jocularly told well wishers a joke about about a Jew that charged another Jew 3,000 euros a day to hide him during the Holocaust. "The Jew says, the question now is whether we should tell him Hitler is dead and the war is over," Berlusconi recounted as the punchline.

Berlusconi - AP - Oct. 4, 2010

The joke, which was recorded on video, was quickly distributed on the Internet by major daily La Repubblica.

"This is an offense to the sacred memory of six million victims of the Holocaust," the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote. The Bishops newspaper Avvenire also slammed Berlusconi.

Amos Luzatto, former head of the Jewish community of Italy, told daily La Stampa that "a public figure should act with a degree of caution", noting the joke was reinforcing one of the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Berlusconi's joke comes only days after public outrage over comments by his close associate Giuseppe Ciarrapico, who mocked dissidents in the ruling party by asking if they've ordered themselves skullcaps yet, "because he who betrays once, always betrays."

This is not the first time Berlusconi has tried to joke about Jews and the Holocaust. Last month, he told a joke about Hitler being persuaded to return to power, and warning that "this time, I'm going to be evil."

In 2003, he claimed that Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini "did not kill anyone, but sent people to vacation."