Visitng Auschwitz with Middle East Muslim Leaders

Visitng Auschwitz with Middle East Muslim Leaders

Simone Rodan- Benzaquen
AJC Representative, Paris
February 2, 2011

“Never again” was the sentence with which I, a Jew born in Germany, grew up. Never again will a people be systematically annihilated on the basis of race, origin, belief or religion. Never again will a dictatorship like that of Nazi Germany push a whole continent, and ultimately almost the whole world, into chaos and destruction. Never again will the face of humanity show its darkest side. Never again….

The determination to ensure “Never again” has guided me in all my life choices: to fight anti-Semitism and racism; to struggle for peace and security for Israel; to fight for human rights and pluralism; to advocate on behalf of the people of Darfur. It has ultimately been the reason why I joined AJC, this century old organization fighting anti-Semitism, racism advancing human rights and pluralism.

But a question has haunted my generation all those years: How can we make sure that history does not repeat itself?

On Tuesday, February 1, 2011, a glimpse of hope presented a possible answer. As AJC's representative in Paris, having cooperated with the organisers on several occasions, I had the privilege of accompanying a delegation of more than 150 dignitaries from Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian territories and Iraq—including Muslim and Christians—along with Jewish Holocaust survivors from Europe, on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland.

Several important European dignitaries also joined us, including Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë; UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova; and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. This initiative was organized by the Paris-based Aladdin Project, in cooperation with UNESCO and the Paris City Hall. The purpose of the visit was to help the Muslim world gain insight into the Holocaust, in line with Alladin’s overall goal of enhancing understanding between religions and cultures.

This trip took place at a time when Holocaust denial is particularly widespread in the Muslim world, as most famously expressed by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Thus the presence in the group of Karim Lahidji, head of the Iranian League of Human Rights, was an important symbol. “Denying the deniers” as one Muslim member of the delegation said, is crucial.

Initiatives like this remind ourselves and the wider public that we must never forget, and that we must find ways to pass on the truth of how low the human race can sink. Visiting the camp, feeling and seeing for oneself the industrial destruction of nearly an entire people, is an essential step.

One of the participants, the British Mufti Abduljalil Sajid, told me why the experience was so important for him. "I have obviously read about the Holocaust, but I could have never imagined that it would be like this. It is so crucial for me to see what the Holocaust was about with my own eyes—and to teach others, especially from my community, about the evil of hate," said Mufti Sajid. "This should never happen again, to anybody."

In a world full of turmoil and economic dislocation that accelerates intolerance, bigotry and anti-Semitism, the delegation sends out a message geared to the future, full of hope, dialogue and understanding. As Cardinal Vingt-Trois stated during the memorial ceremony: “The great aspect about this project is to have allowed all these different personalities from the three monotheist religions to come together to the place where Jews have been exterminated and make a statement.”

Humanity must understand the demons it can produce and the atrocities it is capable of perpetrating. This initiative has been a small but important step in this very difficult task. In the words of a Holocaust survivor who accompanied the delegation to Auschwitz: “We are here together at the epicenter of the greatest catastrophe. Coming here is the surest way to prevent revisionism, to understand, to witness, to tell the truth and to send out the message to the rest of the world. Never again!”

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