At the Death Camps, Muslim Leaders Grapple With Jews’ Pain
By A.J. GoldmannPublished August 11, 2010, issue of August 20, 2010.
Krakow, Poland — It was a perfect summer day at the Dachau concentration camp. The clear skies and pleasant breeze seemed almost offensive. And there, beneath the main monument, a bronze sculpture of writhing bodies intermeshed with barbed wire, was an uncommon sight: a group of Muslims leaders prostrate in prayer.PHOTOS: A.J. GOLDMANNPrayers and Learning: Muslim delegates (above) chant their afternoon prayers before the main monument at Dachau, during a visit by North American Muslim leaders to Nazi concentration camps. Max Mannheimer, 90, who survived Auschwitz and Dachau, shows the delegates the number imprinted on his arm as he recounts his war- time experience.
At the end of the service, prayer leader Muzammil Siddiqi, imam of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, offered up an additional prayer: “We pray to God that this will not happen to the Jewish people or to any people anymore.”
Siddiqi was one of eight American Muslim leaders on a study tour to Dachau and Auschwitz that was co-sponsored by a German think tank and the Center for Interreligious Understanding, a New Jersey-based interfaith dialogue group. The delegation’s sole female member was Laila Muhammad, daughter of the late American Muslim leader W.D. Muhammad and granddaughter of Elijah Muhammad, the late leader of the Nation of Islam.
The excursion, which ran from August
8 through August 10, was one the U.S. government itself invested with great importance. Accompanying the group were several government officials, including Hannah Rosenthal, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and Rashad Hussain, special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The unusual trip was the brainchild of Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew and a Republican who served as a senior official in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Breger, who wore his yarmulke on every leg of the trip, said he first had the idea of organizing the expedition last year, while he was in Israel during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. He described it simply as a kind of eureka moment.
“There is a view that there is growing anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, reinforced by people like President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, that there is growing Holocaust denial in the Muslim world,” explained Breger, now a law professor at Catholic University. “In light of that, the idea was to offer education to those who might not have the kind of knowledge that we’ve had about World War II and the Jewish community, and to do this in a public way.”
It is impossible to know what the long-term impact of such a trip will be. But if the heartfelt comments of the trip participants — including some with a history of previous statements that many Jews view as problematic — are any guide, Breger did not underestimate the value of direct experience in promoting education, understanding and even, perhaps, change.Related Articles
Among other developments, Mohamed Magid, imam and executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, a mega-mosque in the Washington area that serves more than 5,000 families, is preparing an article on Holocaust denial for Islamic Horizons, the magazine published by the Islamic Society of North America. “No Muslim in his right mind, female or male, should deny the Holocaust,” said the Muslim leader, a native of Sudan. “When you walk the walk of the people who have been taken to be gassed, to be killed, how can a person deny physical evidence, something that’s beyond doubt?”
Breger related that he had appealed to numerous Jewish organizations for financial assistance without luck, as he sought to make the trip a reality. But the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank affiliated with Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, agreed almost immediately upon being approached.
The delegates were put up in five-star hotels, and sampled German and Polish delicacies at a number of gourmet restaurants. But the trip was physically and emotionally grueling. The experience of grilled fresh flounder followed by a visit to the crematoria only added to the frequent sense of jarring dislocation.
On Monday, August 9, the delegates met in Munich and traveled to nearby Dachau. There they met with Max Mannheimer, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, before being guided through the camp. The visit to Auschwitz, and to Birkenau two days later, included a meeting with Wilhelm Brasse, a non-Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who took photographs inside the camp for the Nazis, including some for Josef Mengele.
The delegates’ level of knowledge about the Holocaust prior to the trip seemed to be fairly low. Some had read up on it online, while others had seen films that depicted horrors of the Nazi period. None, however, was an expert in the subject. Some were visibly shaken by what they saw. The delegates seemed especially affected by seeing the number tattooed on Mannheimer’s arm by the Nazis. They asked things like, “Did you see any of your family members killed?” and, “When did you find out about the crematoria?” As they toured the sites, they posed questions that seemed tinged not with skepticism, but rather with outrage and a desire to understand.
“These imams all have significant constituents in American Muslim communities as recognized legal scholars, people with mega-mosques, people with radio shows, people on the web, people who reach out to youth,” Breger noted. He said that the Jewish community, in contrast, often looks to engage with Muslims who meet specified criteria but do not have large constituencies.
Indeed, it was not hard to imagine that some of the Muslim delegates might be viewed as imperfect candidates for dialogue by Jews wary of discussions with those they see as Islamists or as prone to extremist views.
Siddiqi, who also serves as chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, a body that interprets religious law, has gained attention for issuing a Fatwa against suicide bombing. At the same time, he has been criticized for failing to denounce such groups as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Eleven months before the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Siddiqi also gave a speech that critics have since used to assail him: “America has to learn, if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come. Do you remember that? If you continue doing injustice, the wrath of God will come.”
Nevertheless, mere weeks after 9/11, he condemned the attack strongly, most notably at an interfaith prayer meeting with President Bush in Washington.
In addition to leading the prayer at Dachau, Siddiqi spoke at the wreath-laying ceremony at the Death Wall at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he quoted a verse from the Quran (similar to the Jewish adage) stating that he who kills one person kills all humanity.
Later that same day, during an audience with the archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, Siddiqi was even more forceful. “We came here to witness the place where the most horrible crimes were committed,” he said. “We came here to understand the pain of the Jewish community. This is in order to improve relationships, because you cannot build relationships with people unless you know what they’ve been through,” he said.
After flying to Krakow, the delegates were driven to Auschwitz, only an hour away. They met with one of the museum’s directors before the guided tour. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, they saw the collections of suitcases, shoes and human hair, as well as the only remaining gas chamber and crematorium. After entering the vast expanse of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, they moved on to the male barracks and followed the train tracks from the Judenrampe to the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria, as the noonday sun beat down on their heads.
Emerging from the crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the delegates signed a memorial book. One of the inscriptions, from Sayyid M. Syeed, an interfaith activist, read, “For Muslims to see the Holocaust is an overwhelming experience.” It went on to quote a verse in the Quran stating that though man was created by God in excellent form, he is capable of becoming the lowest of the low.
Addressing the chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, at a dinner August 10, Syeed called the trip particularly valuable “for some of us who are coming from the background that there was very little information provided to us during our school and life.”
The envoy Hussain, who, like Rosenthal, was attending in his official capacity, saw the trip as a follow-up to President Obama’s visit last year to Cairo, where he directly addressed the issue of Holocaust denial. “To the extent that some of the people I deal with have questions, it’s very important for me to reinforce that I’ve been here and I’ve seen the horror,” he explained.
If, and how, those noble sentiments can be implemented remains to be seen. At several points during the trip, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was invoked, as well as the perceived linkage between the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel that often makes the Holocaust itself a difficult topic in the Muslim world. Some acknowledged that this posed a potential impediment to widespread acknowledgement of the Holocaust in their own community.
In some of their most sensitive discussions, several delegates grappled with the issue of how to present the truth of the Holocaust in a way that would be accepted and taken to heart by their congregants. Breger, citing the need for the participants to speak freely to each other on this, ruled these exchanges off the record. But broadly, one suggestion was that Muslim acknowledgement of the Holocaust should be followed by similar initiatives on the Jewish side, acknowledging Palestinian suffering and the role that Israel’s founding and the country’s subsequent policies had in this.
The delegation’s youngest member was Yasir Qadhi, 35, dean of academics at Al Maghrib Institute, in New Haven, Conn. He also reaches Muslims across the globe via lectures on the Internet. Qadhi was arguably the delegation’s most controversial member, owing to comments he made nearly a decade ago that disputed Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews.
Qadhi has since recanted, both vocally and in print, explaining that the spurious claims stemmed from ignorance. “The fact that I was in a certain environment and a certain culture [where] I was taught this doesn’t exonerate me,” Qadhi told me, adding that he had exposure to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” while studying in Medina, the Muslim holy city in Saudi Arabia. “That’s why I was very happy to come on this trip, because I wanted to see for myself how wrong I was.
“Anybody who is a Holocaust denier should deserve a free ticket to see Auschwitz and Birkenau, because seeing is just not the same as reading about it. And we met people who have seen and witnessed it,” he continued. Qadhi said that he couldn’t peer into the displays of children’s toys and shoes without thinking about his own four children.
Suhaib Webb, an imam from Santa Clara in the Bay Area, was the second-youngest delegation member, at 38. A convert to Islam, he grew up in a white Christian household in Oklahoma and probably had the greatest exposure to the Holocaust of any of the Muslim participants. Still, after walking around Auschwitz with tears in his eyes, he said, “It was far worse than I imagined.”
On the ride back to Krakow, Webb and Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society discussed the possibility of taking Muslim and Jewish students on a tour of Auschwitz and Bosnia, specifically Srebrenica, the site of the 1995 genocide of 8,000 Bosniak Muslims. “We want to bring youth, have them go through this and become ambassadors against genocide and dehumanizing people,” Magid explained.
“We have a shared narrative that sometimes gets lost in all of the political problems that we have,” Webb said, citing the 20th-century examples of Jews and Muslims helping each other in times of genocide. He noted that there were Muslims who helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust. More recently, Jewish organizations helped lobby for the arms embargo to be lifted during the Bosnian crisis.
While echoing those sentiments, Qadhi stressed the importance for Jews and Muslims to understand and accept each other’s narratives of suffering. “There’s no denying that we have problems we need to talk about, but dehumanizing the other is not going to solve our problems. I hope that both sides, Muslims and Jews, can overcome stereotypes that they have of the other. If we stick together, we will no longer be a minority. But if we continue to remain minorities trying to stereotype other minorities, then we’ll be lost,” he concluded.
Contact A.J. Goldmann at firstname.lastname@example.org
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You are about to flag this comment as being inappropriate. Please explain why you are flagging this comment in the text box below and submit your report. Thank you for your input.The Holocaust Educational Trust in London, chaired by Lord Greville Janner, recives govt funding to send students and teachers to visit Auschwitz as part of the UK's Holocaust Studies component of the National Curriculum. Many students also take part in the annual March of the LivingWhat a wonderful idea!
Perhaps a similar delegation of Christians and Jews should take a trip to the Middle East, where a million Iranians were killed by American weapons in the Iraq-Iran War, an additional million Iraqis have been killed by American soldiers since 2003, and hundreds of thousands more Afghans, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Lebanese were killed by the US and Israel, respectively.
A pit stop in Vietnam (civilian deaths: 4.3 million, 2 million by American hands) and Korea (North Korean civilians dead: 1.5 million) might be needed for the Evangelicals among the delegation.
Only fair. Or does their suffering not count...?LKS, you're absolutely right.
As Jews, we should all agree with Muzammil Siddiqi that "never again" means that this should never again happen to anyone, not just to Jews.
That's why Jews formed Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constuitutional Rights, and many other organizations dedicated to justice.
That's why Jews have been the first to condemn killings in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Vietnam, and Korea. And we've fought against it with deeds, not just with words.
It is certainly hypocritical -- and contrary to Jewish law -- to condemn other countries for their human rights violations, while ignoring our own, whether that country is Israel, the U.S.
Jews will never be safe unless everybody is safe.Oops-the difference between the deaths of Iraqis,Afghans,Pakistanis,Palestinians,Lebanese,Vietnamese,North Koreans and Iranians,during the post-WW2 period and the deaths of 6 million Jews is clear:The Nazis intended the destruction of world Jewry through their well-organized management and engineering skills adapted to this genocide,which were driven by centuries of Christian hatred for the Jew;the deaths of many Arabs and Muslims were a consequence of their efforts to inflict such consequences upon the West, as the deaths of North Vietnamese and North Koreans resulted from their endeavors to destroy the free and independent states of South Vietnam and South Korea.You seemed to have no concern or sympathy for the innocent victims of North Korean and North Vietnam aggression, as well as the victims of the Lebanese civil war and present day's political and religious killings by Hezbollah.You also show no concern for the murder of tens of thousands of Sadaam's victims; the 3000 innocent Americans killed by Islamist types trained in Afganistan.LKS seems to have failed to understand the essence of A.J.Goldman's article.This lack of understanding of the consequences of prejudice,based on ignorance fed the genocidal hatred,which resulted in the loss of 1/3 of world Jewry.The loss of 15-20 million(or more) Russians,Poles and other non-Germans,during WW2 must also be appreciated, for they died because of who they were, and not as a result of what they did to deserve their fate.you're right, moshe, the millions of people who have died, including hundreds of thousands of children, were just asking for it. THEY HATE US FOR OUR FREEDOM!!!!!!!!!
...really? i can't believe you honestly think that way. the vietnam war alone was undertaken with such blatant disregard for human life that it boggles the mind. i'm not going to compare vietnam to the shoah, but to say that millions of people deserved to die because they were "trying to destroy" (i assume you meant that the viet cong was "trying to destroy" it, since the 4.3 million figure does not include combatant deaths) america's puppet state is cold-hearted and frankly wrong. i think what bothers me the most about those deaths is that they're actually celebrated by people like you. but then, history is written by the winners... or the losers who pretend to be winners in america's case with vietnam.Ari, your interpretation of my explanation for the tragedy which was inflicted on the non-Moslem West and the non-Communist East is so far off the mark that no adequate response can be made to such an illogical,erroneous and comp[lete lack of understanding on your part. I make no celebration of these deaths.I have tried to explain,however that much of the hatred directed against the Jew and Israeli by the Arab/Moslem world is based on the lack of facts (which feed their own deep prejudice inspired,perhaps by their faith).Regarding the Vietnam War,your version of South Vietnam as being a puppet of the US,shrinks from reality.If it were our puppet,the war would have been won by the South,which was so corrupt that when we finally pulled out,the North was able to easily and openly march in and take over.The US did not lose.The war was lost by the Vietnamese.The US won every battle except the desire by the people of the South to be free.if you add in the laotians and cambodians killed in the american war in vietnam it come to a neat round 6,000,000 that is SIX MILLION -now i have heard that figure somewhere else before --and all for a cost of only 60,000 usa lives ! --a bargain basement price. i do not think germany or japan will ever host a war again but the gung ho jingoistic bloodlust runs high still in america (and in some in israel sadly too in a different way ) i hope the truth is not that america needs to host a war at home to develop a greater distaste for it. america spent 800,000,000,000 dollars last year on war, war employees, and war tools.
i saw a video yesterday of israeli soldiers holding down a palestinian while a fellow soldier hammered the man's neck and spine with a large rock-it was in the "occupation 101" documentary on youtube. the 500 initial villages destroyed 42 years ago,the wall and the house bulldozings and east jerusalem ethnic cleansing ARE eerily reminiscent of actions in germany in 1935 to 1945. how sad if israelis act like children who were abused in particular ways and who go on to abuse others in the same manner when they come to power as grown ups. pierre boule used a similar idea in the "planet of the apes" book where the apes were obsessed with conducting lab experiments on humans.American soldiers did not kill 1,000,000 people in Iraq. You're blaming every death from ethnic cleansing, foreign terrorists, and sectarian fighting on Americans.
Nor was a single casualty in the Iran-Iraq war caused by Americans.
Funny how eager you are to put the blame for violence committed by Muslims against each other onto American shoulders.The vast majority of Iraqui`s who were killed occurred between the Shiite and Suni followers who fought among themselves and continue to bomb each other to this day. American inflicted casualties were minor compared to the infighting between the Arabs themselves. Once the Americans leave just watch Iraq turn into another civil war situation.Any dialogue, between those with and those without faith, should be applauded. Any acts that further understanding and mutual respect are vital for co-existence.
There is one slightly disquieting note; Dachau was not a part of the "Final Solution". Unlike Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau was not an Extermination Camp, and its inmates were not majority Jewish. Of course Jewish suffering is crucial in understanding the evils of the Third Reich, but the tendency to focus on atrocities against the Jews to the exclusion of atrocities against others (Slavs were deemed "untermenschen" and were to be eradicated also as anything but bodies to be worked to death) is fuel to the anti-Semitic fire.
The Holocaust needs to be reclaimed as a crime against all humanity, not solely a crime against Jews. Otherwise, Jews are held as something other than the rest of humanity, a position that has provoked pogroms throughout history. The Jew as other is not a platform that can comfortably be held. Its dangers are self evident as any reading of history demonstrates.The purpose of the Final Solution was to eliminate Jews as a "race" from the face of the Earth. Pretending that the Shoah was a crime against humanity is to deny the fact that six million Jews died because they were Jews. This has nothing to do with minimizing the efforts the Nazis made to destroy other populations they deemed less than human, but it is a fact that eliminating world Jewry was a central tenet of the Nazi program.
Forgive my cynicism, but I find that people who seek to decouple Jews from the Holocaust are usually doing so for a nefarious purpose, typically, to deligitimize the State of Israel.
Asserting the centrality of anti-Jewish animus to the Third Reich doesn't lead to anti-Semitism, it only enrages those who are already anti-Semitic."But broadly, one suggestion was that Muslim acknowledgement of the Holocaust should be followed by similar initiatives on the Jewish side, acknowledging Palestinian suffering and the role that Israel’s founding and the country’s subsequent policies had in this."
I had a sneaking suspicion that this kind of spurious equation of the Holocaust with the "suffering" of the Palestinians would be invoked by these participants even before I read it. It is outrageous, especially in light of the fact, apparently overlooked in their explorations, of the complicity of the Grand Mufti and head of the Palestinian national movement, Hadj Amin El-Husseini, in the planning and implementation of the Holocaust, and his service to the Nazi cause as a commander, appointed by Hitler, of a Bosnian Muslim SS division, known as the Handschar brigade. What is more, the "suffering" of the Palestinians owes far more to the bigotry and extremism of this leader and his policies toward the Jews of Palestine than "the role that Israel's founding" imposed. "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose"!Dachau may not have been planned as part of the Final Solution,but nearly 32,000 people died in its 12 existence by starvation,malnutrition and suicide and by other methods.It also had gas chambers.So it was not a summer camp.While the Holocaust was, indeed, a crime against all humanity, it was a distinctly Jewish tragedy in view of the enormously successful managerial,engineering and bureaucratic organizations devoted by German authorities to exterminate world Jewry,beginning with those in Europe.As a result, 1/3 of those were exterminated.Pogroms have been used against Jews in the diaspora by pagans,Christians and Moslems since the early days of the Roman Empire.Those who attacked Jews did not need an excuse for such violence for they were, indeed, different in their faith, views of family, community, support of nation and sense of justice. The tragedy that befell the Slavs,Russians,Poles and others was certainly a holocaust,but not the Holocaust.The Nazi German efforts to kill such people were not the organized slaughter that was mounted against European Jewry for they needed these people as forced labor to produce the armaments and munitions needed to conduct war.The intentions of the Nazis were not limited to Europe. Let us not forget that over 2,000 Tunisian Jews were deported to Europe where they died in the death camps. Also, the Nazis killed 560 Libyan Jews in a forced death march across the desert. The only reason that relatively few North African Jews were killed in the Holocaust is because the Nazis were not there for long enough to implement their "Final Solution.""one suggestion was that Muslim acknowledgement of the Holocaust should be followed by similar initiatives on the Jewish side, acknowledging Palestinian suffering and the role that Israel’s founding and the country’s subsequent policies had in this."
If this is the attitude they're taking away from the experience, it has been in vain. Indeed, it plays into the claim that Palestinians were made to pay for the Europeans' crime. Yes, there were Muslims who rescued Jews, and yet others - in the Balkans and in North Africa - who took Jewish lives. It certainly would have been useful had the involvement of the Palestinian leader in the Shoah, even his creation of a Muslim army collaborating with the Nazis, been noted. Quite simply, there's simply no moral equivalence between the Jewish and Palestinian experiences.There is no better way except to, accept the truth. The Holocaust is the worst act and we must never forget it. Never ever forget it and it must not be repeated again.
Time has come that Jews and Muslims must work together. Muslims were never involved in any direct or indirect conflict with Jews.. State of Israel must be recognised as a Jewish State.
May I request like minded Muslims to come forward and join the movement by contacting Dr. Navaras Afreedi. He is doing a great noble work.
Muslims must remember that Israel supported Pakistan during the war against USSR. Even today Jewish organisations and the people of Israel are sending all kind of aid to Pakistan to save the 30000000 crore victims of the flood.
Jew-Muslim UNITY Zindabad....Dr. Afreedi Paindabad.
Tariq Khan= email@example.comEver heard of taqiyya, people?
You could look it up: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taqiyya
Ever heard of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni who co-operated with the Nazis?
You could look that up, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Amin_al-Hus...
Scroll down toSo that, what, no Muslim can ever be trusted because of a single concept in their religion that is not universally accepted or because one religious leader participated in the Shoah that *every* Muslim supported or supports it? Please.
Ever heard of tolerance, understanding and judging people by the individual, rather than the group?I think that the writer of this article is confused concerning the exact status of Auschwitz and Birkenau. I spent a full day there, and established that, for example, the Death Wall is located at Auschwitz, and not at Birkenau. The same goes for the collections of various commodities collected from victims. They are definitely housed at the main Auschwitz Camp. And mention should have been made of the extensive range of photographs of inmates (other than Jewish victims), which are on display, and of blockhouse 10, where Mengele and his minions conducted their infamous "medical" experiments.What is sad is that the Muslims were co-conspirators with the Nazis and to this day the lessons of the Holocaust are not learned via the United Nations. In it's own history has caused more genocide and ethnic cleansing in Muslim-controlled countries. What is more than surprising is that the anti-semitism/anti-Israel views of the UN since the ex-Nazi was in charge of it - Kurt Valdheim who had allowed Arafat (the nephew of al-Husseini) to speak in the 1970s with Carter's blessing and come fully armed including a bomb belt. The UN needs to be kicked out and disbanded as it has been over 25 years of it no longer following it's own charter. I believe it is good that Muslims visit the camps and see what genocides were being done in a name of a belief. However, how many of these same Muslims have stood up strongly to condemn (and mean it) the attrocities happening to innocents around the world in the name of Sharia and Islam? Hardly any so far except one and I did not see him on the list - the Italian Sheikh Palavi (forgive me if I got the name wrong) who states that today's Islam is not the real Islam thanks to the likes of the creation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.