Confronting Holocaust Denial

 by Hannah Rosenthal,  U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism

In August, I was invited to participate in an interfaith delegation bringing a group of American imam’s to former concentration camps in Germany and Poland.

As Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I went for a very simple reason: Holocaust denial is growing in many places, especially in Muslim countries. Holocaust denial doesn‘t just feed anti-Semitism; Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism.

I felt that being with leaders of the American Muslim communities could help all of us better understand how history‘s most horrific crime of genocide, an enlightened country‘s building of efficient killing factories, came to take place. I also thought it would allow me to learn from them how it is that Holocaust denial can be growing in so many Muslim circles.

This was a historic trip. As soon as the imams decided to pray by the Dachau sculpture commemorating the six million Jewish lives exterminated, I knew history was being made. When they prostrated to the ground in prayer, every tourist, every passer-by, stopped in their tracks to witness the moment. Their prayer was also near the ―Never Again‖ sign and I believe it became a symbol to all of us travelers that we had a special responsibility to ensure ‗never again‘ has powerful meaning.

Another historic moment for me was when we walked out of the gas chamber at Auschwitz. A guard brought out a table and a large book and pen for these special guests, these dignitaries to sign. Usually dignitaries sign their name and date. But each of our imams took quite a while to write something meaningful in the book. Most wrote in Arabic so that any national leader in the world that would sign it would know that the imams were here, bearing witness and bearing the burden of that witness.

It was clear from questions the imams posed to our guides and the survivors we met with, that they had a sincere interest to understand how this could happen. Horrid violence continues to occur around the world, and hatred seems to grow daily, but it was clear to all of us that this history is unique because never before and not since Auschwitz has there ever been the construction of a place built and designed to exterminate an entire people, efficiently and effectively.

The most historic moment of the trip for me was in Munich when leaving a Turkish mosque, these religious leaders read aloud a statement that they had written collectively. Recognizing their unique responsibilities as leaders in their communities, they condemned without reservation Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.

 

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