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News Archive    Printer Version April 22, 2007   

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"You can't teach history without the Holocaust"

Denial is gaining traction, but let's give young Muslims the unvarnished truth, say ABRAHAM COOPER and HAROLD BRACKMAN

Source:  Toronto Globe and Mail, 17 April 2007
By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman

Suppose schools stopped teaching the history of slavery because learning about the oppression of blacks might offend white students and their families. Incredibly, an exact analogy is playing out in northern England, where the study of the Holocaust is being dropped from the curriculum "for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial."

Fellow travellers of the Holocaust-denial movement are also lobbying hard in Britain to have Holocaust Remembrance Day changed to "International Genocide Day" to obscure the unique enormity of Europe's crime against its Jews. In Belgium and France, too, teachers are increasingly unwilling or unable to teach mandated Holocaust lessons.

Is "history with the Holocaust left out" merely political correctness run amok? Hardly. This is 21st century Europe, where the jury is still out on whether the EU can succeed in forging a shared democratic culture for disparate nations Hitler sought to unify by force.

Whether Europeans stick to or erase their collective memory may be the tipping point that determines the EU's fate and the future they prepare for their children.

Today, 60 years after the death camps ceased operating, the six million are being victimized again -- only this time it is the memory of their martyrdom that is being murdered by Holocaust deniers, who simultaneously deny Hitler's genocide and plot to finish it.

Despite laws in some countries targeting denial as an incitement to hatred and violence, despite the overwhelming documentation of the Nazis' mass murder of European Jewry, Holocaust denial is gaining traction. The denial movement exploits the Internet to transcend national boundaries and achieve global reach. Most troubling is that the virus of denial morphed from its European roots, taking hold in the mainstream of the Arab and Muslim world.

In Iran, this malignancy has been enshrined as statecraft by the fanatical regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claims that the Holocaust "is a myth . . . Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan." Tehran's mullahs broadcast this hate globally to infect disaffected Muslim youth.

A decade ago, 38 per cent of American adults and 53 per cent of high-school students either "didn't know" or incorrectly defined the Holocaust.

Today's deniers seek to transform this continuing knowledge deficit into a new warrant for genocide. In Sweden -- which produced Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews -- a third of young people voice skepticism that the Holocaust actually happened. Holocaust denial not only perverts history; it destroys the bonds between new generations and those who endured blood, sweat and tears during the Second World War. It also affronts the dwindling ranks of Holocaust survivors, whose suffering is mocked by the deniers.

So how best to approach young Muslims about the Nazi era? With the unvarnished truth.

The Arab and Muslim world was largely a spectator to the crimes committed by the Nazis. The best-known exception is the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al Husseini, who allied himself with Hitler, toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and recruited 20,000 Bosnian Muslims to serve in the Waffen SS. Robert Satloff's recent book, Among The Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach Into Arab Lands, documents the nefarious role of lesser-known Arabs and Muslims who, like too many Christians, abetted the Nazis in North Africa and the Mideast.

Yet Mr. Satloff also uncovers stories of great humanity and courage. Today, on Yom Hashoah -- Holocaust Remembrance Day -- the Simon Wiesenthal Center is posthumously honouring Khaled Abdelwahhab, who rescued Jacob and Odette Boukris and their children, a Jewish family living in Tunisia during the Holocaust. Mr. Abdelwahhab recently became the first Arab ever tobe formally nominated as "righteous among the nations" by Israel's Yad Vashem. Grandchildren from the families of both this rescuer and the Jews he saved will participate in the ceremony.

The Wiesenthal Center's recent documentary, Ever Again -- which examines the global resurgence of violent anti-Semitism including Holocaust deniers' impact on Muslim communities in Europe's major cities -- also documents that Mr. Abdelwahhab's example of tolerance and heroism is still alive. Featured is Morad El Hattab, a Muslim writer in France who publicly campaigns against Holocaust denial, and pleads that "Dar al Islam" should strive to become "Dar al Salaam": a true religion of peace.

Erasing the nobility of a decent man like Mr. Abdelwahhab and placating the haters who would silence activists such as Mr. El Hattab will not only murder memory but signal the death knell of human compassion and mutual respect.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Historian Harold Brackman is a consultant to the centre.

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