On Holocaust exploiters, deniers, and heroes

On Holocaust exploiters, deniers, and heroes

This Holocaust Memorial Day 2006, Mas’ood Cajee reflects on the
politics of memory

Six decades on since the slaughter of World War II and the Nazi
holocaust, we hear extremist voices alternately exploiting or denying
the Holocaust for political gain. By warping our memory of the Shoah
(the Hebrew word for the Holocaust), both exploiters and deniers miss
the stark, vital message of the Holocaust and its heroes — those who
displayed uncommon moral courage in the face of evil.

Holocaust exploiters

A growing chorus of voices which exploits the Holocaust for political
gain has been trying to smear Muslims — and Arabs in particular — with
grand accusations of complicity in the Holocaust and support for the
Nazis. These voices serve hawkish interests in Israel and the United
States who wish to justify and legitimize continued war, violence, and
yes — even genocide — against Muslims and Arabs. Identifying Muslims
with and as Nazis eases the task of selling continued bloodshed to
war-weary publics. Reading the books and op-eds of the smearers, one
could almost conclude absurdly that the Nazi holocaust was an Arab
Muslim and not a European Christian project. As evidence, the smearers
usually trot out the pro-German Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Husayni and
the Bosnian Muslim SS “Handschar” division.

What these smearing Islamophobes don’t like to tell you: the “Mufti”
was actually an appointee of the Jewish administrator of British
Palestine who completed one measly year at Al-Azhar and betrayed the
Ottoman Sultan to join the British. The much-vaunted “Hanschar” SS
division — disbanded after a few months due to mass desertions — was
the only SS division ever to mutiny. Because they are allied to the
power establishments in Israel & the United States, the Holocaust
exploiters generally keep mum about American, Jewish, and Zionist
complicity in the Holocaust. They aren’t currently touting the cruel,
forced 1939 return from Miami of the Jewish refugee ship SS St. Louis
to Nazi Europe. Or that elites in the Anglo-American sphere widely
admired Adolf Hitler throughout the 1930s — George Bush’s hero Winston
Churchill first condemned Hitler only five years after he came to
power.  Or that elements of the Jewish and Zionist leadership
collaborated with the Nazis — as documented by Hannah Arendt and other
Jewish historians (who called their actions “the darkest chapter of the
whole dark story”). Or that today, Israel ironically dangles the
specter of Holocaust — in its Nuclear avatar — over the mostly Muslim
peoples of the Middle East.

Holocaust deniers

On the other side, too many Muslim and Arab intellectuals and leaders
continue to fail in adequately addressing the Nazi holocaust and its
implications for today in meaningful, humanitarian terms. Two recent
examples include the Muslim Council of Britain’s daft refusal to
participate in Britain’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day and the public
indulgence in Holocaust revisionism and labeling of the Nazi holocaust
as “myth” by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood chief Muhammad Akef. Deep-seated, knee-jerk anti-Zionism
and the continuing occupation of Palestine have unfortunately blinded
many Arabs and Muslims to the historical reality and legacy of the Nazi
holocaust. An intelligent and compassionate regard for the victims of
the Nazi holocaust — Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, the disabled, and others —
on the part of contemporary Muslims is critical for preserving ethical
and communal integrity, for a just resolution of the Palestinian
question and for the future — if there is to be one — of Western
Muslims. Instead, the Holocaust remains a historical blindspot in Arab
and Muslim discourse, and as a result it has become a potent political
weapon to be exploited at will by those who view Palestinians and
Muslims as enemies.

Holocaust heroes

In their perversion of memory, Holocaust deniers and exploiters share
another moral ugliness. Both insult the memory of the countless Muslims
who risked or gave their lives to rescue Jews threatened with
extermination by the Nazis. The stories of the Muslim rescuers of Jews
are largely unknown and unpublicized. Only in the past fifteen years
have Holocaust researchers brought a few to the public’s attention.

Several Muslims (whose stories of heroism and courage we know) have
since been honored by Yad Vashem and other Holocaust memorial groups as
Righteous Gentiles. They include: the Bosnian Dervis Korkut, who
harbored a young Jewish woman resistance fighter named Mira Papo and
saved the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the most valuable Hebrew
manuscripts in the world; the Turk Selahattin Ulkumen, whose rescue of fifty Jews from the ovens
of Auschwitz led to the death of his wife Mihrinissa soon after she
gave birth to their son Mehmet when the Nazis retaliated for his heroism;
the Albanian Refik Vesili who — as a 16-year-old — saved eight Jews by hiding
them in his family’s mountain home.

Most Holocaust historians would agree that Muslim Europe — Albania,
Bosnia, and Turkey — responded courageously and righteously, especially
in comparison to Christian Europe. While there were Muslims who
collaborated with the Nazis, they were the exception and certainly not
the rule. In addition, in North Africa the Sultan of Morocco, the Bey
of Tunis, and the Ulema of Algeria all lent support to their
beleaguered Jewish countrymen.

Continental Europe’s only independent Muslim country — Albania — was
also the only European country to have a larger Jewish population at
the end of the war than at the beginning, according to Miles Lerman, a
former director of the US National Holocaust Museum. Harvey Sarner, a
Jewish American in awe of the Albanian Muslim response, penned the
telling book “Rescue in Albania: One Hundred Percent of Jews in Albania
Rescued from the Holocaust”.

There were many Bosnian Muslims, especially in Sarajevo, who saved the
lives of their Jewish compatriots. Indeed, the Jewish community in
Sarajevo owed its very existence historically to the centuries-old
Ottoman Muslim policy of providing sanctuary to Jews fleeing European
Christian persecution.

Republican Turkey thankfully followed that same Ottoman tradition of
rescue and sanctuary. Due to its neutrality during most of World War
II, and its unique geographical proximity to both Europe and the Middle
East, Turkey and Turkish diplomats living abroad played an important
role for European Jews in danger during World War II and the Holocaust,
according to the Anti-Defamation League. Muslim-majority Turkey rescued
over 15,000 Turkish Jews and over 100,000 European Jews.

Like their Christian counterparts, the Muslim men and women who rescued
Jews during the Holocaust are among history’s true heroes, whose
stories we should be telling our children and grandchildren. They
represent the best of the Abrahamic and Islamic tradition and spirit.
May God grant us true moral courage like the rescuers in the face of
hardship and adversity. May God - the Most Compassionate, the Most
Merciful - free us of denying or exploiting the suffering of others.

Mas’ood Cajee’s essay “My mom raised me as a Zionist” appeared in
Michael Wolfe’s award-winning anthology “Taking Back Islam” (Rodale
Press, 2003). He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)