The Disgrace of Holocaust Denial

The Disgrace of Holocaust Denial

By Hasan Zillur Rahim

While studying at Temple University in Philadelphia in the ‘70s, I became
good friends with a fellow-student named Bob Morraine. Bob had a terrific
sense of humor who could tease out laughter from the bleakest of situations.
I found his company delightful.

One day I learned that Bob’s father was a dentist with a thriving practice
in a suburb of Philadelphia. When I told him that I had never had a dental
checkup in Bangladesh, Bob was aghast. Ignoring my protestations, he
immediately made an appointment for me to see his father.

When Dr. Morraine took a look at my teeth the following week, it would be an
understatement to say that he was shocked. I was overdue for extensive
dental surgery. The treatment had to be spread out over several weeks and
would have cost a few thousand dollars even then, but knowing my status and
still wanting to honor me as a paying customer, he charged me a grand total
of … fifty dollars.

Bob was Jewish and we rarely saw eye-to-eye on the Palestinian issue, having
animated give-and-take whenever the opportunity arose. There was one topic,
though, that cast a shadow on Bob’s ever-smiling face, and that was the
topic of the Holocaust. Although I was aware of the general nature of this
crime against humanity (my most vivid exposure to it was the 1961 movie,
Judgment at Nuremberg), I would never have fathomed its affect on the Jewish
psyche had I not known Bob. Even though removed from the event by a
generation or two, the Holocaust seemed as real to Bob as it was to its
victims. I learned to respect that and developed an understanding of the
enormity of the genocide.

Bob and I lost contact after graduation. I came west to California (“Go
west, young man!” as Horace Greely, a newspaperman from Lincoln’s time,
exhorted.) As far as I know, Bob stayed East.

The memory of my friend came flooding to my mind when I learned that the
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had sponsored a 2-day “International
Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust” in Tehran,
beginning December 11. I could almost see the sorrow on Bob’s face as he
lapsed into uncharacteristic silence on hearing the news. Nothing could make
the atrocity of this conference more painful for me than imagining the
effect it must have had on a friend I had known decades ago. I felt ashamed
and angry.

The question remains: why? Why hold a conference like this? Surely it cannot
be to prove that the Holocaust never happened. There is far too much
evidence for even the most diehard denier to seriously consider such a
notion. Is it to prove then that, while it may have taken place, it wasn’t
as “bad” as it has been made out to be, that maybe, instead of 6 million
Jews, only a million or two perished? Would that somehow make the Holocaust
a lesser crime against humanity? What lunacy is this, trying to open a
hidden wound with such cruelty?

I was heartened to see the major American Muslim organizations unequivocally
condemning the Iran conference. I was most inspired by Imam Mohamed Magid of
the All Dulles Area Muslim Society who organized a visit by several Muslim
leaders to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to acknowledge and commemorate
Jewish suffering under the Nazis. As reported by Mary Beth Sheridan in
Washington Post on December 21, the museum’s director, Sara J. Bloomfield,
said: “We stand here with three survivors of the Holocaust and my great
Muslim friends to condemn this outrage in Iran.” Johanna Neumann recalled
how Albanian Muslims saved her Jewish family when they fled to Albania from
Germany. “Everybody knew who we were. Nobody would even have thought of
denouncing us to the Nazis,” said Neumann. “These people deserve every
respect anybody can give them.” (I hope a Muslim equivalent of Schindler’s
List will one day see the light of day.)

Equally compelling was the letter written by a Palestinian militant to the
president of Iran (reported by Rabbi Michael Lerner in a message to the
Tikkun community) who had spent 18 years in an Israeli prison.

Mahmoud Al-Safadi wrote: “I am furious about your insistence on claiming
that the Holocaust never took place and about your doubts about the number
of Jews who were murdered in the extermination and concentration camps,
organized massacres, and gas chambers, consequently denying the universal
historical significance of the Nazi period … Whatever the number of victims
– Jewish and non-Jewish – the crime is monumental … Ask yourself, I beg you,
the following question: were hundreds of thousands of testimonies written
about death camps, gas chambers, ghettos, and mass murders committed by the
German army, tens of thousands of works of research based on German
documents, numerous filmed sequences, some of which were shot by German
soldiers – were all these masses of evidence completely fabricated?”

While the Tehran conference reflects the opinion of Ahmadinejad and his
cohorts, it is a mistake to think that it also reflects the opinion of
ordinary Iranians. During the week of the Holocaust conference and
afterwards, students at several leading Iranian universities staged massive
demonstrations against the president for his crackdown on academic and
personal freedom. “Forget the Holocaust – do something for us,” they
chanted, and even “Death to the dictator!” (reported in New York Times by
Nazila Fathi, December 21).

Denying the Holocaust only diminishes the denier. In that regard, one irony
that must have escaped the president of Iran is that Jews, Christians and
Muslims are celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid-ul-Adha, respectively,
in the same month in which he held his infamous conference. I find the
symbolism deeply persuasive, in that peace, hope and goodwill will always
trump enmity, despair and hate.

(The author’s website is at )