Krakow, Poland — When Muslims tour Auschwitz and other sites of the Jewish Holocaust, and encounter survivors of that genocide face-to-face, the points of connection they make can be quite unpredictable.
For Barakat Fawzi Hasan, a Palestinian assistant professor in Islamic Education at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, a moment of clarity came as he and his co-religionists listened, spellbound, to Lidia Maksymowicz as she told her harrowing story of survival. Although she was only five years old when she was liberated from Auschwitz, Maksymowicz could still remember the taste of buttered bread and coffee with milk given to her by the Soviet soldiers who entered the camp.
“As Palestinians who have felt for 65 years the pain of being displaced, we feel the pain of the others,” said Hasan after hearing her talk. Seeing the children’s belongings at Auschwitz, reminded him of “some of the stories of the children of Palestine,” he added.
Hasan said that he would like to bring Holocaust survivors to Palestine to relate their stories. “I cannot hold back my tears when I see the tragedy that took place here in Europe, especially what happened to the Jews. I hope that Palestinians and Israelis take a lesson from all of this and that we both have a future of hope and peace.”
For Muhamed Jusic, a religious education teacher from Bosnia, the touchstone was his own first-hand experience of genocidal war in his native land during the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.
“For many people to visit such places is just history,” said Jusic, who is also a public affairs commentator and interfaith activist back home. “For me it isn’t. The fact that I come from Bosnia affects everything that I saw here. My personal experience of the war and the things that I went through emphasize that we need to learn and study about what happened during the Second World War because what happened in Bosnia proves that it can happen again, maybe not on the same scale, but it can be repeated.”
Marshall Breger, an Orthodox Jew, has seen such reactions from Muslims before. In 2010, he and Rabbi Jack Bemporad, organized a similar trip for American Muslim leaders. But the trip Hasan and Jusic took part in, from May 17 to May 24, was designed by Breger, Bemporad and Suhail Khan, a senior fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, to be international in scope.
“It’s the nature of religion in America to have a little more tolerance, and for clerics in America to know a little more about other religions,” said Breger, a former senior official in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. “Many of the people on this trip, frankly, at best knew nothing. I say ‘at best’ because they probably have read ‘Protocols [of the Elders of Zion’] or other things.”