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The undertaking proved far more daunting than the previous trip for American Muslims. Just obtaining visas for some of the participants proved incredibly difficult. Several of the confirmed participants never showed up. Others arrived late, due to travel restrictions. Hasan, who as a Palestinian is stateless, with no passport of his own, was granted a visa to go abroad by Israel but denied passage through Ben Gurion International Airport. Instead, he had to travel to neighboring Jordan and fly from there to Germany.
“We moved heaven and earth to get them here. They’re heroic,” said Bemporad.
In the end, a dozen Muslims attended the week-long program — imams, educators, activists and scholars drawn from all over the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Bosnia, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, India and the United States.
The tour, which included visits to concentration and extermination camps in Germany and Poland, was funded by the U.S. Department of State and S.A. Ibrahim, an Indian American businessman and interfaith activist. Additional support came from Poland’s Foreign Ministry.
“People use the Holocaust for all sorts of political and ideological purposes,” said Bemporad, explaining his rationale for the excursion. “If you want to change people’s ideas, you need to present them with the actual experiences of a person who went through it, you need to see the actual conditions and know something about the history.”
Bemporad, director of the New Jersey-based Center for Interreligious Understanding, which sponsored the trip, said he hoped the experience would inspire participants to speak out against Holocaust denial in their countries as well as help them understand that when it was happening, the Holocaust “had nothing to do with Israel.”