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At several points, the participants made a clear connection linking the fates of Muslims and Jews. One such moment occurred inside of the crematorium at Dachau, where the participants recited the Janazah — the Muslim prayer for the dead — for Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian Muslim anti-Nazi spy who was murdered at Dachau in 1944.
The program also visited several sites of Muslim interest, including an excursion to the architecturally striking mosque in the Munich suburb of Penzberg, a rare success story in Germany, since it was built without any of the controversy that often accompanies such projects there today.
The group was also supposed to tour Munich’s grand Orthodox synagogue and meet Jewish community leaders, but community president Charlotte Knobloch flatly refused to welcome the delegation. In the city that was once Hitler’s ideological stronghold, Knobloch’s refusal to engage seemed particularly a missed opportunity.
“I thought it was very important for the imams to see that Jewish life — and in particular Jewish religious life — in Munich has not been destroyed,” a disappointed Breger said.
After Munich and Dachau, the group went on to Warsaw, where they toured the recently-opened Museum of Polish Jews and met with Holocaust survivors and with Righteous Gentiles, as non-Jews who saved Jewish lives are known. That night they dined with Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Shudrich and several Polish imams. The participants were impressed by the solidarity between Jewish and Muslim leaders, which has been strengthened by recent debates in Poland about hallal and kosher slaughtering.
From Warsaw, the group was driven to Auschwitz. There, they toured both the museum at Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau, many with tears in their eyes. As the group viewed the exhibitions housed in the former barracks, Imam Mohamed Magid, an American veteran from the first trip, routinely added commentary to the official guide’s explanations.
“I want everyone to know that behind every object here there was a real human being,” he said, stopping before a vitrine full of children’s shoes. “You can hear their footsteps,” he added chillingly. Before entering the gas chamber in Auschwitz I, he turned to the group:
“As you go in, I’d like you to imagine that screaming, to imagine the crying. We go here in a nice bus, we had a nice lunch and later we’re going back to the hotel,” he reminded his fellow visitors.