Muslim Clerics Learn Lessons of Auschwitz Firsthand

Imams Say Jews' Suffering Offers Universal Warning About Hate

Muslim clerics pray at the Auschwiz concentration camp in Poland during a visit in May to learn about the Holocaust.
a.j. goldmann
Muslim clerics pray at the Auschwiz concentration camp in Poland during a visit in May to learn about the Holocaust.

By A.J. Goldmann

Published May 29, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
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The most remarkable moment came when the group decided to take their afternoon prayers in front of the infamous “Wall of Death.” Imam Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, another participant in the 2010 trip, led the service. The participants kneeled down on the naked earth and genuflected repeatedly, the coarse dirt sticking to several foreheads. By the time the group reached Birkenau, they were running several hours behind schedule. But the participants collectively defied an irate bus driver in order to spend the extra time walking along the “Judenrampe” to the site of the crematoria.

“None of us is here out of curiosity,” said Safi Kaskas, a businessman and interfaith activist who was born in Lebanon, has U.S. citizenship and lives in Saudi Arabia. “We’re all here because we care deeply about human suffering and what happened to the Jews.”

“It’s important to understand what happened to the Jews, to understand and appreciate the suffering they’ve been through…in order to better communicate,” he explained, “in order to convince my Jewish neighbors that it is better to have peace than to have war [so] the suffering they experienced in Europe should not repeat itself in the Middle East.”

Echoing the sentiments of many of the other participants, Jusic, the Bosnian religious educator, said that the proper meaning of Auschwitz belongs not to the past, but to the future. “We cannot go back and help those children and women we saw and those innocent people being gassed and burned, but we can make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” he said.

Breger was pleasantly surprised at the trip’s end, when the participants all signed a public condemnation of Holocaust denial nearly identical to the one that was drafted by the 2010 group.

Breger added that he was now looking to organize a third trip that would bring rabbis and imams together to visit both Auschwitz and Srebrenika, the site of the July 1995 Serbian massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, which many Muslims perceive as an example of the West looking the other way while Muslims were slaughtered. “By speaking to that belief, you would go a great way towards making it easier to engage with the tragedy of the Shoah and Jewish pain and trauma,” said Breger.

Contact Adam Goldmann at feedback@forward.com.


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