In Berlin, German forum decries Holocaust denial conference in Iran


BERLIN — How many Iranians share their president’s Holocaust denial?

Most would probably reject it, “but they’re a silent majority,” Israeli scholar David Menashri said, speaking Dec. 12 at a daylong conference in Berlin on “The Holocaust in Transnational Awareness.”

Organized jointly by the Technical University of Berlin and the German Federal Department for Political Education, the event coincided with a meeting of Holocaust deniers and their sympathizers in Tehran on the invitation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Participants in the Berlin event took the opportunity to condemn Ahmadinejad for his Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic statements and threats against Israel — which he repeated Tuesday to warm applause from delegates, who included a fringe group of fervently Orthodox anti-Zionist Jews that often allies with Israel’s enemies, and European and American writers who argue that the Holocaust was either fabricated or exaggerated.

“Thanks to people’s wishes and God’s will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downward, and this is what God has promised and what all nations want,” Ahmadinejad said, according to news agencies. “Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.”

Condemnations of the Tehran conference poured in from the West. The White House condemned the gathering as “an affront to the entire civilized world as well as to the traditional Iranian values of tolerance and respect.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the meeting “shocking beyond belief” and said it proved beyond any doubt the Iranian regime’s extremism.

In Berlin, speakers emphasized that Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism and that Ahmadinejad is using the theme, together with his threats against Israel, to gain international standing among Arabs.

The average Iranian feels no solidarity with the Arabs, said Katajun Amirpur, a German journalist of Iranian background. For example, there is little support among Iranians for the Palestinians, she said.

“But Ahmadinejad is not addressing the Iranian masses,” Amirpur said. “Rather, he is addressing much more the Arab masses when he says that ‘if’ there was a Holocaust, and ‘if’ the Germans caused it, then they should settle the problem. It is in line with what 95 percent of Arabs think,” she said.

German journalist Esther Shapira said it’s a mistake to dismiss Ahmadinejad’s remarks.

“If Ahmadinejad says Israel should be wiped off the map — and he is not planning to revive Nazi Germany’s plan to move the Jews to Madagascar — we should take him seriously,” Shapira said. “It is dangerous to say that this is not what he really means.”

Holocaust denial came to Iran years ago, with the 1979 Islamic revolution. But Ahmadinejad, Menashri emphasized, “really believes in what he says.”

“He has an apocalyptical approach, that he was sent to pave the way” for the coming of the Messiah, he said.

Menashri said Europe has a moral responsibility to raise its voice about the Holocaust.

“They should tell the Iranian leader to get off of the Holocaust, you are touching very sensitive nerves, and not just of Jews but of many peoples,” he said. “That is the only request I have of Europe.”

Leading Muslim clerics “should stand up and say, ‘That’s enough, let’s take care of the real business in the Muslim world. And the real business is not denial of the Holocaust,’ ” Menashri added.

Among the speakers at the Berlin conference were Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg; historian Wolfgang Benz, director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin; Jean-Yves Camus of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris; historian Wolfgang Kraushaar of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research; historian Peter Longerich, director of the Research Center for the Holocaust and Twentieth Century History at the Royal Holloway College of the University of London; Israeli journalist and sociologist Natan Sznaider; and Gert Weisskirchen, a member of the German Parliament and representative on matters related to anti-Semitism to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

While participants agreed that the Iran conference had attracted a handful of well-known Holocaust deniers and their supporters, they noted that active Holocaust deniers were few.

“Numerically, they’re not many,” Camus said. “But they do have a network that puts their propaganda onto the virtual level,” on the Internet.

Benz spreading information about the Holocaust to a new generation is not easy.

“The best teaching can be undone,” he said, “when a pupil goes home, reports on what he learned, and then hears from an older relative, ‘Oh, you know what it’s like with the Jews.’ “

“It ruins the whole lesson,” said Benz, adding that media such as television and film are “more important than any other means of education.”