Joining eight imams in prayer at Dachau concentration camp was a powerful experience and a profound show of faith and solidarity with the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. This event took place even as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia spread across the world. For these eight religious leaders, the future will be shaped by a shared understanding of the past, not by the prejudice of the present. As representatives of government and communities we joined these clerics to bear witness to the horror and tragedy of the Holocaust and reaffirm the pledge - “never again.”
This unusual study tour of Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps was initiated and led by an Orthodox Jew, sponsored by a German think tank on interreligious values and attended by eight American imams from varying backgrounds – including many who were educated in systems where the history of the Holocaust is not taught.
Marshall Breger, a Catholic University Law Professor and leader of the expedition, explained that the impetus behind the effort is to address, head-on, the denial of the Holocaust that is part of growing anti-Semitism in Muslim communities. His goal, one which we share, is to educate those who might not have the kind of knowledge we have about the Holocaust; to promote understanding; and even change.
As the group started into the camp it was clear that this was a remarkable moment in history. Together, we listened as survivors bravely shared their horrific experiences of discrimination, suffering and loss. Together, we watched as Max Mannheimer, a survivor of both Auschwiz and Dachau, rolled back his sleeve to show the tattoo permanently marked on his arm.
Walking down the train tracks from the Judenrampe to the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria, many remarked that they were not observing the sites as Muslims, Jews, or religious leaders, but as parents who could relate the horror of being separated from their children. Here, the words of Imam Muzammil Siddiqi rang true, “We came here to understand the pain of the Jewish community. This is in order to improve relationships because you cannot build relationships with people unless you know what they’ve been through.”
Determined to share this message of mutual understanding, the imams had this to say in a historic joint statement:
“…We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality (of the Holocaust) and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics. We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction…”
We are deeply aware of the growing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry that have blossomed worldwide. We believe, as our delegation does, that now more than ever people of faith must stand together for truth. As the Qu’ran says, we must “stand up firmly for justice” and the Torah tells us “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
We honor this remarkable experience by talking about it as clearly and definitively as possible. As President Obama forcefully stated in his address before Muslim communities around the world, Holocaust denial “is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful.” We must advance the universal message that such evil and darkness can only occur when people choose not to confront it. We will discuss this shared narrative among Jewish and Muslim people with the hope that our futures will hold more understanding and partnership.
We went to Germany and Poland to see Dachau and Auschwitz concentration and extermination camps. We stood together bearing witness to the most sinister and evil chapter of history, to the unthinkable deeds of governments, to the silence of so many, and to the willingness of those who became the executioners. We affirmed that education and dialogue are necessary first steps to overcome bigotry and ignorance. We expressed shared understanding of the dangers of ongoing polarization between Muslim and Jewish communities.
We came away with a new commitment to promote peace, understanding, respect, and empathy among our communities. We will provide leadership, foster partnerships and build collaborative efforts around combating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We are encouraged by this and other examples of interfaith collaboration developed organically through the vision and commitment of civil society and religious leaders. We thank the Konrad Adenaur Foundation for making this experience possible.
Salaam and Shalom,
U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference