40 Questions, 40 Answers About the Holocaust


On Jews and Judaism

Who is Jewish?

     According to Jewish tradition, a child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish, as well as anyone who converts to Judaism following strict rules and rituals. A person can be Jewish, but at the same time not religious. Non-religious Jews are referred to as secular Jews. Jewish religious tradition includes different movements, from the strict Orthodox tradition to conservative and Liberal Judaism.

How many Jews are there in the world today?

     Approximately thirteen million Jews live throughout the world, a tiny fraction of the total world population of 6.6 billion. About half of them live in Israel, while the United States, Russia and France also have sizeable Jewish populations. In the past thirty years the Jewish population in the world has only grown by two percent, in contrast to a 60 percent increase in the total world population.

Are Jews a race?

     No. In terms of biology, there is only one race: the human race. But in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, some influential European scientists were interested in proving the superiority of their own race – the “white race”. Their ideas were used by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s to distinguish the Aryans from other races. The Nazis devised a “race ladder” which put the Aryans at the top and the “Semitic race” at the bottom. Modern science and genetic studies have conclusively disproved the notion of race classifications.

What is anti-Semitism?

     Anti-Semitism is a synonym for the hatred of Jews and anti-Semitic means anti-Jewish. The word anti-Semitism became popular around 1880 because of articles and pamphlets written by Wilhelm Marr, a German journalist who came to be known as the “father of anti-Semitism”. While political anti-Semitism arose in the nineteenth century, religious anti-Semitism (also known as anti-Judaism) began in ancient times and continued into the Middle Ages, particularly within the Christian Church. The legitimacy of religious anti-Judaism was based on the accusation that the Jews incited the Romans to murder Jesus Christ, a Jewish preacher who the Jews did not recognize as the Biblical Messiah.

Is there a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world?

     While hatred of Jews goes back a long time in history, the idea that Jews are out to dominate the world gained currency in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This myth, which played an important part in Nazi propaganda in Germany, was revitalized at the beginning of the twentieth century in Russia with the release of the book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book was produced by the Tsarist regime in Russia to divert public opinion from the country’s severe crises and blame the Jews for the plight of the Russian people. The Protocols provide an alleged account of twenty-four secret gatherings of the so-called Elders of Zion, a fictitious group of rich Jews. These men gather to discuss the question of how they can destroy the Christian community and establish a Jewish world order. The Protocols were first published in a newspaper in St. Petersburg in 1903 and other releases quickly followed – versions often differing extensively.
Sadly, the Arabic and Persian versions of the Protocols are widely distributed in the Muslim world, and Muslims are being misled by this forgery. In 2002, Egyptian television launched a major soap opera series based on the Protocols. The series, entitled Horseman Without a Horse, has been broadcast in a number of Arab countries, continuing to propagate this myth.


Is U.S. foreign policy dominated by the Jews?

     Political lobbying is institutionalized in the U.S. and organized groups who want to promote certain interests are officially registered and are required to work in a transparent manner. There are pro-Arab and pro-Iranian lobbying groups, as there are Jewish lobbyists. It is more accurate to speak of a pro-Israel lobby instead of a Jewish lobby. Interestingly, evangelical Christians play a very prominent role in the pro-Israel lobby in the States. There are about seven million Jews in America, making up 2.5% of the population. The Jews in America form a vastly diverse and often divided community.
The influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington on America’s Middle East policies is often exaggerated. An extensive survey of hundreds of cases of policymaking related to the Middle East showed that in situations where the viewpoints of the American president and the main pro-Israel lobby in the United States, AIPAC, clashed, Congress sided with AIPAC in only 27 percent of all cases.


Basic Questions about the Holocaust

What does the term “Holocaust” mean?

The Holocaust was the systematic persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were “racially superior” and that the Jews, deemed “inferior,” were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community. Gypsies, people with mental and physical disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons.


What does “Final Solution” refer to?

The term “Final Solution” refers to Germany’s plan to murder all the Jews of Europe. The term was used at the Wannsee Conference, which took place in Berlin on January 20, 1942, where German officials discussed its implementation. The Nazis used the term “Final Solution” to conceal the plan that, in its entirety, called for the murder of all European Jews by shooting, gassing and other means. Approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children (1.5 million children) were killed during the Holocaust — two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II.


How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?

Between five and six million Jews – out of a Jewish population of nine million living in Europe – were killed during the Holocaust. It is impossible to know exactly how many people died as the deaths were comprised of thousands of different events over a period of more than four years. About half of the Jewish victims died in concentration camps or death camps such as Auschwitz. The other half died when Nazi soldiers marched into many large and small towns in Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union and other areas and murdered people by the dozens or by the hundreds.


What is the evidence that so many Jews were killed by the Nazis?

The numerous pieces of evidence proving that between five and six million Jews were killed by the Nazis include:

  • Records on the number of people sent to the larger death camps, which were built and used primarily for Jews;
  • Demographic studies of the number of Jews in Europe before and after the war;
  • Progress reports from Nazi commanders of death camps and from organized killing squads in the conquered territories;
  • Post-war testimonies by Nazi leaders and commanders
  • More recent evidence that has come to light, for example, as a result of excavation of mass graves of Jewish victims in the Ukraine

Nazi leaders made numerous references to the extermination of Jews, including:

Diary of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief (Lochner, The Goebbels Diaries, 1948, pp. 86, 147-148):

        February 14, 1942: The Führer once again expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it. The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them. Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies. We must hasten this process with cold ruthlessness.

        March 27, 1942: The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only 40 per cent can be used for forced labor.

SS Chief Heinrich Himmler’s speech at Posen on October 4, 1943, which was captured on audiotape (Trial of the Major War Criminals, 1948, Vol. XXIX, p. 145): 

        I refer now to the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people. This is one of those things that is easily said: “the Jewish people are being exterminated,” says every Party member, “quite true, it’s part of our plans, the elimination of the Jews, extermination, we’re doing it.”


Why did the Nazis single out the Jews – among all their “enemies” – for extermination?

Hitler started a world war to achieve his dream of world domination. The war left behind an estimated 72 million dead, among them 47 million civilians, of whom some six million were Jewish. Jews were the targets of the Holocaust because Hitler hated Jews and blamed them for all of the problems in the world. He was brought up in Vienna, where Jews played a prominent role in the city’s political and cultural life. He especially blamed them for Germany’s loss of World War I. Hitler told the German people that they could have won the first war, if Germany had not been “stabbed in the back” by the Jews and their conspirators.

Hitler’s hatred of Jews was so profound that several of his biographers have called it an obsession. Albert Speer, who was a close confidante to Hitler, wrote in 1977:

    The hatred of the Jews was Hitler’s driving force and central point, perhaps even the only element that moved him. The German people, German greatness, the Reich, all that meant nothing to him in the final analysis. Thus, the closing sentence of his Testament sought to commit us Germans to a merciless hatred of the Jews after the apocalyptic downfall.

    I was present in the Reichstag session of January 30, 1939 when Hitler guaranteed that, in the event of another war, the Jews, not the Germans, would be exterminated. This sentence was said with such certainty that I would never have doubted his intent of carrying through with it.

Did ordinary Germans know about the persecution of Jews while it was happening?

In the 1930s, Nazi persecution of Jews and other opponents were common knowledge in Germany. News reels in cinemas around the world at the time showed footage of attacks on Jews, their properties and synagogues in Germany during Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass). But the Nazis tried to keep the extermination of Jews and their other genocidal acts a secret. While ordinary Germans knew that the Jews had been deported to the east, large segments of the German population were unaware that they were being murdered.


Did the people of occupied Europe know what the Germans were doing to Jews at the time?

The attitude of the local population vis-a-vis the persecution and destruction of the Jews ranged from zealous collaboration with the Nazis to indifference to active assistance to Jews. Thus, it is difficult to make generalizations. The situation also varied from country to country. In Eastern Europe and especially in Poland, Russia, Romania and the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), there was much more knowledge of the “Final Solution” because it was implemented in those areas with the participation of part of the local population.  In Western Europe, the local population had less information on the details of the “Final Solution.” It must be mentioned that in every country in Europe, there were courageous individuals who risked their lives to save Jews. In several countries, there were groups which aided Jews, e.g. Joop Westerweel’s group in the Netherlands, Zegota in Poland, and the Assisi underground in Italy and inhabitants of the French village Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.

Who are the “Righteous Among the Nations”?

“Righteous Among the Nations” refers to those non-Jews who on their own initiative often put their lives at risk to aid Jews during the Holocaust. There were “Righteous Among the Nations” in every country overrun or allied with the Nazis, and their deeds often led to the rescue of Jewish lives. Yad Vashem, the Israeli national remembrance authority for the Holocaust, bestows special honors upon these individuals. To date, after carefully evaluating each case, Yad Vashem has recognized approximately 10,000 “Righteous Gentiles” in three different categories of recognition. Seventy Muslims have been recognized to-date as “Righteous Among the Nations”.


Could anything have been done to stop the genocide of the Jews?

The response of the Allies to the persecution and destruction of European Jewry was inadequate and the strongest moral voice – that of the Pope – was silent. On December 17, 1942, the Allies issued a condemnation of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, but this was the only such declaration made prior to 1944. Moreover, no attempt was made to call upon the local population in Europe to refrain from assisting the Nazis in their systematic murder of the Jews. It has been suggested that the Allies could have bombed the death camp at Auschwitz to slow down the Nazi murder machine. But it is unlikely that any such measures could have stopped, or even significantly slowed down, the genocide of the Jews.


Why do the Jews regard the Holocaust as unique, while so many human beings have lost their lives in other catastrophes throughout history?

It is morally unjustifiable to rank human suffering in order to diminish the horror of “lesser” forms of human suffering. Every catastrophe or act of genocide has its similarities and differences with other catastrophes and genocides. But historians emphasize that the Holocaust was unique, because it was (and remains) the only time in history when one nation – ranking itself among the league of so-called civilized nations – tried to systematically murder every man, woman, and child of a certain ethnic or religious minority as a political goal, seeking to find and destroy them everywhere, from the bustling metropolitan centers of Europe to remote Greek islands. The Nazis created a complete bureaucratic apparatus to accomplish their goal.


On How the Holocaust Took Place

What was the difference between concentration camps and extermination camps under the Nazi regime?

The Nazis set up a camp system that included different types of camps serving different purposes. Concentration camp was the generic term for prison camps.  “Labor camps” were those that were maintained for the purpose of exploiting slave labor for Germany’s war effort. “Extermination camps” were six camps located in Poland where the mass murder of Jews and others took place.


Why did the Nazis build the extermination camps outside Germany?

Being outside Germany made the camps easier to conceal from the German people. Also, the vast majority of murdered Jews came from conquered territory to the east and south of the pre-war German borders. The extermination camps were located closer to these areas to facilitate transport.


Did the Jews try to fight against the Nazis?

Despite the difficult conditions to which Jews were subjected in Nazi-occupied Europe, many engaged in armed resistance against the Nazis. This resistance can be divided into three basic types of armed activities: ghetto revolts, resistance in concentration and death camps, and partisan warfare.  The Warsaw Ghetto revolt, which lasted for about five weeks beginning on April 19, 1943, is probably the best-known example of armed Jewish resistance, but there were many ghetto revolts in which Jews fought against the Nazis.

Despite the terrible conditions in the death, concentration, and labor camps, Jewish inmates fought against the Nazis at the following sites: Treblinka (August 2, 1943); Babi Yar (September 29, 1943); Sobibor (October 14, 1943); Janowska (November 19, 1943); and Auschwitz (October 7, 1944).

Jews also actively took part in national resistance movements against the Nazi occupiers and in Jewish partisan units.


The Nazis, the Holocaust, and Muslims

What did the Nazis really think about Muslims?

According to the Nazis’ racist ideology, Arabs are racial Semites and thus subhumans, similar to Jews.  In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler described the struggle for world domination as an ongoing racial, cultural and political battle between Aryans and non-Aryans. He envisaged a “ladder” of racial hierarchy, asserting that German “Aryans” were at the top of the ladder, while Jews and Gypsies were consigned to the bottom of the order. On Hitler’s racial ladder, Arabs and Muslims occupied a servile place, held in much the same contempt as the Jews.

Hitler made a personal remark in 1939 in which he referred to the populace of the Middle East as “painted half-apes that ought to feel the whip”.
As in other instances, however, the Nazis never allowed their ideological views to get in the way of more urgent political considerations. The Nazis recognized the importance of wooing the Arab and Muslim world to their side and, in their public proclamations, downplayed their real views of Muslims and Arabs. When Mein Kampf was being translated into Arabic in 1938, Hitler himself tactfully proposed to omit from it his “racial ladder” theory.


What was the attitude of Muslims towards the Nazis?

Throughout the 1930s, the Nazis tried to exploit Arab and Persian resentment of Britain’s colonial domination of the Middle East. The Nazis promised the Arabs “liberation” from the French and British, a promise which many in the Arab world, not grasping the racist character of a Nazi regime that would likely have reduced them to slaves in their own land, took at face value.

Although there was sympathy for Nazi Germany across much of the Muslim world, this was mostly on the grounds of strong anti-British hostility rather than support for Nazi racist doctrines, and it rarely includes an anti-Semitic element. While for the vast majority of Muslims the war in Europe remained a distant conflict, the Nazis managed to recruit some Muslims directly. Two SS divisions were raised from Albanian and Bosnian Muslims, but the Nazis soon discovered that these units were militarily ineffective and unmotivated to fight for the Third Reich.  The Nazis made much propaganda about the meeting between Hitler and Haj Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, which took place on November 21, 1941. Al-Husseini or the Muslims troops fighting on the side of the Wehrmacht were not representative of Muslim sentiments in the course of World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers from Africa, India, and the Soviet Union fought in the Allies’ armies to help to defeat fascism at places like El-Alamein, Monte Cassino, the beaches of Provence, and Stalingrad.


Did any Muslims help save the lives of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution?

Yes. The case of Albania is interesting to note. Albania is the sole European country with a Muslim-majority population. Albania was the only country in Europe in which there were more Jews after the war than there had been before the war. Before World War II, there were only 200 Jews in Albania, which had a total population of 800,000. After the war, there were many more Jews after Jewish refugees from some half dozen European countries fled the Nazi persecution and sought shelter in Albania.

Among the 70 Muslims officially recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, there are many stories of great courage and sacrifice. These include the Bosnian Dervis Korkut, who harbored a young Jewish woman resistance fighter named Mira Papo and saved the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the most valuable Hebrew manuscripts in the world; the Turk Selahattin Ulkumen, whose rescue of fifty Jews from the ovens of Auschwitz led to the death of his wife Mihrinissa soon after she gave birth to their son Mehmet when the Nazis retaliated for his heroism; and the Albanian Refik Vesili who – at the age of 16 – saved eight Jews by hiding them in his family’s mountain home. 


About Jews, Muslims, and Christians

Have Jews and Muslims always been each other’s enemies?

No. There are many similarities between Islam and Judaism as religious faiths. Both worship a strictly Unitarian God. Both have sacred laws with strict dietary codes and detailed rules governing gender relations. Both insist on their texts being learned and taught in their original languages. Muslims regard Jews and Christians as “People of the Book”. In the Dar al-Islam – the territories ruled by Muslims – they always enjoyed more protection than heathens. For centuries across the Muslim world, Jews and Christians were subject to the rules of the dhimma statutes: in exchange for payment of extra taxes, they were granted the status of inferior citizens. For fourteen centuries, Jewish minorities lived in peace in many countries and under many regimes in the Muslim world. Yet, Muslim countries experienced peaceful periods and tolerant regimes as well as warlike regimes and intolerant periods. Under the rule of many Ottoman Sultans, for example, the religious climate was relatively tolerant. By contrast, the Safavid dynasty in Iran that ruled from 1501 to 1722 was extremely intolerant of religious minorities. Not only Persian Jews, but Zoroastrians and Armenians in Iran were regularly harassed, persecuted and forced to convert under the Safavid kings.


Did Jews live better in the past under Islam than under Christianity?

It is difficult to compare fourteen centuries of Islam to twenty centuries of Christianity, but it is generally true that while discrimination occurred against Jews in the Islamic world on a regular basis, they were rarely persecuted. In Christian Europe, much energy was devoted to coercing Jews to repudiate their religious beliefs. For centuries, Christians zealously tried to convert Jews; this occurred much less under Islam. During these times, numerous Christian theologians and Church officials were guilty of propagating anti-Semitic legends and stereotypes. In past centuries, Muslim scholars and Islamic thinkers have been far less guilty of this. Early Muslim literature contains no “Jewish monsters”. Anti-Semitic stereotypes first appeared in the Muslim world in the nineteenth century when large parts of the Arab world were conquered by European colonial powers. It is striking that almost all the anti-Semitic myths that proliferate in the Arab and Muslim world today were fashioned in the Christian or Western world.


Are there examples of harmonious Jewish-Muslim coexistence in history?

For centuries, most of the world’s Jewish population lived in Muslim-ruled territories. Although Jews were always treated as dhimmis, there were periods of tolerance and even prosperity. During the tenth and eleventh centuries in the Muslim-ruled part of the Iberian Peninsula called Andalusia (Al-Andalus), Jewish, Christian, and Islamic arts and sciences flourished in harmony. The most beautiful Moorish palaces were built, calligraphers and illustrators created beautiful Torah scrolls, Bibles, and Korans, and Jewish linguists translated Latin texts into Arabic and Arabic texts into Latin. Jews played an important role at the court of Abd al-Rahaman III (912-961), who ruled the Caliphate of Cordoba for fifty years. This period came to an end when the fanatical Berber Almohad rulers of North Africa invaded Andalusia. The Almohads treated the dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, most Jews and Christians emigrated. Some, such as the family of the prominent Jewish philosopher Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.

When the Catholic king of Spain ordered the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II issued a decree to the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire “not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially”. According to the American historian, Bernard Lewis, “the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled”. Jews prospered under the rule of several Ottoman sultans and made significant contributions to science and administration. The first printing house in a Muslim country was set up by a Jew in Istanbul in 1493.


What does Islam say about Jews?

Jews and Christians have a unique status in Islam. Muslims believe that God passed on his will to the prophets Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Mary, the mother of Jesus, appears in the Koran more than in the New Testament. There are also many references to the Torah and the Jewish prophets in the Koran. Jews are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, while Muslims see themselves as descendants of Abraham and Hagar, the maid of Abraham’s wife, who gave him his first son, Ishmael.

According to Islamic tradition, Abraham built the Ka’aba – the sanctuary of Mecca – together with his son Ishmael. Muslims believe that God’s original revelations to Moses and Jesus were passed down inaccurately; the revelations to the prophet Mohammed, as recorded in the Koran, are the unique, eternal, true Word of God. Besides allusions to the Torah, the prophets, and the New Testament, the Koran also describes the clashes of Prophet Mohammed with the Jewish tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. Three Jewish tribes who did not want to convert to Islam lived there at the time of Mohammed. The Army of the Prophet expelled two of these tribes from Medina in 624 and 625. A few years later, the men of the third Jewish tribe were killed and their wives and children sold to slavery. Mohammed’s conflict with the Jewish tribes of Medina is not one of the Koran’s central themes; it is of minor importance. Yet, the Koran’s verses about the struggle of Prophet Mohammed against the Jews have been repeatedly used in recent years by extremists who intend to whip up anti-Jewish sentiments among Muslims. These extremists completely ignore the positive treatment of Jews in both the Koran and Prophet Mohammed’s oral tradition as exemplified, for example in Surah 2:47 of the Koran: “O Children of Israel! Call to mind My favor which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations.”


Is Islam against the Jews?

No, because the Koran recognizes Jews as “people of the Book”. That’s why many Muslims are saddened to see so much anti-Semitic myths and legends being propagated in the Muslim world. It must be remembered that there are many diverse movements within the Islamic world. One must not forget that down through fourteen centuries of history, the Islamic world was relatively tolerant of the Jewish minority in its midst, especially compared to the Christian world. Because of the climate of religious tolerance in the Ottoman Empire, the persecution of Jews was uncommon, just as it had been in Andalusia – Medieval Spain – during the time of Muslim rulers.

The anti-Semitism appearing in the Muslim world today was invented in Europe, although one must not underestimate the severity and maliciousness of the anti-Semitic ideas and stereotypes now rampant in many Muslim countries. Many of these stereotypes are easily traced back to anti-Semitic images that began ages ago in Christian Europe, among them myths that depict the Jew as traitor or conspirator, the blood libel myths, etc. But it is meaningless to speak of Christian or Islamic anti-Semitism. It is not the religions that are anti-Semitic, but extremists who manipulate religious sentiments for their political gains.


The Holocaust is part of European history, so why should it be relevant to Muslims?

The Holocaust – the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis – is not part of European history, but human history. What happened to millions of human beings in that genocide is relevant to every one of us, regardless of our religion or creed. One of the most tragic mysteries of the Holocaust is how the premeditated, systematic murder of millions of people could occur at the hands of a seemingly advanced society. But if we are to learn from the Holocaust, we must understand that the dark forces that undermined democracy in Germany, betrayed a generation of young people, plunged the world into a global conflict and led to the Holocaust continue to pose a threat to our societies.


On Holocaust Denial

What is Holocaust denial?

Holocaust denial refers to claims that the mass extermination of the Jews by the Nazis never happened; that the number of Jewish losses has been greatly exaggerated; or that the Holocaust was not systematic nor a result of an official policy; or simply that the Holocaust never took place. The Nazis were the first to try to conceal or destroy evidence of the Holocaust. A Frenchman named Paul Rassinier later stated that only 500,000 to one million Jews died during World War II, mostly due to bad physical conditions and gradually-not systematically at the hands of the Nazis. Other pseudo-scholars and “revisionist historians” have followed suit. With the advent of the Internet, Holocaust deniers have used this medium to spread their messages of hate, Many websites, established by them or by related groups such as white supremacists, offer their skewed version of events.


What evidence is there that the Nazis gassed their victims?

Death camp gas chambers were the primary means of execution used against the Jews during the Holocaust. The Nazis issued a directive implementing large-scale gas chambers in the fall of 1941 but, by then, procedures facilitating mass murder, including the utilization of smaller gas chambers, were already in practice. Before their use in death camps, gas chambers were central to Hitler’s “eugenics” program. Between January 1940 and August 1941, 70,273 Germans – most of them physically handicapped or mentally ill – were gassed, 20-30 at a time, in hermetically shut chambers disguised as shower rooms.

Meanwhile, mass shooting of Jews had been extensively practiced on the heels of Germany’s Eastern campaign. But these actions by murder squads had become an increasingly unwieldy process by October 1941. Mobile gassing vans, using the exhaust fumes of diesel engines to kill passengers, were used to kill Jews at Chelmno and Treblinka starting in November 1941. At least 320,000 Chelmno prisoners, most of them Jews, were killed by this method; a total of 870,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka using gas vans and diesel-powered gas chambers.

Gas chambers were installed and operated at Belzec, Lublin, Sobibor, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau from September 3, 1941, when the first experimental gassing took place at Auschwitz, until November 1944. Authorities have estimated that these gas chambers accounted for the deaths of approximately 2 to 3 million Jews.


Why are people who question the “Holocaust” accused of being anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi?

The murder of six million Jews in World War II is the best-documented crime against humanity in history. There is an abundance of documentation – most of it courtesy of the Nazi state – concerning the planning and execution of this atrocity. There is also a large amount of film and photo material of the liberation of the concentration camps, mass graves being uncovered, and there are countless eyewitness accounts, including many from Holocaust survivors. In the face of all this, Holocaust-denial always has political motives. It is frequently used to attract new followers to neo-Nazis.

Researchers and academics have amassed hundreds of examples that show a direct correlation often exists between Holocaust-denial and anti-Semitism or Nazism. For example, the main Holocaust-denial outfit in the United States, the Institute for Historical Review, is headed by Greg Raven, who in 1992 stated publicly that Hitler was “a great man…certainly greater than Churchill and FDR put together…about the best thing that could have happened to Germany.”

It is interesting to note that while hundreds of world-renowned historians have researched the Holocaust over the past few decades, none has subscribed to Holocaust-denial theories.


Why is it a crime in most European countries to deny the Holocaust?

Holocaust denial is a crime in European countries, because it is considered an incitmenet to discrimination, violence, racism and xenophobia. A person who says that the Holocaust did not exist, given all the court cases, all the monuments and museums, all the memoirs and films, is alleging a fraud on a massive scale. Holocaust denial, by its very nature, is an allegation of massive fraud.  The United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1996 in the case of Robert Faurisson wrote about Holocaust denial that: “It is implied, under the guise of impartial academic research, that the victims of Nazism were guilty of dishonest fabrication.” Since Holocaust denial is nothing more than a form of incitement to hatred against Jews, making it a criminal offence makes sense.

Why is Holocaust denial so widespread in Arab and Muslim countries?

The recent rise of Holocaust-denial in the Muslim world could be attributed to increasing state sponsorship, the spread of radical Islam, and the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Holocaust denial regularly occurs throughout the Middle East-in speeches and pronouncements by public figures, in TV programs on state-run television stations, in articles and columns by journalists, and in the resolutions of professional organizations. The main tenet of Holocaust denial-that Jews invented the Holocaust story in an attempt to advance their own interests-appears to be an increasingly accepted belief for many people in Arab and Muslim states.

The Arab and Muslim perception of the Holocaust has never been monolithic, and has often been influenced by the turn of events in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  In some cases, Holocaust denial is actively sponsored by national governments, such as Iran and Syria. In other Middle Eastern countries, however, denying or minimizing the extent of the killing of Jews during World War II has been adopted by opposition parties and dissident factions that oppose attempts at normalizing relations with Israel or the United States.


How was Holocaust denial “imported” to the Muslim world?

Although Holocaust denial first surfaced in the Arab world in the 1970s, it was not until the 1990s that Holocaust denial became prevalent in popular media throughout the Middle East. Among Holocaust deniers in the West, Roger Garaudy, a former French communist intellectual who converted to Islam, has been influential in spreading Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic literature in the Muslim world. Garaudy was hailed as a hero throughout the Middle East when he faced prosecution by the French government for inciting racial hatred. 

One of the most important signs of the growing ties between Western Holocaust deniers and the Arab world came to light in December 2000, when the U.S.-based Institute for Historical Review announced that its fourteenth revisionist conference would take place in Beirut, Lebanon, in early April 2001. Many Arab intellectuals were outraged and openly protested. The conference was eventually banned by the Lebanese government. In the 2006 conference on Holocaust in Tehran, organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, key speakers included European and American deniers such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, discredited academics, and several white supremacists.


What do Muslims gain in denying the Holocaust?

Nothing, but by denying a human catastrophe Muslims undermine their own self-esteem and moral values. No legitimate cause or agenda can ever be advanced by denying or belittling the immense human suffering caused by the murder of millions of Jews and other minority groups by the Nazi regime and its allies during World War II. Cynical attempts to use Holocaust denial as a political tool in the Middle East conflict will only serve to deepen the level of mistrust and hostility already present in that troubled region.


The Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Did Jews use the Holocaust to bring about the creation of Israel?

It would be a mistake to believe that the Jewish state owes its existence to Hitler. Jewish nationalism, Zionism, was more than half a century old when the Jews of Europe were exterminated. All the institutions of a Jewish state were already in place in Palestine when Hitler rose to power in 1933, and when the partition of Palestine was proposed in 1936. Israel, therefore, was not a direct outcome of the Holocaust.

Reading the deliberations of the United Nations and its bodies in 1947-1948, it is difficult to find evidence that the Holocaust played a decisive or even significant role.  It is certainly the case that the Holocaust hastened the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland in the eyes of the world. But there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the Holocaust and Israel.


Doesn’t talking about the Holocaust benefit Israel?

No. The Holocaust is not an Israeli issue, and furthermore, Holocaust denial by Muslims has not proven to be very helpful to the Palestinian cause. No matter what political position we adopt regarding the state of Israel and the policies of the Israeli government, the historical evidence for the Holocaust remains intact. Nothing can provide moral grounds for the denial or undermining of the genocide of the Jewish people. Acknowledging the Holocaust does not lead to disavowal of the rights of Palestinians, nor does its denial or undermining strengthen their case.


Why can’t the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be compared to the Holocaust?

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not racial, but national; it is political and territorial. It is a struggle between two peoples for a small land. Throughout the decades this struggle has oscillated between violence and attempts to negotiate a settlement. In the absence of a peace settlement, violence continues to torment Arabs and Jews and the plight of the Palestinians goes on.

More than anything else, the murder of the Jews stemmed from Nazi racial ideology. According to that ideology, the Jews were an evil race, whose very existence endangered Germany and all of human civilization. The Nazi campaign against the Jews was not focused on winning tangible gains, such as land and other wealth from the Jews. Its goal was to rid the world of the supposed pernicious influence of the Jews.

The Holocaust stemmed the Nazis’ racial ideology and they tried to kill all the Jews. In the Holocaust a sovereign nation harnessed all the apparatus of their state to the goal of the mass systematic murder of a specific people. The Nazis systematically murdered Jews in shooting actions and by gas in specially designed gas chambers in extermination camps.  In the ghettos, camps and slave-labor installations under the Nazis, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also brutally worked to death.  The end result was the murder of close to 6 million Jews. As tragic as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be, it cannot be compared to the Holocaust. Using terms taken from the history of the Holocaust to describe the situation in the Middle East does more to obscure than to clarify the events and their consequences.


Why should the Palestinians, who had nothing to do with the Holocaust, pay the price for it?

The question of the Holocaust, as a human catastrophe, must be separated from the creation of the state of Israel and, more particularly, Israeli policies. The hearts and minds of Palestinians and Israelis are burdened by sacred histories, by traditions of pain, by superstitions about the other, so much so that it is difficult for one to see the suffering of the other, now and in history.

The common Palestinian (and Arab) understanding of Jewish history, like the common Jewish understanding of Palestinian (and Arab) history, is riddled with malice and myth. It is the responsibility of intellectuals on both sides of the divide to try to correct the malice and the myth in the two communities. Muslim intellectuals must be courageous enough to declare that equating the Jews with the Nazis and drawing the Star of David (as a Jewish symbol) as the Nazi Swastika is not only absurd, but also the ultimate affront to victims of the Holocaust and their families – likening the victims to their executioners.

Jewish intellectuals, too, have a duty to erase the myth and malice that clutter their fellow Jews’ view of the Palestinians and their legitimate aspirations. Most importantly, the question of the Holocaust must remain separate from political disputes. Even if the Holocaust had played a decisive role in the creation of Israel, and even though Arabs did not have any part in the tragedy that visited the Jewish people, it would be morally unconscionable for Muslims to deny the Holocaust, or to consider acknowledgement of its having taken place to be a show of support for Israel or a betrayal of the Palestinians’ rights.


Why is there so much talk about the Holocaust?

The Holocaust is not just about remembering and honoring the victims of Nazism. It stands as a warning of what can happen when leaders of a country are motivated by hate, and use that hate to supply simplistic answers to the problems of their country and blame a specific group of people, based on religious or ethnic divide, for all these problems. Although those willing to use their hatred to achieve their goals are few, if no one stands against them, they appear the majority. If there is one thing we must learn from the Holocaust, it is that silence is the worst enemy of justice. If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, we cannot dismiss the Holocaust as history; we must take its lessons to heart.

Muslims – and indeed peoples of all faiths and no faith in particular – should study the causes and consequences of the Holocaust, especially the rhetorical devices used by political leaders, columnists and commentators in the decades leading up to it. And we must always remember that the Holocaust did not begin at Auschwitz or in the ghettos. It began long before, in the hearts of those who sat in silence and allowed hatred that was bred in ignorance to grow.