Holocaust Conference Was Nothing More Than a Dangerous Propaganda Effort for Political Purposes
Pete Berkowitz is chairman of the board of Holocaust Museum Houston. Fred Zeidman is a member of the Houston museum’s board and serves as chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing body for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Holocaust Museum Houston is located at 5401 Caroline St. in Houston’s Museum District.Admission is free.
By PETER N. BERKOWITZ and FRED S. ZEIDMAN
Ordinarily, those of us dedicated to remembering the Holocaust do not debate people who deny that event ever occurred. To do so would simply encourage those who spew hatred and could be seen as giving credence to their absurd claims.
But when the president of a country with responsibilities to his people, the world and the truth seeks to rewrite the facts of history and to erase our memory of millions of people who were tortured, who were separated from their families or who lost their lives, we would be remiss in not speaking out.
The recent conference on the Holocaust held in Tehran should be viewed by the world as exactly what it was – nothing more than a propaganda effort by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to bolster his own political agenda and image as someone willing – even if ignorantly – to confront the United States and Israel.
While Ahmadinejad called his conference a "scientific" inquiry, its participants included a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, other racists and Holocaust deniers from around the world. His inquiry was anything but scientific. It was an abhorrent distortion of history, an abomination and an insult to those who died in the Holocaust and their families and to all educated people.
And it was dangerous. Adolf Hitler was able to slaughter millions of innocent victims because of two things: First, he was able to use centuries of hatred, prejudice and propaganda to portray his victims as sub-human and less worthy of life and, second, the world kept silent and allowed him to do it.
Ahmadinejad’s statements that Israel should be wiped off the map and his assertions about the Holocaust and the Jewish people follow a disturbingly similar theme. Reminiscent of Hitler’s 1938 promise to stop his land grab with Czechoslovakia, Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, many believe, is linked to his lust for nuclear weapons and intended to convince European countries that his only target for destruction is the Jews. "He believes that if he is only against the Jews, then the world will be tolerant," historian David Menashri has said.
As internationally known author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi once wrote, "It happened. Therefore, it can happen again." And that is what makes Ahmadinejad’s conference worthy of note.
That also is the core message as you enter the permanent exhibit at Holocaust Museum Houston, and it is why Ahmadinejad’s conference must be viewed as what it actually was.
It is why our Museum is always free and open to all who seek to learn the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy. It is why we have expanded our mission to include educating our communities and our children about other genocides, such as in Rwanda and Darfur. It is why we send traveling exhibits around the country and why we ship our educational trunks for students free of charge around the globe to help turn the world’s hate into hope.
Hatred and prejudice know no boundaries, and the loss of any life is one too many. We cannot stand by and allow any president – any person anywhere – to lead us down that road again.
This time, the world spoke up. The Vatican, the White House and the German and French governments have all expressed outrage and are to be commended for refusing to be bystanders to such an unconscionable affront to the civilized world.
The Holocaust happened. The facts are clear and undeniable and can never be rewritten or forgotten. It is the most well-documented crime in history. Yes, there are photos, maps, films, documents, letters and artifacts to prove it. We have thousands in our own Museum available for inspection by anyone with a doubt.
But more telling are the tattooed numbers that our Houston survivors who lived through the horrors of Auschwitz still bear on their arms and sometimes show to help remember their family members who did not survive.
More telling are the names of brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of Houstonians that are now inscribed below a Hebrew prayer on our Memorial Room wall.
More telling are the steps attached to our 1942 railcar built for the Nazis. It was built based on a cattle and grain-car design just two months after Hitler developed his "Final Solution" to exterminate the Jews, but you don’t need steps to transport cattle or grain. Its cargo was human.