KRAKOW – “As soon as possible, I will bring my family here. I will arrange for
Turkish imams and muftis to come to Holocaust sites. My people don’t know what
These were the words of Dr. Ahmet Muharrem Atlig from
Istanbul – one of several imams and Muslim religious leaders from nine countries
who took part in a trip to Germany and Poland as a part of a Holocaust awareness
program organized by the US Center for Interreligious Understanding.
leaders visited the Auschwitz and Dachau death camps, where they held prayers
for the victims. They also visited the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews
in Warsaw, met with Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Holocaust
survivors, and witnessed for themselves the sites of the Holocaust.
trip concluded with a kosher dinner at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow,
where each of the attendants spoke of his feelings after this unusual
Atlig is the secretary-general of the Journalists and Writers’
Association in Istanbul and a former imam in London.
He is a father of
three children, aged 17, eight and two.
“I came here with quite a lot of
information about Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Holocaust,” he said. “This was the
kind of information that I read in books and learned from the Jewish community
in Turkey, where I’m in charge of relations with Christians and Jews.
didn’t expect this to be a turning point for me,” Atlig continued. “I’ve made
many decisions here.
“It’s not an agenda, it’s a reality. This is not
Jewish heritage, it is world heritage.
The Jewish people were the most
severely affected, but the lessons are global.
“We met survivors and
heard their stories; we cried here. These things moved me.”
Jusic is an Islamic theologian from Bosnia, the father of two daughters aged
four and six.
“Coming from Bosnia, I went through the experience of
genocide and the 1992–95 war. Seeing what I saw here, it saddens me to see that
these things keep happening, that we don’t learn from history,” he
“After Auschwitz and Dachau, humanity said, ‘Never again,’ but with
the rise of the far Right in the same towns we visited in Europe this week, I
wonder how sincere we were in that,” Jusic continued.
“I will do anything
to ensure that such things cannot happen to my children or anybody else in the
We can’t change history, but we must do whatever we can against
Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious
Understanding added, “The most important part of this trip is the recognition
that the horrendous suffering that took place here in Auschwitz can only be
overcome if people are willing to take up more than their share of bringing
about a common good.
“If people are strictly interested in their
immediate needs, security and safety, without being concerned with the tragic
suffering in the world and striving to rectify it, there is no reason that these
horrible things may not recur,” he said.
“I think that the imams that
came here, having very little knowledge in many cases of the Shoah, are now
convinced that any kind of Holocaust denial is simply out of the question. Imams
from all over the world, including the Middle East, categorically rejected
Holocaust denial and all forms of anti- Semitism, and they are committed to
making this clear to their vast constituencies.”
director of the Krakow JCC, who hosted a dinner for the imams, said: “This is
the first time we have hosted a group of Muslim clerics, and we are very excited
about it. I think the most important message is the responsibility we all have
to fight hate and prejudice.
“The Holocaust is a symbol of what
intolerance can lead to, whether it’s against Jews or any other group, and I
hope that Muslim leaders will learn the same lesson from it as everyone else:
That we all need to work to build a more tolerant, accepting society.
also hope,” he continued, “that this visit helps them understand Jewish history
and the special role the Holocaust plays in our identity and worldview. By
understanding each other’s history, grievances and suffering, Jews and Muslims
can seek common ground and not base their actions on fear and
In his address to the Muslim clerics, Ornstein spoke about
post-Holocaust Jewish life in Krakow and about the founding of the JCC and its
“I spoke about the two main ideas that the JCC symbolizes:
that no matter what happens to a community or a people, there is always hope,
and how important it is for people passing through Krakow on their way to
Auschwitz to understand that Jewish life goes on and that Krakow is a symbol of
hope for reconciliation and community development. If Jewish life can thrive
here, just down the road from Auschwitz, anything is possible.
“It is a
great honor for our institution to have been asked to participate, and we are
pleased to be able to show the imams that the story of the Holocaust, although
sad and tragic, has a final message of hope.
“I hope that they will share
what they have learned here with their communities and use this experience to
help Muslims around the world to understand more about Jews and our history,
particularly the difficult chapter of the Holocaust.
Ornstein focused on the phenomenon of Holocaust denial and how it might be
“There is far too much Holocaust denial in the Muslim world,
but I’m certain that trips like this will help alleviate that,” he said. “I find
it tremendously inspiring that the participants took the time to come here and
learn about the Holocaust and its repercussions.
“We have prepared a
kosher dinner for them, which of course also means it was halal. Perhaps this
can be the pilot meeting of a program that regularly brings Muslim clerics and
leaders to Krakow.”