Taking aim at Iranian Holocaust denial

Yad Vashem launches new YouTube channel with survivors' testimonials with Farsi subtitles to provide information about Holocaust.

January 25, 2011 15:28
3 minute read.
Aushwitz Birkenau entrance.

Aushwitz Birkenau entrance 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Yad Vashem, Israel's central Holocaust memorial and documentation center, launched on Sunday a new YouTube channel in Farsi in what officials said was a bid to counter Holocaust denial in Iran, which has become bon ton under the country's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The channel, mainly featuring video clips of survivors' testimonials with Farsi subtitles, will join Yad Vashem's channels in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and Arabic. The museum website already has a page in Farsi, the language spoken by 60% of all Iranians, which provides basic information on the Holocaust and the activities of Yad Vashem.

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"I turn to the Persian people," Yaakov (Jackie) Handeli, a Holocaust survivor from Thessalonica told journalists at Yad Vashem. "Let them see me and invite me to Iran. I am the sole member left of my entire family, and only because I was born Jewish, nothing else."

Ahmadinejad has at various times both denied the Holocaust and acknowledged it, albeit only to attack it as a pretext for the existence of Israel. Ahmadinejad's virulent rhetoric on the Holocaust is often tied to his calls to eradicate "the Zionist regime," both seen as preparing the ideological ground for attacking the Jewish state.

In 2006, Teheran sponsored what it called the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, which then Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said was called to provide “an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions.” In fact, the 67 attendees included an array of people denying that six million Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis during World War II. 

Eldad Pardo, an Iran specialist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Holocaust denial in Iran ran deeper than presidential statements. Iranian anti-Semitism stemmed both from the traditional Shi'ite outlook on Jews as "impure" and a more modern, Fascist version of anti-Semitism imported from Europe.

"There‘s certainly a need for this new YouTube channel," Pardo told The Media Line. "Since 2005, when Ahmadinejad came to power there has been a noticeable intensification in anti-Semitic rhetoric. No Iranian President has spoken like this before."

During World War II, Iran was officially neutral, but in effect it was a “pro-Nazi, quasi-fascist regime," Pardo said. "The Iranians, who viewed themselves as a superior Aryan race, assumed that Germany would win the war."

Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, spoke of what he called YouTube's ability to bring survivors' personal accounts to the attention of web users in Iran.

"The connection between one person and another is extraordinarily powerful," he said. "We know this site won't radically change people's positions, but it is a good start for achieving change over time."

Approximately one half of Iran's population of 74 million was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and with 33 million web surfers, Iran enjoys one of the highest proportions of Internet users in the Middle East.

"The young population in Iran will now be able to get true information about what happened in the war," Rena Shashua-Hasson, a Bulgarian Holocaust survivor, told The Media Line. "This new generation, which is half of Iran's population, is misinformed by its government."  

Iran has tried to block access to internet sites in the past, especially around the time of the 2009 presidential elections, in which the incumbent Ahmadinejad claimed 62% of the vote amid widespread allegations of election fraud. But David Yerushalmi, professor of Iranian studies at Tel Aviv University, said Iran's failure to completely restrict sites will give Yad Vashem a chance to bring its message.

"The importance of this site is that it might get to some of the population of Internet users in Iran," Yerushalmi told The Media Line.

Pardo of Hebrew University said Yad Vashem's message may be well-received by intellectuals in Iran who oppose the regime and its Holocaust denial. He said the only way to bring about change is to convince those already favorable to the ideas, and hope to empower them by providing facts.

"Today, hating Israel in Iran implies identifying with the regime," Pardo said. "Many in Iran have become pro-Israeli by default, because they oppose Ahmadinejad."

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