The Holocaust Through Muslim Eyes

Dr. Mehnaz Afridi is working to create understanding through the acceptance and enormity of the Holocaust.

Children say goodbye to their friends at the fence of the Lodz ghetto. (photo credit: YAD VASHEM PHOTO ARCHIVES)
Children say goodbye to their friends at the fence of the Lodz ghetto.

“I am a Muslim that speaks out against anti-semitism. I am a Muslim witness to many survivors who have spoken to me about the Holocaust.” As the world’s first Muslim director of a Holocaust center, Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and director of the college’s Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center, offers a unique perspective on the persecution and murders of the Jews of Europe. The Center educates people about the Holocaust and genocide, emphasizing the contemporary significance of these events, while fostering understanding among different religions, cultures, and communities. Dr. Afridi is also a member of the ethics and religion committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

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“A wise person once reminded us that the Holocaust did not begin at the gates of the concentration camps, says Afridi. “It began with words and rhetoric that grew into prejudice and then acts of discrimination and bias-motivated violence, and finally genocide.” Afridi, the author of the book ‘Shoah through Muslim Eyes,’ rejects polemical myths about the Holocaust and the Jews and attempts to create understanding between two communities through the acceptance and enormity of the Holocaust.  “I am a Muslim who believes that we should focus on trying to understand other faiths and beliefs,” she says. As the director of the Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center, Afridi works to preserve the memory of the Holocaust through the work of students, community, and local survivors. 

Comparing the effects of the Corona pandemic to the events of the Holocaust, Dr. Afridi notes that unlike the Corona virus, which has no race, religion nor gender, and attacks society indiscriminately, regardless of race, religion, gender, or socio-economic class, “the Holocaust was a virus of hate towards a particular people.” Citing statistics that indicate a marked increase in antisemitism over the past four years she says, “We must stand up for one another as we see the spike of hatred around the world for 2016 to 2020. One important lesson about the tendency of hate is that is escalates when it is unchecked.”  When confronted by intolerance, says Afridi, it’s easy for people to turn their backs and walk away, and to avoid getting involved. Unfortunately, she says, “Many did that in Europe many years ago, and the subtle bias was able to grow and fester like a cancer – perhaps a virus.”

Dr. Mehnaz Afridi (Louis Conduit photography)Dr. Mehnaz Afridi (Louis Conduit photography)

Dr. Afridi explains that one of the great tragedies of the Holocaust is that the millions who perished represent a world of lost possibilities and unfulfilled potential. “They would want to know that they were not forgotten,” she says. The youth of today are the last generation who will be able to hear the eyewitness testimony from the last survivors of the Holocaust, says Dr. Afridi, but she adds that students have opportunities to reflect on the Holocaust, and to hear stories of survivors and resisters and rescuers of all faiths that people have forgotten, “who had courage on the front lines.”  Drawing another parallel to the Corona pandemic, she compares those who rescued people during the Holocaust with today’s medical health care workers – doctors, nurses and orderlies – who risk their lives to save people every day. “This is called courage and love,” she says. 

As the world pauses to remember the Holocaust, the millions who died, and those that survived, Dr. Afridi concedes that to the younger generation, the Holocaust can sound like ancient history. Nevertheless, she says, it is important to remember, and to continue to utter the mandate of ‘Never Again’. “We remember those that survived and those who had courage We remember those in the front lines, and we remember that hatred is like death and a virus. We remember today, because of our hope that the world will never go through darkness as deep as that.”

This year’s March of the Living has been cancelled due to the Corona virus that has spread throughout the world. In its place, the Virtual March of the Living Ceremony organized by the International March of The Living and the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University,  will take place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 21th, at 7:00 PM EST on JBS TV and the March of the Living website and Facebook page.  

The program will include: the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin; first-hand testimony from noted Holocaust survivors Edward Mosberg and Irving Roth; keynote address from Mehnaz Afridi: Director, Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College; addresses by: Paul S. Miller, founder of the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, Rutgers University; John Farmer, Director of the Miller Center; March of the Living President, Phyllis Greenberg Heideman; Dean Renee Middleton, Dean of the School of Education, Ohio University; statements of March of the Living alumni from around the world, and musical presentations by former March of the Living performers.

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Written in cooperation with the March of the Living.