UK Christian, Muslim leaders join chief rabbi on visit to Auschwitz

Leaders from the Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian faiths joined a delegation of 200 students on the one-day visit.

Auschwitz 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Auschwitz 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams led a delegation of religious leaders to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland on Thursday, marking the first time such a large number of religious leaders has visited the death camps. Leaders from the Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian faiths joined a delegation of 200 students on the one-day visit. It was organized by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) as part of its Lessons from Auschwitz Project for post-10th grade students and teachers. Now in its 10th year, the project has seen over 5,000 students, teachers and parliamentarians from across the UK visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. The visit also marked the first time the archbishop of Canterbury has visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with the chief rabbi. "Auschwitz, as many have said, reduces us to silence," Williams said. "But to say this and no more is to shy away from the challenge it poses. If we are truly committed to hearing and learning, we have no choice but to seek to grow in our ability to identify where these are present today. Our hope is that in making this journey together, we also travel towards the God who binds us together in protest and grief at this profanation." Among the participants was Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, chair of the Interfaith Committee at the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Last year, the MCB announced an end to the boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day and said it would now take part in the annual commemoration. The council had maintained a boycott since 2003 because it felt that the event was not properly inclusive of the "Palestinian genocide." Also present were Moulana Shahid Raza, executive director of the Imams and Mosques Council, and Shi'a community representative Sayeed Nadeem Kazmi, adviser on international affairs to the Al Khoei Foundation - an international charity that looks after the welfare of the Shi'a Muslim communities in the UK. Participants first visited Osweicim, the town where the death camp was located and where 58% of the population was Jewish before the war. From there, they visited the Auschwitz barracks and crematoria. The visit ended at Birkenau with a candle-lighting ceremony and reflective readings by students, the archbishop and the chief rabbi. "The Holocaust did not happen far away, in some distant time and in another kind of civilization," Sacks said. "It happened in the heart of enlightened Europe in a country that prided itself on its art, its culture, its philosophy and ethics. However painful it is, we must learn what happened, that it may never happen again to anyone, whatever their color, culture or creed. We cannot change the past, but by remembering the past, we can change the future." "The project is an integral part of the HET's work, as it gives participants the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of the dangers and potential effects of prejudice and racism today," said HET chief executive Karen Pollock. "We are pleased that the archbishop and the chief rabbi, together with representatives from the UK's major faiths, joined us on this visit to demonstrate the importance of Holocaust remembrance and of joining together to stand up against discrimination in whatever form it may materialize." Working in schools, universities and in the community, the HET educates young people from every ethnic background about the Holocaust and the important lessons applicable today. It also plays a leading role in training teachers how best to teach the Holocaust.