Deny this, Mr. Ahmadinejad

To the president of Iran, from the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.

Ahmadinejad 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Since you took office last year, you have wavered between implicit and explicit denial of the Holocaust. If this canard weren't so malicious, it would be almost comical. Your foreign ministry recently convened an academic conference to examine the alleged outstanding "questions" that the world has yet to answer about that attempted genocide. Teheran has its Holocaust sources; I have mine. I am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, and one among many in the West who recognize your Holocaust skepticism as a cynical ploy to divert attention from your nuclear weapons program. Nevertheless, I cannot remain silent - for you offend the memory of the more than 6,000,000 Jews slaughtered by the Nazis. I will not indulge your callous, absurd assault on the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust other than to say that an awfully large number of European Jews seems to have disappeared between the years 1939-1945. How do you explain this? I would rather tell you about the devastation that the Nazi death machine wreaked upon my grandfather, claiming the lives of both of his parents - in systematic, brutal fashion. Perhaps this way you will acknowledge what is not myth, but fact, as much as two plus two is four. AFTER GERMANY violated its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and invaded Latvia in 1941 - do you deny this fact too? - the Jews of Riga, my grandfather's hometown, were forced into a walled-off ghetto. Late that year, Nazi death squads, aided by their Latvian accomplices, rounded up approximately 28,000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto, including my great-grandmother, and drove them to Rumbula Forest, a short distance outside Riga. Along with other "undesirables," my great-grandmother was forced to strip naked, cut down by machine-gun fire, and dumped into a mass grave. She remains there to this day. By November 1943, as part of the meticulous implementation of the Final Solution, the Nazis decided to deport the Jews of the Riga Ghetto to concentration and death camps on the European continent. Torn away from his remaining family, my great-grandfather was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, that uncompromising magnet of death. He probably died in a gas chamber, suffocating to death in a tortured, twisted bundle of humanity; yet alone, without his family, all the same. UNTIL A FEW years ago, his death was hard for me to imagine. But then I took a trip to Poland to see the death camps in person. I walked through a gas chamber complex, forcing myself to bear the excruciating experience in the knowledge that my great-grandfather could have walked such steps, perhaps knowing, perhaps not, that they would be his last. Standing next to one of the Birkenau gas chambers that was dynamited by camp inmates, I led my tour group in the recitation of the Mourners' Kaddish, a prayer traditionally recited during the year following an immediate relative's death. Though fleeting, this act restored some sense of dignity to a death overshadowed and forgotten because of the magnitude of so many others. This searing memory will live with me forever, and it gives me greater voice in speaking out against you today. SOME ARGUE that your audacity in questioning the severity of so-called "crimes" during World War Two stems from a general complacency in the fight to ensure that future generations learn about the Holocaust and its lessons. Or that with the last of the Holocaust survivors living out their final days, the time is right to reopen what you well know is a most painful anti-Semitic refrain. Finally, you may, as I believe, simply need a clever way of shifting the world's attention from your own attempt to replicate, at least in part, Hitler's failed mission. Know this, however: Whatever your motivation, you will fail in this attempt to ridicule and minimize the plight of European Jewry. You will fail because people of good conscience reject this attempt to dispute, distort and defame a dark historical reality. That you succeeded in gathering a cadre of compliant scholars in Teheran says only that anti-Semitism rears its ugly head anew from time to time - and not that the crime of the Holocaust did not occur. My generation, who knows our grandparents' past as if it were our own, will ensure that your cynical hatred never widens its insidious reach. We will continue to document this troubled time, spreading the irrefutable truth of the Holocaust. Of this, you need not have any doubt; you can be sure of it. The writer, a past editor-in-chief of the Yeshiva University Commentator, is a Legacy Heritage Fellow at the American Jewish Committee in New York.