Muslim World League makes a historic visit to Auschwitz death camp – where a million Jews were murdered.23 January 2020
Around one million Jews were murdered there by the Nazis during World War Two. Altogether, over six million Jews were killed, more than half the total Jewish population in Europe.
The World Muslim League, whose headquarters are in Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, represents over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
The visit took place just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camp. Only around seven thousand people were found there alive.
The 62-person delegation was led by the League’s secretary-general Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, formerly the Minister of Justice in the Saudi government, and walked through Auschwitz alongside representatives of the American Jewish Committee, including its CEO David Harris.
Among the Muslim delegation are prominent religious leaders from some 28 countries on several continents. The mission is the most senior Islamic leadership delegation ever to visit Auschwitz or any Nazi German death camp.
It’s mission to Auschwitz fulfiled a key element of the Memorandum of Understanding the two bodies signed in New York last April.
The Muslim League delegation says it is showing its “solidarity with all victims, in accordance with the peaceful values of Islam” during a six-nation tour of Europe..
Besides the more than one million Jews who were exterminated, over 100,000 non-Jewish inmates, principally Polish Catholics, Roma, and Soviet prisoners of war, also died.
“To be here, among the children of Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and Islamic communities, is both a sacred duty and a profound honour. The unconscionable crimes to which we bear witness today are truly crimes against humanity. That is to say, a violation of us all, an affront to all of God’s children,” said Dr. Al-Issa.
“We condemn the horrific acts that took place at Auschwitz against the Jews. It is a stain on humanity,” he added after attending prayers at a mosque and then a synagogue in the Polish capital Warsaw.
“The evidence we saw yesterday shook us all. It was so painful for me looking at human hair, at children’s shoes, at so much more evidence of the atrocity.”
Al-Issa, who is based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, led a delegation that included 25 prominent religious leaders, from 28 countries on several continents.
The mission is the most senor Islamic leadership delegation to ever visit Auschwitz or any Nazi German death camp.
Al-Issa called those around the world who engage in Holocaust denial “partners in the crime. They are like Nazis themselves.”
Emphasizing that Muslims and Jews have much in common, he said: “Even if we could act on ten percent of the commonality, it would help bring peace to the world.
“The meetings today and yesterday should send a strong message about our cooperation against those who twist the word of God to generate hate towards others, towards humanity,” Al-Issa said.
The Auschwitz visit and series of meetings in Warsaw is intended to lead to further joint efforts. Harris and Al Al-Issa referred to each other as “partners”.
“Our twenty-first century challenge is to write a new chapter between the Muslim and Jewish peoples,” said Harris. “There are those who want to keep us divided. We will not let them win. It’s about nothing less than defining the future of the world in which we want to live.”
Three leading figures in the American Jewish Congress 24-person delegation had parents who survived in the Holocaust: President Harriet Schleifer, CEO David Harris and Executive Member Steven Zelkowitz.
“We pray that your visit to Auschwitz will be a clarion call to action for Muslims and all humanity to learn the hard lessons of history — that hatred and demonization of a people nearly led to their total destruction,” said Schleifer. “We must never allow it to happen again to anyone.”
“Visiting this sacred place, understanding what transpired at Auschwitz, is vital to preserving the memory of the Jewish, and non-Jewish, victims of the Nazis and striving to ensure that such horrors never happen again,” said Harris, the son of Holocaust survivors.
“We are deeply moved to be the hosts for such an unprecedented visit. This creates the chance not only to deepen understanding of the unparalleled crime that took place here, but also to build bridges of friendship and cooperation between Muslims and Jews in pursuit of a more humane and safer world for all.”
At Auschwitz each member of the Muslim and Jewish delegations carried a memorial candle and placed it at the monument honouring the more than 1.1 million people murdered at the Nazi camp.
Following the ceremony and memorial prayers for the dead, Al-Issa said: “By paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, we not only honor the dead but celebrate the living. Throughout the visit, stories of our shared humanity showed through the horror.”
He added: “I was amazed by stories of some individual Muslims who sought to save Jews from the Holocaust at great personal risk in Europe and North Africa. These precious men and women represent the true values of Islam. And today’s visit by the American Jewish Committee and Muslim World League is made in the spirit of this noble tradition of brotherhood, peace, and love.”
The two delegations continued their joint mission in Warsaw, with a visit on Friday 25 January 2019 to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
After dark, they joined together for an interfaith Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Christian church leaders and the Polish foreign minister were also made short speeches.
The high-level delegation of Islamic scholars from various sects will complete its European travels by visiting the site of the largest massacre in Europe since World War Two ended. Twenty four years ago, during a civil war, seven thousand men and boys were murdered near the town of Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.
The League says its visits come “as part of an international tour to sites of injustice and persecution, to condemn the heinous crimes committed against humanity, regardless of the identity or values of the perpetrators or victims”.