Muslim religious leaders meet with Holocaust survivors in Poland

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 19:16 EDT
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A scale model of the largest synagogue in pre-war Warsaw, the Great Synagogue via AFP
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Muslim religious leaders from across the globe met with Holocaust survivors and their saviours in an emotional encounter Tuesday at Warsaw’s synagogue, as part of an anti-genocide programme that includes a visit to Auschwitz.

“Today, we’ve met real people who suffered the Holocaust and the heroes that saved them at the risk of losing their lives,” a visibly moved Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), told AFP at the event.

Once Europe’s Jewish heartland, Poland saw 90 percent of its 3.3 million pre-war Jews wiped out under Nazi German occupation between 1939-45.

“The dead corpses of children everywhere in the streets of the ghetto — I’ll never forget that,” Marian Kalwary, 83, a Polish Jew who as a child was rescued from the notorious Warsaw ghetto, told the visiting imams, some of whom wept.

Out of a total 24,811 people honoured for saving Jews from Nazi genocide by the Israel-based Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, nearly 6,400 are Poles — the most from any single nationality.

Tadeusz Stankiewicz, 83, is one of them.

At just 11 years of age, he risked execution to help save a Jewish friend he identified as Shloma “Jan” Szmulewicz, who passed away in 2007.

“You have a heart, right? So when someone tries to harm or kill your friend, you use it — what else can you do as a human being?” he told AFP, speaking at the synagogue.

The Muslim religious leaders from countries including Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States were due to visit Auschwitz on Wednesday.

More than one million people, mostly European Jews, perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland from 1940 until it was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.

“I understand the suffering of the Jews in the last century and I pray that both Jews and Palestinians do not suffer,” Palestinian Imam Barakat Hasan from Ramallah said.

“Unfortunately, now we see in the world the lesson of the Holocaust has not been learnt. We see this in Gaza, in Palestine, and now in Syria. We’re all human, respect that,” he added.

Earlier Tuesday, the group visited the Polish capital’s new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in the heart of city’s Jewish community prior to the war which became the infamous Warsaw ghetto under the Nazis.

The sprawling venue details nearly a millennium of Jewish life in Poland obliterated by the Holocaust.

A soaring rupture opening on to undulating walls marks its facade, an allusion to Exodus and the parting of the Red Sea, through which Moses led the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt to freedom, a narrative shared by the Torah, the Bible and the Quran.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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