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Iran: Jewish Leader Criticizes President For Holocaust Denial

President Ahmadinejad speaking to foreign diplomats in Tehran on 13 February (epa) The head of Iran's Jewish community, Haroun Yashayaei, has sent a letter complaining to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad over his Holocaust denial comments. Yashayaei said the remarks have shocked the international community and struck fear within Iran's small Jewish community.

PRAGUE, 13 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- In the letter, Iranian Jewish Society head Haroun Yashayaei describes the Holocaust as one of the most obvious and saddest events of the 20th century, saying: "How is it possible to ignore all the undeniable evidence existing for the killing and exile of the Jews in Europe during World War II?"

Yashayaei's letter marks the first time an Iranian Jewish leader has openly criticized President Ahmadinejad's denials that the Holocaust took place.

Yashayaei also criticizes the holding of "different Holocaust denial seminars" and said that such actions will not achieve anything for the Iranian nation or for the world's Muslims or Palestinians. He says, "it just soothes the complexes of racists."

Denying The Holocaust

Ahmadinejad has on several occasions in recent months expressed doubt about the Holocaust of Jews under Nazi Germany, even calling it a "myth."

The latest denial came during his 11 February speech marking the 27th anniversary of the revolution, when he said: "We have proposed that if you [Jews] didn't lie then you should allow a group of independent and fair researchers to come and talk to people in Europe, see the documents [on the Holocaust], and inform the nations about the results of their research on the myth of the Holocaust."

Iranian Jewish Society head Yashayaei says in his letter, which is dated 26 January, that the holocaust is not a myth but remains "an infected wound for Western civilization."

Yashayaei compares the Holocaust with atrocities such as the 1988 massacre of Kurds in Halabche with chemical weapons and the 1982 killing of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. He says none of these events can be considered a myth.

Condemnation At Home And Abroad

Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth and his call for Israel to be relocated to Europe or Alaska have been strongly condemned by a number of countries, including the United States and the EU.

Children in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in January 1945 (epa

In Iran, some observers had warned that Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli remarks could damage Iran's national interests. The only Jewish parliamentarian in Iran, Maurice Motamed, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on 11 February that Jews around the world are offended by claims that the Holocaust did not take place.

"Denial of such a great historical tragedy that is connected to the Jewish community can only be considered an insult to all the world's Jewish communities."

Motamed added, however, that the anti-Holocaust comments will not have a negative impact on Iran's Jewish community and its members.

"The Iranian Jews have been present in this country for a long time, for some 2,700. During these 2,700 years they have always been in full understanding with the society, they've lived in friendship and brotherhood, so therefore I don't think that bringing up such an issue could damage the Jewish community in Iran."

In April, Motamed criticized state television for broadcasting anti-Semitic programs and said that some of the programs hurt the feelings of Jews and led to their emigration.

Some 85,000 Jews lived in Iran before the Islamic Revolution. Now they number between 25,000 and 30,000.

Official Policy

Ahmadinejad is not the only Iranian official to deny the Holocaust and make anti-Israeli comments. Not recognizing the legitimacy of Israel and supporting the Palestinian cause has been the official policy of the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.

But observers say Ahmadinejad has surpassed other Iranian officials by using almost every occasion to make inflammatory comments regarding Israel's existence and the Holocaust.

In recent months, the number of discussions and seminars devoted to the issue of the Holocaust have also increased in Iran.

Iran's plan to hold an international conference to examine the scale of the Holocaust has already been condemned by Israeli and EU officials, including British Premier Tony Blair, who lashed out at the planned meeting as "shocking, ridiculous, and stupid."

In his letter, Yashayaei also criticizes the holding of "different Holocaust denial seminars" and said that such actions will not achieve anything for the Iranian nation or for the world's Muslims or Palestinians. He says, "it just soothes the complexes of racists."

It is not clear whether Ahmadinejad has responded to the letter.

(RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report.)

Remembering The Holocaust

Remembering The Holocaust

Children from the Auschwitz death camp when it was liberated in 1945 (epa)

Ceremonies were held around the world on January 27 to remember the victims of the Holocaust. It's the first international day commemorating the mass murder of Jews during World War II, and it falls on the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Nazi death camp at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. RFE/RL correspondent Kathleen Moore has assembled an audio portrait for the occasion, in which you'll hear voices of camp survivors, as well as sounds from the 60th anniversary commemorations at Auschwitz last year. It starts with the screech of brakes, recalling the trains that once took people to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Listen to the complete audio portrait (about three minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media

Train braking

Music and singing from 60th anniversary ceremony

Survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch in English: "We knew what was going on in Auschwitz, so it was a matter of preparing yourself to be stuck in a gas chamber."

Survivor Halina Kastrytskaja in Russian: "A train with Jews had arrived just before our train came [to the camp]. As the train with the Jews was unloaded they were taken straight to the crematorium."

Archive news announcer in English: "…the Nazi plan for the physical extermination of the Jews known as the Final Solution of the Jewish problem...."

Survivor Kurt Goldstein in English: "Three years that I passed in this camp which was a hell on earth."

Survivor Roman Kent in English: "How can one document the smell of burning flesh which filled the air? How can one describe the living skeletons, still alive, just skin and bones?"

Waldemar Dabrowski, Polish culture minister in 2005, in Polish: "We are on the site of the most gigantic cemetery in the world, a cemetery where there are no graves, no stones, but where the ashes of more than 1.5 million beings lie."

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney in English: "On this day in 1945, inside a prison for the innocent, liberators arrived and looked into the faces of thousands near death."

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russian:
"We bow our heads before the victims of the Holocaust, before all the victims of the inhumane war unleashed by Nazism. We mourn them and remember the immortal feat of the anti-Hitler coalition."

Unidentified female survivor in Polish: "Never -- never will this happen again."

Israeli Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel in English: "If you, after this day, will be the same, then we have lost an encounter with this memory which you are now the custodians of, it must do something to you and through you the whole world and put an end to the curse of hatred and the scourge of anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, hatred.''

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in English: "The evil that destroyed 6 million Jews and others in those camps is one that still threatens all of us today. Every generation must be on its guard to make sure that such things never happen again."

Paul Wolfowitz, then U.S. deputy defense secretary, in English: "Never again and never forget."

(compiled from RFE/RL interviews and archive materials)

A women's barracks at Auschwitz in 1945 (epa)

Related Articles:

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Post-Holocaust World Promised 'Never Again' -- But Genocide Persists

To view a microsite devoted to RFE/RL's coverage of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, click here.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.