Some members of the Jewish community objected two decades ago when a group of nuns, in a spirit of penance for the Holocaust, tried to build a convent on the grounds of Auschwitz. The Catholics’ prayers, charged the critics, were inappropriate at a site where millions of Jews were murdered.
Some other non-Jews prayed late last month at the infamous death camp, and no voices of protest were heard.
As part of an interfaith program that brought 14 imams, Muslim religious leaders, to Poland to raise awareness about the Holocaust to the Islamic community, the imams bowed in prayer in front of Auschwitz’s Wall of Death, which is still riddled with bullet holes.
The itinerary, which included a tour of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, featured meetings with local Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders. The visit was sponsored by the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom.
“This is an opportunity for imams who are influential in their communities to look at the Holocaust firsthand,” and to see the effects of hatred, Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, told AFP. “If we want the world to remember the horrors of the Holocaust … then we have an obligation to have communal leaders understand what happened.”
The visitors came from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority.
“Today, we’ve met real people who suffered the Holocaust and the heroes that saved them at the risk of losing their lives,” Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, told AFP after a meeting with survivors at Warsaw’s Nozyk Synagogue.
“I understand the suffering of the Jews in the last century and I pray that both Jews and Palestinians do not suffer,” said Imam Barkat Hasan, from Ramallah. “Unfortunately, now we see in the world the lesson of the Holocaust has not been learned. We see this in Gaza, in Palestine and now in Syria. We’re all human, respect that.”