International Conference on the Holocaust and the Muslim World

International Conference on the Holocaust and the Muslim World Draws Big Names to Marrakech

A two-day conference in the Moroccan city of Marrakech this week on teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and other great tragedies of history brought together dozens of senior officials, historians, academics and educators from forty countries around the world and was described as “unprecedented and a major breakthrough” by Dr. Leah Pisar, chairperson of the Aladdin Project. The Paris-based international NGO organized the meeting together with the universities of Rabat and Marrakech and in partnership with UNESCO.

“This is our fourth international conference on teaching Holocaust history in the 21st century after similar meetings in Istanbul, Baku and Dakar,” said Dr. Pisar, a former advisor to President Bill Clinton and daughter of the late survivor of Auschwitz, Samuel Pisar. “And while we will be organizing seven more symposiums in Asia and Africa over the next two years, the conference in Marrakech undoubtedly marks a turning point in terms of the level of government support, scholarly presentations and public enthusiasm.” Dr. Pisar thanked Morocco’s Minister of Education, Prof. Saaid Amzazi, for his Ministry’s strong support for the initiative, and expressed the Aladdin Project’s gratitude to Ahmed Toufiq, Minister of Islamic Affairs, for offering the exquisite Mohammed VI Museum of Water Civilization as the conference venue.

Education Minister Prof. Amzazi told the conference that his country considered teaching the lessons of the great tragedies of history, including the Holocaust, an important ingredient of quality education. He quoted from King Mohammed VI’s message to the launch conference of the Aladdin Project in 2009, and his message to a UNESCO symposium on countering anti-Semitism in New York in September this year to show Morocco’s longstanding position concerning the need to recognize, commemorate and learn the lessons of the Holocaust, and at the same time honor those leaders and citizens in the Arab and Muslim world who provided refuge for Jews and saved them from the Nazis.

“Let there be no doubt: we are making history today in this room,” said André Azoulay, Advisor of the King of Morocco and a founding figure of the Aladdin Project, who called the conference’s success the fruit of a decade of work by the Aladdin Project and its numerous supporters in Morocco. He reminded the audience that the Aladdin Project’s primary mission was to raise awareness about the Holocaust in the Muslim world, and also to “awaken the conscience” of the Jewish world to remember that when Christian Europe had fallen under Nazi domination, Morocco under Mohammed V provided refuge to Jews. Azoulay encouraged all participants to “carry the messages of solidarity and reconciliation which were shared at the conference outward and follow the example of Morocco, an Islamic country, which has thrived by acknowledging all the cultures and civilizations that have shaped it throughout history: Amazigh, Muslim and Jewish”.

Serge Berdugo, President of the Jewish Community of Morocco, strongly backed Andre Azoulay’s remarks, and gave a personal testimony about the policy of the late Mohammed V to reject the pressures of the Vichy government. Abdelhak El Merini, the official Historian of the Kingdom of Morocco, Professor Jamaa Baida, Director of the National Archives of Morocco, and historians Mohammed Kenbib and Mohammed Oujamea presented archival documents and historical studies to shed further light on the courage and humanist vision of the war-time leader of Morocco.

Several other Muslim Righteous were also honored during the conference, as their actions were described by their descendants, researchers and historians. Aziza Benghabrit Zouaï, daughter of Si Kaddour Benghabrit, founder and director of the Great Mosque of Paris during the War, talked about her father’s decision to save several Jewish families from Gestapo by telling the Nazis that they were Muslim. Edmond Panariti, Albanian MP and former Foreign Minister, spoke about his parents, Isuf and NIqi Panariti who had hidden Jewish families during the Nazi occupation of Thessaloniki in Greece. Mahdieh Zardiny, producer of the documentary “Sardari's Enigma”, talked about Abdol-Hossein Sardari, the Iranian consul in Nazi-occupied Paris who saved dozens of Iranian Jews.

Ambassador Mehmet Samsar, Director General for consular affairs at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, referred to the documentary “The Turkish Passport” that told the story of several Turkish diplomats who saved many Jews from deportation in Nazi-occupied France and Greece.

An important panel discussion on the role of religions in teaching the lessons of history, such as the Holocaust, was chaired by Prof. Tudor Parfitt, an eminent British historian and author, and heard remarkable contributions from Dr. Ahmed Abbadi, General Secretary of Rabita Mohammadia of the Ulemas of Morocco; Monseigneur Jean-Marc Aveline, Bishop of Marseille; Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui, Chief Rabbi of Brussels; Moshe Lewin, Vice-President of the Conference of European Rabbis; Mohammed Moussaoui, President emeritus of the CFCM (umbrella organization of French Muslim organizations) and Prof. Steven Katz, the author of numerous books on comparative religions and mysticism.

A discussion on the content and methodology of Holocaust education, chaired by UNESCO’s Karel Fracapane, brought together Alain Chouraqui, Founding President of the Camp des Milles Foundation; Claude Singer, head of educational department at the Shoah Memorial in Paris; Nir Boms from the Moshe Dayan Center in Tel Aviv University; Mina Abdelmalak, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Rosvita Krajinovic, from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The second day of the conference focused on Jewish-Muslim relations in the Maghreb, with contributions from Benjamin Stora, a leading French historian on Algeria; Habib Kazdaghli, former dean of the University of Manouba in Tunisia; Prof. Mohamed Medlaoui, from the Institute of Scientific Research in Rabat, as well as painter and musical producer Francine Disegni and filmmaker Kamal Hachkar.

Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called the conference “a ray of hope in a darkening world” and gave concrete examples, from his forty-year career in the service of humanitarian goals, of how the lessons of the Holocaust have not been heeded. Former President of the European Jewish Congress Michel Friedman, whose parents were saved from Nazi gas chambers by Oskar Schindler, expressed delight that dozens of Moroccan students were in the audience, and he told them: “What you can learn from the Holocaust is that verbal hate is the crucial starting point of violence, and that it is our duty to prevent a final point of violence from happening again.”

Eric de Rothschild, Vice-president of the Aladdin Project and President of the Shoah Memorial in France, saluted the support of the Moroccan authorities for the conference and thanked the Moroccan Minister of Education for taking the lead among his colleagues in the Muslim world, Africa and Asia in this field.

Aladdin Board members Yves Kugelmann and Dominique Bocquet also addressed the conference, which was moderated by Renaud Girard, the foreign affairs columnist of the French daily, Le Figaro, and a professor of international relations.

Abe Radkin, the Aladdin Project’s executive director, hailed the presence of more than fifty political leaders, renowned historians and educational experts from around the world and dozens of senior officials and academics from Morocco at the conference. He thanked UNESCO for its longstanding partnership with the Aladdin Project and its support for the conference, which was underlined when UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay attended the luncheon that marked the end of the conference. Radkin also noted the unsparing efforts of Prof. Mohammed Rhachi, President of Mohammed V University, and Prof. Abdellatif Miraoui, President of Cadi Ayad University of Marrakech, and their staff to make the conference a remarkable success.

The New York-based Claims Conference, the French Foundation for Shoah Memory, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, the Rothschild Foundation and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) were the principal sponsors of the conference.

Moroccan television and radio stations and more than twenty news outlets carried reports about the conference.