Holocaust Books Presented for First Time in Abu Dhabi




For the first time in a Persian Gulf state, the Arabic translations of Anne Frank’s "Diary" and Primo Levi’s "If This Is a Man" were on display at the Abu-Dhabi International Book Fair, which has become one of the biggest book events in the Arab world. The Aladdin Project also organized a round-table discussion in Abu Dhabi on the Holocaust and Jewish-Muslim relations.

With over 1,000 exhibitors, 500,000 book titles in 30 languages and an International Conference for Translation, the week-long Abu Dhabi International Book Fair that opened its doors on April 26 has become the most prestigious and professional book event in the Arab world.

This year, the throngs of visitors in traditional Arabian garbs were surprised to find books in Arabic about a subject that has for long remained a taboo across the Arab world, namely the Holocaust.

Displayed prominently on the stand of BIEF, the International Bureau of French Publishers, the nine books of the Aladdin Project in Arabic drew the attention of numerous visitors, who for the first time were coming across books on the Holocaust in their native Arabic.

In addition to Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man, other books being exhibited at the fair included The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman, Sonderkommando by Shlomo Venezia, Hitler and the Jews by the Swiss historian Philippe Burrin, Shoah, the Impossible Oblivion by French author Anne Grynberg, Shoah by French filmmaker and author Claude Lanzmann, The Final Solution: A Genocide by British historian Donald Bloxham and The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg’s painstaking documentation of the Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe.

While men in white dashdashas and young women in black abayas leafed through the books and engaged in conversations with representatives of the Aladdin Project, Moroccan publisher Abdelkader Retnani, Aladdin’s publishing partner, took orders for books from members of the public and discussed possible cooperation with book professionals from different countries.

Abdulbari Ash-Shaikh, a middle-aged Emirati businessman visiting the fair with his three daughters, said after spending some time reading The Diary that he wanted two copies of the book for his family and his friends. “I have never heard of her before, but this girl’s simple words show me how pure and innocent she was and when I see that she was killed at the age of 15 only because of her religion, it pains my heart,” he said, pointing at the picture of Anne Frank on the book cover.

Suad Al-Fahad, a young student visiting the French stand with three of her friends, all dressed in the traditional black robes and headscarves, said after reading a few pages of Sonderkommando that the horror reminded her of the television reports from Syria. “How can people do this much evil to each other?” she said. Asked if she would buy the book, Suad replied, “I can’t take back home with me a book about Jews. I don’t know how my parents would react. We don’t talk about Jews or see Jews here, except for the Israelis on TV.”

In a country with a large population of immigrants, many of the visitors were from other parts of the Arab world. Kamel Al-Gharbi, an Algerian sociology lecturer who has lived in the Emirates for the past ten years, said he had never seen anything in Arabic about the Holocaust, but thought it was important for Arabs to read and learn about it. “For too long, the words ‘boycott’ and ‘ban’ have dominated our culture. What have we gained from them, except ignorance? The real Arab spring is when we let all ideas, all information, all books be openly available to our people, so that they can form their own judgment and views.”

Samir Haddad, a Syrian Christian who works as a photographer for an Emirati daily, took a photo of his son reading The Diary in Arabic. “Maybe if people had read books like this, we wouldn’t see all this carnage today,” he said ruefully.

His views were certainly not shared by Azzam, a Palestinian from Jordan who works in the oil industry in the Emirates. “What about the plight of the Palestinians? Why talk about the dead when the living are being suffocated to death?” he asked the Aladdin Project’s representative in Arabic.

Azzam was not the only visitor who expressed a negative view about the books on the Holocaust, but such reactions were by no means predominant during the days the books were on display. The majority of those who visited the stand and leafed through the books expressed curiosity and asked basic questions about an event which was totally unknown to them. Some praised the initiative and said it was needed.