How do you say ‘Holocaust’ in Arabic?


By Tom Segev

Aladdin was a poor tailor’s son who got rich thanks to a magic lamp, according to one of the stories in “One Thousand and One Nights.” Reality, however, is more complex and difficult. But perhaps there is still something symbolic about the name “The Aladdin Project,” a non-government organization that is based in France and aims to make the Arab and

Muslim world more familiar with the history of the Holocaust. A difficult mission indeed.

The latest research on Arab attitudes to Nazi Germany shows that there were Arab and Muslim circles that were opposed to Hitler for political and ideological reasons, including the concern that the persecution of Jews in Europe would galvanize them to migrate to Palestine. But Arab support for the Nazis was more widespread, and there were Arabs who favored the annihilation of the Jews. Furthermore, over time, the more the Holocaust was used as a justification for the establishment of the State of Israel − the more the tendency among Arabs to view it as a Zionist myth and to deny it entirely grew. This trend reached a peak with the international conference of Holocaust deniers that was held in 2006 in Tehran.

All of this worried Anne-Marie Revcolevschi of Paris: Denial of the Holocaust in general, and in the Arab and Muslim states in particular, seemed to her to be a major threat to democracy and human rights, as well as to relations between Jews and Muslims. Dr. Revcolevschi, a 69-year-old French literature scholar, is a well-connected woman in her country, and identifies herself as a socialist. She has served as a consultant to France’s Ministry for Higher Education and Research, and was director of the French Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah.

In March 2009 Revcolevschi launched the Aladdin Project along with other French figures, among them philosopher and politician Simone Veil, lawyer and Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, and Claude Lanzmann, the maker of the documentary “Shoah.” Author Elie Weisel, who lives in the United States, also got involved in the organization.

The group’s working assumption is quite simple: The more Arabs and Muslims know about the Holocaust, the less they will be inclined to deny it, and the greater the chance they will grow closer to Jews. The modus operandi was quite simple, at the outset: The Aladdin Project translated “The Diary of Anne Frank” into Arabic. Then they translated Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man” and a series of other well-known books about the Holocaust, including Raul Hilberg’s pioneering work “The Destruction of the European Jews.” All of the books can be downloaded from the Internet. “The Diary of Anne Frank” in Arabic has registered some 30,000 downloads to date.

They organized conferences and gatherings, visits to Auschwitz, and also subtitled Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah” into several languages of Islam. The nine-hour film was broadcast in full on Turkish television and also on an American television channel that broadcasts in Iran.

The Aladdin Project operates under the auspices of UNESCO; it has received public support from a slew of statesmen, including former prime minister of France Jacques Chirac, and several Muslim and Arab leaders − among them the president of Senegal, the king of Morocco, Prince Hassan of Jordan, the grand mufti of Egypt and others. The organization has done projects in Iraq. A large share of the project’s budget comes from Jewish foundations, such as Safra and Rothschild, but among the dozens of Western individuals active in it there are almost no Israelis.

That is no accident, according to Anne-Marie Revcolevschi: They try to stay as far away as possible from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she says. Under no circumstances do she and her colleagues wish to get dragged into discussing the question of how much Israelis know about the Nakba.

Among the personalities who are affiliated with the NGO is Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, but despite the attempt to separate the subject of the Holocaust from the conflict − enlisting Palestinians in the endeavor has so far proved otherwise unsuccessful; at best they simply do not come to events organized by the Aladdin Project, as happened in East Jerusalem. At worst they refuse to talk about the Holocaust without also mentioning the Nakba and the occupation.

This theory seems right: Israel cannot be understood without understanding the place of the Holocaust among the components of Israeli identity, and whoever does not understand his enemy will also not be able to make peace with him.

In any case, reality does not make things easy for the good people who run the Aladdin Project: Last week Anne-Marie Revcolevschi was staying in Jerusalem, and thus had the opportunity to attend the funeral of the victims of Islamist terror in Toulouse.