Krakow, Poland – Amid prayers and emotional scenes at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi German death camp, senior Muslim clerics joined Jews in an unprecedented joint visit to the scene of the biggest mass murder of the twentieth century. Around one million Jews were murdered there by the Nazis during World War Two.
The World Muslim League, whose headquarters are in Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, represents over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
The 62-person delegation was led by the League’s secretary-general Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, alongside representatives of the American Jewish Committee, including its CEO David Harris.
The high-level delegation of Islamic scholars from various sects will later visit the site of the largest massacre in Europe since World War Two ended. Twenty four years ago, during a civil war, seven thousand men and boys were murdered near the town of Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.
The League says its visits come “as part of an international tour to sites of injustice and persecution, to condemn the heinous crimes committed against humanity, regardless of the identity or values of the perpetrators or victims”.
The delegation says it will show its “solidarity with all victims, in accordance with the peaceful values of Islam”. Among the delegation are prominent religious leaders from some 28 countries on several continents. The mission is the most senior Islamic leadership delegation ever to visit Auschwitz or any Nazi German death camp.
The mission to Auschwitz was a key element of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in April last year by the Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee.
The visit occurred just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year will mark the 75thanniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camp. Only around seven thousand people were found there alive.
Besides the more than one million Jews who were exterminated, over 100,000 non-Jewish inmates, among them principally Polish Catholics, Roma, and Soviet prisoners of war, also died.
“To be here, among the children of Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and Islamic communities, is both a sacred duty and a profound honor. The unconscionable crimes to which we bear witness today are truly crimes against humanity. That is to say, a violation of us all, an affront to all of God’s children,” said Dr. Al-Issa.
Three leading figures in the American Jewish Congress 24-person delegation had parents who survived in the Holocaust: President Harriet Schleifer, CEO David Harris and Executive Member Steven Zelkowitz.
“Visiting this sacred place, understanding what transpired at Auschwitz, is vital to preserving the memory of the Jewish, and non-Jewish, victims of the Nazis and striving to ensure that such horrors never happen again,” said Harris, the son of Holocaust survivors.
“We are deeply moved to be the hosts for such an unprecedented visit. This creates the chance not only to deepen understanding of the unparalleled crime that took place here, but also to build bridges of friendship and cooperation between Muslims and Jews in pursuit of a more humane and safer world for all.”
Each member of the Muslim and Jewish delegations carried a memorial candle and placed it at the monument honouring the more than 1.1 million people murdered at the Nazi camp.
Following the ceremony and memorial prayers for the dead, Dr. Al-Issa made a speech. He said: “By paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, we not only honor the dead but celebrate the living. Throughout the visit, stories of our shared humanity showed through the horror.
“I was amazed by stories of some individual Muslims who sought to save Jews from the Holocaust at great personal risk in Europe and North Africa. These precious men and women represent the true values of Islam. And today’s visit by the American Jewish Committee and Muslim World League is made in the spirit of this noble tradition of brotherhood, peace, and love.”
The two delegations will continue their joint mission in Warsaw, with a to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. They will also meet with the Muslim community of Warsaw and attend a prayer service, and take part in a special programme at the Nozyk Synagogue. After dark, they will join together for an interfaith Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.