(CNN) – A Holocaust memorial exhibition has opened in the Middle East, which is considered the first of its kind.
“It reminds us that the unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always have a universal meaning.” Kathrin Meyer, general secretary of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, told CNN.
“As we see the generation of Holocaust survivors unfortunately pass, memorials and museums become increasingly important to ensure that this terrible event is never forgotten.”
Rabbi Elie Abadie, chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, says this new permanent exhibition is of enormous importance as nothing like it has ever been shown in the region.
“Although most people in the Middle East know that the Holocaust took place, they don’t speak or learn that much about it. Now the region is opening up, and this exhibition pays tribute to what happened and shows the public appreciation of the story. “
He says the Holocaust also took place on a smaller scale in Middle Eastern countries in the 1940s, where Arab Jews were persecuted in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq for Nazi-inspired teachings.
Hitler’s ideologies extended beyond Europe and it was important that those living in or traveling to this region were aware of this.
“Journey through history”
The museum displays art created by different civilizations and cultures over several centuries. So it’s only fitting that it should host this new exhibition, say the curators.
The mission is to educate Dubai’s over 200 different nationalities and raise awareness of the Holocaust.
The one-room exhibition, which sits alongside the museum’s six other galleries, takes you through the eyes of those who saw it, through the events before, during, and after the Holocaust.
The Nazis killed more than six million Jews during the Holocaust, along with millions of others, including the disabled and LGBT people, political dissidents, and religious and ethnic minorities.
Ahmed Obaid Almansoori, an emirate who founded the private museum, says the timing was right for a Holocaust exhibition to open in the area.
“The Holocaust was a crime against humanity. And when you have an event like this, you have to separate it from other events. A museum is not a political place, it is a journey through history.”
Yael Grafy, one of the exhibition’s curators, says she is thrilled to be able to educate people from all over the world about these events.
“It’s like a dictionary of the Holocaust. You learn things you wanted to know about the Holocaust but never dared to ask, like ‘What is a death camp?’, ‘Did the Nazis plan to murder Jews from the start? of the regime? ‘ and ‘What does final solution mean?’ “
In a speech at the official opening of the exhibition last week, Peter Fischer, German Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said the Holocaust was “an eternal mark of shame for my country,” and that is why he is so excited to see the exhibition.
“I congratulate the United Arab Emirates on their policy of tolerance. The path of intolerance is not the right one. It will lead to great suffering, even catastrophe. Take it from a German.”
“Every child had a story”
Anna Boros, pictured here as a young woman, was rescued by an Egyptian doctor who later adopted her. Your daughter provided this photo.
Courtesy Carla Grinshpan / Crossroads to Civilizations Museum
The exhibition was officially opened on April 8, Holocaust Remembrance Day 80, but the restrictions due to Covid-19 meant the ambassador and other attendees could not arrive to attend the event, so it was postponed .
At the center of the exhibition is a life-size picture of a boy from one of the most famous photographs of the Holocaust, “Warsaw Ghetto Boy”. His image is surrounded by real World War II-era weapons from the museum’s collection that are meant to create discomfort to draw attention to the scale of the disastrous event, say the curators.
“1.5 million children died in the Holocaust in World War II,” says Grafy. “We try to show that every child has a story.”
Excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary, which has become one of the most famous testimonies of the Holocaust, are also presented.
Part of the exhibition is dedicated to Arabs and Muslims who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. It sheds light on the rich history and coexistence among Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Jews in the 20th century.
“When people talk about the Holocaust and the Arab world, there are many different interpretations,” says Almansoori. “We have so many good stories about Arabs and Muslims helping Jews over time and that is the positive side that people don’t know that we want to educate them about.”
In 1943, hundreds of Jews sought refuge in Albania and were taken in by the majority Muslim population. The exhibition pays homage to one of Albania’s most sacred cultural traditions, known as “Besa” (“Word of Honor”). It values the protection of people in times of need, regardless of their origin.
“Albania is the only country (where) the number of Jews actually increased after the Holocaust.” says Grafy.
“My Duty to Humanity”
Mohamed Helmy, who saved the lives of several Jews, is pictured with his wife Emmy.
Courtesy Carla Grinshpan / Crossroads to Civilizations Museum
Another story highlights the bravery of Selahattin Ulkumen, the Turkish consul general on the German-conquered Greek island of Rhodes, during World War II.
In 1944 the island was home to a small community of around 1,700 Jews, including some Turks who were in danger of being killed. According to the exhibition, Ulkumen managed to save more than 42 Jews but paid a heavy price for it. The Germans bombed his house, killing his pregnant wife.
When asked why he did what he did, he replied, “All I have done is do my duty to humanity.”
The most specific story, according to Grafy, is that of Mohamed Helmy, an Egyptian doctor who studied in Berlin and saved several Jews from persecution. One of them was a young girl named Anna Boros, whom he eventually adopted.
He was the first Arab to be recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial.
At the end of the exhibition area there is a Koranic verse written in Arabic and translated into English: “Whoever saves a life saves the whole world.”
Grafy says the proverb exists in Jewish culture and is said in Hebrew.
“It means that when everyone has done something good, they can bring light and hope to the world,” she says.