Following an international meeting of Holocaust deniers in Tehran in 2006, Iranian exile Ladan Boroumand published a statement deploring the fact that denial of the Holocaust has become a propaganda tool for Iran's leaders today.
LADAN BOROUMAND: What totalitarian regimes do is to—and this is what makes them extremely devastating—is they look at you and say, "You are not." Or, "You are something else." Or, "This event didn't exist." This power, that is only God's power. If a regime, or some people, think they are God, they can have the right to make you animals or human. They can create you or kill you. And this is unbearable. So the only thing you can do—and the most subversive thing you can do—is to tell the truth. This is devastating because each time you come back with the truth, you deny their prerogative of creating a fictitious world where they can say whatever they want.
DANIEL GREENE: Ladan Boroumand and her sister Roya are Iranian exiles who founded "Omid," a memorial Web site that documents human rights violations by the Iranian regime. One of those abuses was the murder of their father in 1991. Following an international meeting of Holocaust deniers sponsored by the Iranian Foreign Ministry in December 2006, Boroumand published a statement denouncing antisemitism and condemning the gathering. The statement, signed by nearly 100 Iranian exiles and printed in The New York Review of Books, deplored the fact that denial of the Holocaust has become a propaganda tool for the leaders of Iran today.
Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I'm Daniel Greene. Every other week we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. Here's human rights advocate, Ladan Boroumand.
LADAN BOROUMAND: Everything started during the revolutionary time, in February/March 1979, when I was a student and went to Iran to see—very excited—the revolution. And, with the first arbitrary executions, I was really shocked. All our dreams for a democratic Iran, all of a sudden was shattered. And I felt responsible. And this feeling of guilt, as a citizen and as a human being, was with me. And then when I came back to France, where I was studying, and with Roya, my sister, we started to be militant and activist in human rights because we realized that each group or each political party would talk about its own victims and somehow justify the killing of the others. And we were really outraged by this lack of empathy and this lack of respect for universal human rights.
So what we did, we made a list of victims at the time where every single person, be it a Jew, a Bahai, a political activist, a communist, a general of the former regime, someone killed for homosexuality, they were there. And the first time I saw the pictures of these first victims, the former generals who were executed, they would put the pictures on the newspapers of the bodies, you know, all with dead bodies. And it was horrible. And the whole thing was a catastrophe. And this feeling of shame was always with us because you would think: For God's sake, the whole world, the number of people who wouldn't want this to happen are much more numerous than those who make it happen. This is a mathematical equation, and why is it working like this? And this—I was always thinking—this moment, they were alone, going to their death, where are we? And we couldn't do anything. So putting up their names was the only thing we could do, and that's what we are doing.
Omid is a Web site dedicated to the victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran, those who were killed in a way or another, either judicially or through terrorist attack by the Iranian government. "Omid" means "hope" and we have decided to create a virtual memorial for all of them. So it's a research center that is dedicated to finding the names, the circumstances of the execution or assassination, and telling the story of each victim.
We are now used to live with being scared. I mean, we were always scared. And we were right because, at the end of the day they killed my father. And most of the Iranians are scared. But as things got worse and worse and we lost our father to this cause, I couldn't sleep. These nightmares would come back and come back. So what I'm doing is a very selfish act, for me, because, since we have put up Omid, I sleep. I don't have my nightmares any more.
And actually, between the parentheses, I must say that, after my father's death, one of my big questions was, how Jews survived the aftermath of the Holocaust? How did they live? Because it was so difficult to live after that. Every day was a challenge, waking up was a challenge, working was a challenge, facing your friends was a challenge. You were so ashamed of being still alive that I thought, "How the Jews did it?"
One of the reasons for the Holocaust statement, I think we could have had tens of thousands of signatures, but people are scared. Many people are scared. And we are scared. But you do it because it's always the same bargain. If you don't do it, you are so ashamed that you are not comfortable living with yourself. Or living is not real living without the truth. So what is this life worth if you are not happy within yourself?
The denial of the Holocaust, to me, it's not an innocent matter. It's part of the same neo-Nazi culture. It's a sort of ideological statement that is not only about the Holocaust, but it's about the nature of this regime. And the fact that no intellectual, nobody said anything, we thought maybe we should do something. And I came home and I said, well, I have never written anything such, such a thing, but I thought of all these Congress resolutions and I thought, maybe we should do that. So I wrote it down as a resolution.
"We the undersigned Iranians, Notwithstanding our diverse views on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict; Considering that the Nazis' coldly planned 'Final Solution' and their ensuing campaign of genocide against Jews and other minorities during World War II constitute undeniable historical facts; Deploring . . ."
There is always a feeling of shame when an injustice occurs somewhere, and you are passing by, and you cannot do anything. And I think one of the reasons that many Iranians have difficulty dealing with this is also this shame that they don't know how to deal with it so it's easier to forget and, you know, continue your life. But if there is no empathy for the previous crimes, there will be new crimes. And that is why I think it's a good thing to face it.
DANIEL GREENE: Voices on Antisemitism is a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every other week to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our website, www.ushmm.org.