"From time to time, the officers’ dogs would get sick. One day, the SS officer told us, 'Bury the dog where the dogs are buried,' signaling to the body of his German shepherd. We buried the dog, and returned to the hut. Later that night, a prisoner came to find me. He whispered, 'If you help me dig up the dog, I will give you a piece.'
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"That night, we returned to the place where the dogs were buried. The ground was frozen. Somehow, we dug up the dog. Dividing the body between us, I took a piece of the dog back with me to my hut.
"I had a pot which was tied here to my waist." Willie pointed to his left hip. "I got some snow from the ground and put it in the pot. Inside, I made a fire to melt the ice. I put the piece of dog into the pot. I had saved some salt from the ground." He smiled, remembering his ingenuity of 70 years earlier. "The Nazis used salt to stop the ground cracking in the winter, a pink salt. Scraping it up from the ground I had saved some. I added it to the pot. Then, I waited.
"It was so cold, and the piece of dog was so frozen, that it took hours. I sat over the fire, fighting sleep as the pot was cooking, but, believe me, the hunger was so great, I stayed awake. Finally, I could drink the soup. I had been so hungry, I finished it all."
We both fell silent. Ninety-year old Willie stretched to his full six-foot two. Assessing my frame, he made his final remark:
“At the end of the Holocaust I weighed 38 kilograms. That’s less than you weigh now.”
I first met Wilhelm Lerner at the Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne. Two months later, I retraced his steps at Auschwitz. There, Shoah survivors I had treated on both sides of the Atlantic returned to my physician’s memory: a bronchitic British woman betrayed by tattoos; in New York, an octogenarian “hidden child;” and an insomniac nonagenarian, each vivid landmarks in my life of medicine. But it was as I studied the half-demolished crematoria that my motives for traveling to Auschwitz became clear.
As an observant Muslim deeply opposed to Islamism, I must confront not only crematoria old, but crematoria new. Days before my travel to Auschwitz, Jordanian pilot Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh had been cremated alive in a cage to an audience of Islamists. While the Shoah may seem remote, within Islamism, lethal anti-Semitism thrives anew.
The kingpin of Islamist ideology is cosmic anti-Semitism – that which is pursued as a divine mission to combat a cosmic, not mortal, enemy. In contrast to the Nazis, Islamists render the hatred of Jews a religious creed, adding to its ferocity and their own fanaticism. In lending anti-Semitism false religious legitimacy, faith-illiterate Muslims are beguiled into to accepting anti-Semitism as Islamic creed, a grave distortion of Islam which, in the Koran, documents Jews as Peoples of the Book; their Prophets, Moses and Aaron, as Holy both to Jews and Muslims; and their Torah as divine and as much a legitimate path to God as the Koran.
In contrast, Islamism, a political totalitarian ideology masquerading as Islam, reminds us that what was once past, as Shoah, becomes newly possible in the present. Islamists, whether violent or nonviolent, rely on Holocaust denial to augment their lethal anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli fanaticism. Holocaust denial is used to recruit Hamas foot-soldiers: because the Holocaust "wasn’t real," Islamists argue, Israel was created on "false pretenses." In that context, it becomes increasingly legitimate to seek the destruction of Israel.
Every Muslim must experience the history of the Shoah in order to demolish these falsehoods – both those that are constructed of my Islamic faith and that of my sibling faith, Judaism. It is as essential for a Muslim child to learn of the Shoah as it is for a Jewish child. Our survival, whether as Muslims or as Jews, depends on examining and sharing the historical truth of the Holocaust. Only when a Muslim is allowed to learn the history of the Holocaust can he or she expose Islamist Holocaust deniers as fraudulent imposters, and differentiate manmade Islamism from Islam as it was revealed in the Koran.
Even as we mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, around the world countless Muslims are intellectually straitjacketed by Islamist ideology. They are indoctrinated with a false, manmade supremacist outlook that breeds enmity with not only non-Muslims but all Muslims who do not conform to Islamism. Because of Islamism, too many Muslims are caged in the cultivated, un-Islamic hatred of Jewry and Judaism. Today’s purveyors of anti-Semitism, today’s indoctrinators and propagandists fueling anti-Semitism, are Muslim Islamists, not European Nazis. Only by freeing Muslims from the ideological shackles of manmade Islamism can we return to divine, pluralistic Islam. And in our return to pluralistic Islam, bring Islamist ideologies to rubble ensuring the crematoria of old may never be raised anew.
Qanta A. Ahmed is the author of In the Land of Invisible Women, an account of her experiences as a physician in Saudi Arabia. She joined the Shoah Foundation’s 2015 Mission to Poland for The Past Is Present, a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. She is a Member of the Next Generation Council for USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education. Follow her on Twitter @MissDiagnosis.