Posted by Karmel Melamed
Often times I am approached by total strangers in the Iranian Jewish community here in Los Angeles who feel the urge to share their personal family’s stories of tragic anti-Semitism dating back to the earlier part of the 20th century. These stories are both heart wrenching and historical but not really newsworthy enough for me write an article about. Nevertheless, I’d like to share one special story I was recently told with the names of the parties changed because the person who told the story to me requested anonymity for his family.
Hamid P. a Los Angeles area Iranian Jewish businessman approached me at a local Jewish fundraiser and was telling me the story of his great grandmother Sara. “She lived in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran nearly 100 years ago with my great grandfather Asher and I was told by my grandfather that his mother was absolutely gorgeous,” said Hamid. The couple had only one son age 9 and made a meager living but were happy with little they had. One day, Sara ventured out of her home to purchase goods and was covered in traditional chador or an open cloak worn by Iranian women. After hours had passed since Sara had left, her husband Asher grew worried and nervous. Sara was not the type of woman to go out for long periods of time and everyone including the other Jews in the community grew frightened by the news of her disappearance. Finally after many days of no news, Asher was finally informed by members of the Jewish community that his wife had been kidnapped by local Muslim men under the direction of their wealthy Muslim boss who had been admiring Sara for a while. “This Muslim man had fallen in love with Sara and decided to just take her against her will and there was nothing anyone could do to save her,” said Hamid. “She was prisoner in this strange man’s house and was sexually and physically abused during that time”. The Jews living in Iran at that time could not seek justice nor help from the authorities who were a part of the country’s Muslim majority because the Jews had no rights and were considered inferior to Muslims. So Asher had no way to save his wife, said Hamid.
Just as Hamid was about to continue the story of his great grandmother, his cousin who was an older woman in her 70’s suddenly stepped into our private conversation and snapped at Hamid. “What the hell are you doing tell him our family’s private story?!” she said. “That story you’re telling him is hush hush and a source of shame for us!”. Hamid’s great grandmother’s story had been kept a secret and was not spoken about even after a century because it was not only a source of pain for the family but also a source of shame since Sara was taken away from her family. Hamid’s family members years ago were also likely worried that negative gossip may brew in the Jewish community in Iran about Sara that may have hurt her family’s reputation.
I smiled at the older woman who had chastised Hamid and told her that she did not have to worry about her family’s reputation because Sara, her child and the others involved in the incident had long passed away in Iran. She looked at me in shock and was unable to respond. It was so taboo to openly discuss the story for years and years that this older woman had naturally brought up her defense mechanisms to keep the story under wraps.
Getting back to the story…Sara was abused and finally fell ill while being held captive in the Muslim man’s home. Her brother was informed of her whereabouts many months later when she was very ill. He was permitted by Sara’s captor to visit her. With great difficulty, Sara’s brother convinced the Muslim man that holding his sister was unjust and to release her because she had little time to live. Finally Sara was taken home and reunited with her husband and young son. “A few weeks later Sara died after she got her final request to see her son before dying,” said Hamid.
I share this very sad personal story with the readers of this blog to offer a better understanding of some of the deep scares Iranian Jews still carry after centuries of living under difficult conditions in Iran. Even after generations have passed on, Hamid’s story is relevant today as Jews still live in Iran and face similar danger to their lives from the Iran’s radical Islamic government.
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October 2, 2007 | 4:48 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
During the last three to four months Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime has been doing its utmost to counter the negative publicity generated by it’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. The most effective way they have done their public relations damage control is by marching out Iran’s Jews and showing that the regime “loves the Jews” and is benevolent to them. The hope of the mullahs who hold the true power in Iran is to reverse the bad press they have been getting as anti-Semitic jihadists. (Below I offer an abbreviated list of publicity stunts and propaganda moves that the regime has undertaken to fix their image by using Iran’s Jews).
As a journalist who closely monitors the news concerning Iran’s Jewry, I can’t help but to see the similarities between the propaganda that is being spewed by the Iranian government and Nazi Germany’s propoganda. Both of these brutal dictatorships used the Jews in their propoganda to “improved” their image in the world and sway public support for their side. The constant story spinning by the Iranian regime and putting Iran’s Jews on display to show that the Jews are being “treated well” would make Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels quite proud! Perhaps the best example of Nazi exploitation of the Jews for their propaganda purposes occurred in June of 1944 at the Nazi concentration camp “Theresienstadt” in the Czech Republic. The Nazis permitted the International Red Cross to visit the camp to dispel rumors about the Final Solution to the Jewish question. The Nazis created fake shops and cafes at the camp to imply that the Jews lived in relative comfort and the Red Cross guests even enjoyed the performance of a children’s opera during their visit. The hoax was so successful that the Nazis produced a propaganda film at Theresienstadt to show how well the Jews lived under the “benevolent” protection of the Third Reich. After shooting the film, most of the cast, and even the filmmaker himself, were deported to Auschwitz and killed. Many of the 80,000 Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust were killed in Theresienstadt.
The film and the publicity stunt at Theresienstadt fooled the media and the international community into thinking the Nazis were “kind” to the Jews. Similarly today the news media is again being doped by buying into Iran’s propaganda messages that Jews are living under the “benevolent” protection and freedom of Iran’s totalitarian Islamic regime. The truth of the matter is that the Iranian regime and its secret police of thugs have a tight grip on the activities of the Jewish community in Iran. If the Jews step out of line, they face serious dangers. Such was the case in 2000 when 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were randomly arrested on trumped up charges of being supposed spies for Israel and the U.S. If the Jews and religious minorities live in such supposed “freedom” in Iran, then why does the Iranian Constitution clearly indicate that all non-Muslims have inferior status to Muslims? Why do Iran’s laws require that all non-Muslims be humiliated and confined to prevent them from gaining any advantage over Muslims?
The Iranian government is quick to pull out the Jewish member of Iran’s Parliament to show that Iran’s Jew have “fair representation”. Yet what the mainstream media does not realize are that comments made by any Jewish leaders in Iran to the Western media lack credible since these leaders have been hand picked by the Iranian Intelligence Ministry to parrot what the regime tells them to say. Whenever any journalist goes to Iran to talk to the Jews, they are handed over to hand picked Jews who have been given a script to read from—just as was the case with the Nazi film at Theresienstadt. What is even more outrageous about Iran’s propaganda machine is that the regime does not grant visas to journalists it deems unsympathetic to their government! So the Iranian officials have had pretty much free reign in spewing their one-sided message regarding Iranian Jews that is in no way objective. This is by far not fair and balanced journalism!
As a journalist who exclusively covers Iranian Jewry and has close ties to the community, I am personally baffled at how member of the media in the U.S. and Europe can make any assertions that life is great for Jews in Iran. On a regular basis, I am reminded by countless Iranian American Jewish leaders to watch what I might be writing about the Iranian government for fear that what I may report on may have negative repercussions on the Jews of Iran. So my question is why on earth are Iranian American Jews so concerned about my words and the safety of their brethren in Iran if everything is supposedly so fine and dandy for Jews in Iran?
And for you curious folks who do not believe that Iran’s regime has used the country’s Jews for propaganda purposes, the following is an abbreviated list of their recent P.R. stunts:
Producing and broadcasting “Zero Degree Turn” a television series on Iranian state-run network which accepts the existence of the Holocaust and shows an Iranian-Palestinian man saving a Jewish woman’s life in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Despite the show’s efforts to show that Iran is supposedly tolerant of the Holocaust, it is full of inaccuracies and attacks “Zionists”.
Announcing that the Iranian government supposedly “loves the Jews” by publicizing the Iranian regime’s plans earlier to build a new 73,000 square foot cultural and sports complex for the Jewish community in central Tehran.
Putting out press releases and sending their lackeys in the Western media to say that Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel being wiped off the map were “incorrectly translated”. What a bunch of horse manure! We all know very well what Ahmadinejad said and what he meant, there’s no way to back track on it.
Sending out press releases that Iran’s Jews condemn Ahmadinejad’s mistreatment at Columbia University last week. Here’s an example of one such press release:
Sending out press releases that Iran’s Jews will be participate in “Quds Day” an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan to voice support for the Palestinian people. Here’s an example of one such press release:
It seems as if the Iranian mullahs have learned well from Goebbels techniques and the Nazi propaganda machine he created—when they’re in trouble, they can just march out the Jews to effectively pull the wool over the world’s eyes!
October 1, 2007 | 1:20 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
With Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad repeatedly denying the Holocaust in the last few years, the majority of Iran’s Muslim population who are under the age of 35 are increasingly surfing the Internet for more in depth information on the Shoah. Various national and international Jewish organizations should be applauded for being quick to offer detailed and accurate information on the Holocaust in Persian language for these young impressionable Iranians in Iran. The Internet has been one of the key media outlets where western governments and organizations have had success outreaching to young people living in Iran who are opposed to their regime.
I recently interviewed Frank Nikbkaht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the L.A.-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran”, who said that Ahmadinajad’s ridiculous statements about the Holocaust have been a blessing in disguse for Holocaust awareness advocates. “From the beginning I said even on TV, that Ahmadinajad’s statements about the Holocaust were good for us because the new generation in Iran who did not know anything about it, are now hearing about the Holocaust and some are researching it on the Internet,” said Nikbakht. “This is the first time there has been a visible interest by millions of curious young Iranian Muslims in the issue of the Holocaust in a positive and sympathetic way—a result that is exactly the opposite of Ahmadinejad’s intent”.
The following are just a few Jewish sites in Persian language regarding the Shoah:
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/fa/
Yad Vashem’s Website: http://www1.yadvashem.org/parsit_web/paras_home.html
In April Yad Vashem reported that this site which was launched in January in 2007 has 25,100 visits, including 12,170 from inside Iran,
The “Living History Project” was launched by Sweden’s Prime Minister Goran Persson: http://www.levandehistoria.org/documents/boken/persiska.pdf
The Simon Wiesenthal Center provides 36 Questions And Answers About Holocaust:
AskMusa.org is also a remarkable site in Persian language launched by the Wiesenthal Center to provide Iranians with an interactive ability to ask questions about the Shoah: http://farsi.askmusa.org/site/c.bnJEKRNqFkG/b.2803739/k.BF41/Home.htm
Hamdami.com recently launched by the Israeli Foreign Ministry offer Persian language information and interactive options to learn about the Holocaust:
Perhaps the most powerful online information source I’ve seen this year regarding the Holocaust has come from Grammy award winning Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari and Israeli rap/hip-hop star Kobi “Subliminal” Shimoni. They co-produced a hip-hop music video expressing their sentiments on the Shoah. Enjoy this fantastic video: