Dr. Ari Babaknia, an Iranian Jewish doctor based in Southern California, spent 15 years working on what some viewed as a quixotic project: the first-ever history book about the Holocaust in Farsi. But now the four-volume work—which details the facts of the Holocaust from the rise of Nazism in Germany to the final days of World War II and eventually chronicles the other genocides of the 20th century that occurred in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan—is becoming a hit among the very audience Babaknia intended to reach: Iranian Muslims.
“There are about 120 million-plus people in the world who speak Farsi, but there has never been a book written in their mother language about the Holocaust,” said Babaknia, an obstetrician-gynecologist by profession who said he wrote the first draft of the work by hand.
Priced at $200 each, more than 2,000 copies have been sold—the vast majority within the United States, according to booksellers, Babaknia said, and online to non-Jewish Farsi readers. He has been invited to speak at more than a dozen Iranian mosques and Iranian Muslim community organizations across the United States. In addition, he has been interviewed by countless Farsi-language radio and satellite TV news outlets based in the Los Angeles area that broadcast worldwide. He has also spoken to Jewish groups and garnered the attention of a wide variety of press.
It is perhaps fitting that Babaknia’s book should appear at the end of the term of office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who earned himself worldwide notoriety by repeatedly denying the Holocaust and hosting several Holocaust-denial conferences featuring known neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionists. As a result of Ahmadinejad’s statements about the Holocaust, Babaknia said his friends who travel to Iran frequently have informed him that his book has been very popular among average Iranians who bought the book through a Swedish book distributor.
“What Dr. Babaknia has done with this book is no easy task and nothing short of remarkable,” said Massoud Sadr, an Iranian Muslim TV host of the Farsi-language Pars TV program based in Southern California. “He has chronicled every detail of the Holocaust in Farsi with such accuracy and raw emotion that the reader truly obtains a real sense of this human calamity.”
Iranian-Americans of the Muslim, Baha’I, and Christian faiths said the history of the Holocaust written in Farsi by Babaknia resonated with them, especially since many of them have encountered suffering at the hands of Iran’s current radical Islamic regime over the years.
“I believe Iranians living in the U.S. sympathize with the story of the Jews and others who were ‘undesirables’ by the Nazis,” said Ali Massoudi, a 77-year-old Iranian Muslim journalist and former Farsi-language TV show host living in Irvine, Calif. “These Iranians fled their homes in Iran more than three decades ago and experienced similar executions, tortures, and imprisonments at the hands of Iran’s current regime.” Babaknia added that non-Jewish Iranians have welcomed him and his book because he has not presented the Holocaust as a tragedy only for the Jewish people, but rather a tragedy for all mankind.
“Jews were the victims Holocaust, but I don’t believe it was exclusively a Jewish thing, and I do not think it belongs to the Jewish people—it belongs to all humanity, it was the death and failure of Western civilization and democracy,” he said. “If you present the Holocaust as a tragedy for all of mankind, people tend to drop their guard and are able to better understand or relate to this massive tragedy.”
Ironically, one group that has decidedly not embraced Babakina’s Holocaust education project is Iranian Jews. Despite the praise and interest Babaknia has received from non-Jewish Iranians, the leadership of Southern California’s 40,000-strong Iranian Jewish community has not been as receptive. He’s upset they have not invited him to their events and engaged in the same type of community dialogues and education about the Shoah that Muslims and other non-Jewish Iranians have done.
“I am baffled and disappointed at the lack of interest from Iranian Jews about the Holocaust,” Babaknia said. “I am sick and tired of hearing people in the community saying that they don’t want to get sad from reading this book—it’s a story about more than a million children being killed. You’re supposed to get sad! And what I said is, ‘Shame on those Iranian Jews who don’t want to know about Auschwitz and what happened to their brothers and sisters at the hands of the Nazis.’ ”
Leaders at Southern California’s Iranian Jewish Federation and Beverly Hills-based Iranian Jewish Nessah Synagogue did not return calls for comment on Babaknia’s book. But individual Iranian Jewish activists praised his efforts to educate all Iranians about the Holocaust.
“For Farsi-speaking Jews, it is a must for them to connect and learn more intimately and closely about how our fellow Jews perished during the Holocaust,” said Dariush Fakheri, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist. “Dr. Babaknia has unselfishly and honestly presented this unique and vital opportunity to all Farsi-speaking communities, and his book encourages us to deal with the biggest human failure in the face of evil.”
Proceeds from the sale of book will go directly to Babaknia’s newly formed Memorah Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is geared toward educating Farsi speakers worldwide about the Holocaust. And Babaknia said he will continue to pursue his passion of speaking to and educating Iranians and other groups about the Holocaust.
“Education is key but not enough,” he said. “You need to have passion, understanding, and sensitivity to the suffering of others. Otherwise, another Holocaust could happen.”
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Karmel Melamed is a Southern California-based journalist.
Karmel Melamed is a Southern California-based journalist.