Interfaith Series on Holocaust Concludes

March 27, 2013

In a talk centered on World War II Holocaust history held March 19 at University Campus, an audience of community members and university students and teachers heard little-known stories of compassion and interfaith understanding. Author Mehnaz Afridi, Ph.D., spoke of instances in which Jews were rescued by Muslims in various countries.

Hers was the final installment of the “To Save One Life: Catholic and Muslim Rescuers of Jews in the Holocaust” series. The series was primarily sponsored by the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies (CCJS) at Saint Leo University, and by the Franciscan Center of Tampa.

Dr. Afridi is the director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College in New York. She is assistant professor of religious studies at the college, and teaches courses ranging from women and religion, to genocide studies. In her upcoming book, Shoah through Muslim Eyes, she includes stories of Jews being rescued by Muslims in Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Albania. In Albania, for instance, Dr. Afridi explained that Muslims aided Jews by changing their names to hide their heritage.

Mohammed V, a Muslim, and the Sultan of Morocco, protected the Jews, too. He furtively guided them into his palace, and offered to convert them to Islam temporarily so that they could be sheltered from violence. Mohammed V defied the Vichy government in Morocco, working to define laws based on religious freedom, and racial equality. Dr. Afridi praised the ideal of assisting those different from oneself, stating, “We have to fight for the other and if we don’t, there is no life worth living.”

The Holocaust is still denied by people from various backgrounds. About this, Dr. Afridi said, “What we can do is learn from it, instead of deny it.” She stated that a barrier currently exists in conversing about interfaith support due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Afridi referred to an upcoming exhibition, though, in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians will have the opportunity to discuss ways in which their peoples worked together after the Holocaust. Although she stressed the importance of sharing these stories, she also advocated support for people of other faiths at all times, declaring, “We also need to create stories now.”

In addition to the major sponsors, CCJS and the Franciscan Center, the following organizations also helped sponsor the series: Jewish Committee of the West Coast Florida Region, the Florida Holocaust Museum, Suncoast Hillels, the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation, Saint Leo University’s Office of University Ministry, and the university’s Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religion.

For further information on this series, contact Dr. Abraham Peck, CCJS executive director, at (352) 588-7298, or abraham.peck@saintleo.edu.

To read a column on Dr. Afridi’s appearance at the Franciscan Center by Steve Otto of The Tampa Tribune, click here.