Jewish-Muslim youth group visits Auschwitz in show of solidarity

A group of young Muslim refugees and Jewish youths have visited the former Auschwitz concentration camp. The trip is aimed a fostering solidarity between the two communities and understanding Germany's past crimes.

"I need a shower for my soul and my body right now," says Khaled Naeem. He has just come out of the dim building that houses the incinerators at Auschwitz and into the heat and blinding sun.

He is deeply moved and close to tears, exhausted by the experience: The ovens, the mountains of shoes and human hair, the cramped barracks and the knowledge that more than 1 million people were systematically murdered here. "Like a factory," says Khaled, "it just makes me sad." He saw much suffering himself as he fled from Syria and traveled through Jordan before arriving in Germany: Dead bodies on the side of the road, entire families drowned in the Mediterranean.

Read more: Auschwitz: Evolution of a death camp and Holocaust memorial

Masa Alimam, a 17-year-old Syrian girl, is overpowered as well: "The worst for me was to learn what the Nazis did to the children. They were just murdered, too." Many of the young visitors do not want to talk at all: All that one sees are blank faces, tears, silence and the desire to be alone.

Khaled Naeem was deeply moved by the experience of visiting Auschwitz

Pilot project for tolerance and against anti-Semitism

Some 25 young people, Muslims and Jews, have made their way here in an attempt to understand the darkest chapter of German history. They are a mix of refugees from Syria and Iraq and young Jews from Germany, all between the ages of 17 and 30. They say they have rid themselves of many preconceptions about one another over the course of their three days together. One such preconception: The idea that all Muslims are anti-Semites. "We just see each other as people. Religion doesn't play much of a role," says Judith Barneck, a Jewish student from Bielefeld. "We laughed together and we cried together," says Masa Alimam.

Read more: Jews in Poland fight to keep the past alive

The idea to take this trip into German history and confront the country's responsibility in recognizing its past crimes came from the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Union of Progressive Jews. "I think it's a pilot project that should be emulated," says Aiman Mazyek, who heads the Central Council of Muslims. Mazyek has accompanied several groups of young Muslims to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. "All the effort paid off," says Rabbi Walter Homolka. "Muslims and Jews have to find a way to live together."

Judith Barneck: 'We just see each other as people'

Learning to better understand Germany

Neither of the men, however, would argue that anti-Semitism does not exist among some Muslims in Germany, nor in the heart of German society itself. But that is exactly what they seek to counter with their project. "I never really understood the Nazis, it isn't something we had in school in Syria. A lot has become much clearer to me now," says Masa Alimam.

Read more: Anti-Semitism on the rise? Western European Jews think so

The visitors also received support from politicians. The state premiers of Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia, Daniel Günther of the conservative Christian Democratic Union and Bodo Ramelow of the Left party, joined the group. The two say they want to support the project and help draw attention to it. "But I wouldn't say people should be obliged to visit a concentration camp. Making it mandatory won't help," says Ramelow. A number of German politicians have called for mandatory concentration camp visits for refugees and migrants.

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Masa Alimam says she didn't learn much about the Nazis as a student in Syria

Khaled Naeem is also opposed to the idea: "Everyone that can visit a concentration camp should. But please don't make it mandatory!" The group is pleased that the politicians have joined them. "I wouldn't say they used our visit to stage an event," says Judith Barneck.

In fact, both state premiers spent a lot of time with the group. They viewed exhibitions, held a small memorial service with them and had lunch together. The politicians say they want the young people to understand what the Holocaust is and Germany's responsibility in remembering it.

Speaking with an Auschwitz survivor

And that was exactly the point of an encounter the day before: 138817 — everyone present can see the prisoner number tattooed on Vaclav Dlugoborski's left forearm. It is hot, and the lean 92-year-old is wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Dlugoborski is an Auschwitz survivor and he speaks to the group about how he experienced and survived the abuse and mass murder of the camp.

The trip included a visit with Auschwitz survivor Vaclav Dlugoborski

He tells them of the selection that took place upon arrival at "the ramp," where prisoners were either sent directly to the gas chambers or into the labor camp. He was sent to Auschwitz because he was in the Polish resistance that fought against the Nazis. Near the end of the war he was able to flee. Before he began his talk at the International Youth Meeting Center in Oswiecim — the Polish name for the place known as Auschwitz under the Germans — Dlugoborski told DW that he had never seen a Jewish-Muslim group at the center.

Read more: Auschwitz survivor Mano Höllenreiner recalls Nazi 'Gypsy Camp'

"What he recounts really hits you," says Judith Barneck. "Of course it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear someone like him speak about what they experienced. It won't be possible for long." At the end of Dlugoborski's talk, Aiman Mazyek says he has a question. He wants to know what people can learn from the Holocaust. "That it should never be repeated," the survivor answers. "We should all be brothers!"

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Wannsee House

The villa on Berlin's Wannsee lake was pivotal in planning the Holocaust. Fifteen members of the Nazi government and the SS Schutzstaffel met here on January 20, 1942 to plan what became known as the "Final Solution," the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. In 1992, the villa where the Wannsee Conference was held was turned into a memorial and museum.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror


The Nazi regime opened the first concentration camp in Dauchau, not far from Munich. Just a few weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power it was used by the paramilitary SS "Schutzstaffel" to imprison, torture and kill political opponents to the regime. Dachau also served as a prototype and model for the other Nazi camps that followed.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Nazi party rally grounds

Nuremberg hosted the biggest Nazi party propaganda rallies from 1933 until the start of the Second World War. The annual Nazi party congress as well as rallies with as many as 200,000 participants took place on the 11-km² (4.25 square miles) area. Today, the unfinished Congress Hall building serves as a documentation center and a museum.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror


The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Lower Saxony was initially established as a prisoner of war camp before becoming a concentration camp. Prisoners too sick to work were brought here from other concentration camps, so many also died of disease. One of the 50,000 killed here was Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who gained international fame posthumously after her diary was published.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Buchenwald Memorial

Buchenwald near the Thuringian town of Weimar was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany. From 1937 to April 1945, the National Socialists deported about 270,000 people from all over Europe here and murdered 64,000 of them.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Memorial to the German Resistance

The Bendlerblock building in Berlin was the headquarters of a military resistance group. On July 20, 1944, a group of Wehrmacht officers around Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that failed. The leaders of the conspiracy were summarily shot the same night in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock, which is today the German Resistance Memorial Center.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Hadamar Euthanasia Center

From 1941 people with physical and mental disabilities were killed at a psychiatric hospital in Hadamar in Hesse. Declared "undesirables" by the Nazis, some 15,000 people were murdered here by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide or by being injected with lethal drug overdoses. Across Germany some 70,000 were killed as part of the Nazi euthanasia program. Today Hadamar is a memorial to those victims.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Holocaust Memorial

Located next to the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin's Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was inaugurated sixty years after the end of World War II on May 10, 2005, and opened to the public two days later. Architect Peter Eisenman created a field with 2,711 concrete slabs. An attached underground "Place of Information" holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Memorial to persecuted homosexuals

Not too far from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, another concrete memorial honors the thousands of homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. The four-meter high monument, which has a window showing alternately a film of two men or two women kissing, was inaugurated in Berlin's Tiergarten on May 27, 2008.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Sinti and Roma Memorial

Opposite the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin, a park inaugurated in 2012 serves as a memorial to the 500,000 Sinti and Roma people killed by the Nazi regime. Around a memorial pool the poem "Auschwitz" by Roma poet Santino Spinelli is written in English, Germany and Romani: "gaunt face, dead eyes, cold lips, quiet, a broken heart, out of breath, without words, no tears."

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

'Stolpersteine' - stumbling blocks as memorials

In the 1990s, the artist Gunther Demnig began a project to confront Germany's Nazi past. Brass-covered concrete cubes placed in front of the former houses of Nazi victims, provide details about the people and their date of deportation and death, if known. More than 45,000 "Stolpersteine" have been laid in 18 countries in Europe - it's the world's largest decentralized Holocaust memorial.

'Never Again': Memorials of terror

Brown House in Munich

Right next to the "Führerbau" where Adolf Hitler had his office, was the headquarters of the Nazi Party in Germany, in the "Brown House" in Munich. A white cube now occupies its former location. A new "Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism" opened on April 30, 2015, 70 years after the liberation from the Nazi regime, uncovering further dark chapters of history.