I have two words to say about this week's Holocaust Summit Meeting in Tehran:
Well, maybe I'll say a few more. Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was one of a few dozen participants at what was called an "a scientific conference," to debunk what organizers called the "historic lie of the Holocaust."
As Tom Lehrer once observed, sometimes the world is beyond satire.
At the end of the conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went to Tehran University — where he was reportedly booed by students, by the way — and said:
"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out. This is God's will and what all nations want."
It is always unsettling to hear "God's will" and "wiped out" in the same sentence.
There is sometimes a tendency to dismiss President Ahmadinejad's views on the Holocaust as some kind of cranky eccentricity that may have little bearing on his policies.
But I think I've learned over the years that bigotry can be a kind of mental sickness that tends to influence everything a person does. Someone who is paranoid will see people hiding behind walls, even in the middle of a desert. Most bigots can't seem to hold a conversation for five minutes without blaming whoever they detest for — fill in the blank — inflation, unemployment, even bad weather. The president of Iran, who must have an awful lot to do, can't seem to go more than a week without ridiculing the truth of the Holocaust, and holding it responsible for the world's troubles.
My wife and I often go to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, not just because we find it moving, but because there is always something new to see. The museum recently projected extraordinary pictures of the unrelenting genocide in Darfur; and an exhibit about the Jehovah's Witnesses who died in German death camps. They see the Holocaust as a singular event, but also a persisting lesson about the power of hatred to twist history.
It is always most most moving to talk to some of the Holocaust survivors who come to the museum. People who were crammed into cattle cars, saw and smelled the smoke from crematoriums, and were worked within an inch of death, will tell you that they survived more by chance than miracle.
But the survivors are growing old; and their number grows thin. It reminds you that Holocaust Museums were built, not just in Washington, D.C., but in Dallas, Los Angeles and El Paso, Texas. They're meant to be living testaments, reminding us what happened long after those few who survived are no longer here to tell their stories.
This week's conference in Tehran reminded us that their stories still need to be heard.