Dr. Ari Babaknia is a physician, not a historian or an author. But the Iranian-born Jew, a resident of southern California for the past 40-plus years, was deeply disturbed by the fact that so many of his Farsi-speaking former countrymen knew little about the Holocaust because there was so little written about it in their own language.
What started as an attempt to write a brief history of that tragedy turned into a 15-year undertaking, resulting in a four-volume study encompassing the Nazi era and concluding with the other genocides of the 20th century.
It was published last year just as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was ending his term as Iran’s president, but his record of repeatedly denying the Holocaust is reported to have helped fuel sales in Iran.
Babaknia, a board member of the Washington, DC-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, will be talking about his book on Tuesday, April 29, at Kean University in Union. His talk, at a reception in the University Center Lobby, is part of the college’s month-long Genocide Awareness series, sponsored by Kean’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Jewish Studies programs and the Holocaust Resource Center and Human Rights Institute.
For Babaknia, the Holocaust has universal implications. “I do not think it belongs to the Jewish people; it belongs to all humanity,” he has said. “It was the death and failure of Western civilization and democracy. 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.”
More than 2,000 copies of the book — priced at around $200 — have sold so far in the United States and elsewhere. Babaknia has been invited to speak at Iranian mosques and to Iranian Muslim community groups in the United States and has been interviewed on numerous Farsi-language radio and television programs. He has also addressed American-Jewish audiences.
There has been less response, he acknowledged, from the Iranian-Jewish community in the United States. Babaknia has expressed impatience with what he has said is their reluctance to focus on a tragedy that happened far from where they used to live. He said, “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.”
Proceeds from the sale of his book go to Babaknia’s newly formed Menorah Foundation, a nonprofit organization geared toward educating Farsi speakers worldwide about the Holocaust.
His talk will be followed by a lecture by Mukesh Kapila, recent special adviser to the UN high commissioner for human rights, on the Rwandan genocide’s 20-year anniversary.