By Mike O’Sullivan
Los Angeles
12 December 2006

A two-day conference in Iran that is calling into question the Nazi Holocaust has sparked outrage among Holocaust survivors. Mike O’Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, Jewish survivors in three North American cities recounted their personal stories of Nazi atrocities.

The conference in Tehran, being held Monday and Tuesday, is exploring the question of whether the Holocaust really happened.

In Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, elderly Jewish immigrants responded by sharing their personal stories in a teleconference.

Renee Firestone
“My name is Renee Firestone, and I am here to let the world know that the Holocaust was real, and I am one of the victims,” she said.

Renee Firestone, a native of Czechoslovakia, was 20-years-old when she was sent with her family to the Nazi camp at Auschwitz. Her mother was killed immediately. Her 14-year-old sister was subjected to medical experiments and later killed. Her weakened father died soon after Allied troops liberated the camp.

Speaker after speaker in each of the three cities recounted stories of families torn apart and loved ones murdered.

Saul Berger was born in Poland. In 1942, the Nazis killed his father, then his mother and sister were sent to a death camp and gassed. He escaped to the forest, becoming a partisan and fought the Germans until the war ended.

Fanya Heller was part of the Jewish community in a small Polish village, where only 45 Jews survived of the 1,500 who lived there before the war.

Esther Bem says her sheltered life as a child in Yugoslavia was shattered by the Nazi occupation. Her two sisters joined the partisans and one was captured and killed. Her father bribed a Nazi officer and escaped with his wife and Esther to Italy. There, they battled cold and hunger, and survived only with the help of sympathetic farmers.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named after the famous Nazi hunter who fought to bring war criminals to justice.

Hier says the conference in Tehran, ostensibly being held to probe historical issues, is part of the wider agenda of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“What he wants to accomplish is, there are one billion, three hundred million Muslims,” said Rabbi Hier. “He wants to tell them, I am the real leader of the Muslim world, and I am the one that is confronting America, I’m confronting the Jews, I’m telling you that the Holocaust is a myth. Hopefully, they will not buy into his hate.”

Survivor Renee Firestone says those who deny the Holocaust are rejecting the evidence.

“We know that the Holocaust is probably the most recorded event in the history of mankind, and Germany itself acknowledges it and pays reparations,” said Renee Firestone. “So how can somebody who doesn’t know, who wasn’t there, who didn’t see, how can somebody claim that it never happened?”

She says that she and the other survivors who recounted their stories Monday were witnesses to that terrible history.