It's not hard for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to insist that the Holocaust never took place when there's virtually no Persian-language record of it, but an Iranian-American author is making it his mission to correct the historical record in his homeland.
Ari Babaknia, a 65-year-old from Orange County, Calif., has written a four-volume book in Persian entitled "Holocaust," which he hopes will allow Iranians to learn the truth about the suffering of Jews at the hands of Nazis. Babaknia hopes to make the book available for free online within the borders of Iran.
“It is not enough to sell this book," said Babaknia, a Jew who went to medical school in Iran in the 1970s and now is a fertility specialist in Newport Beach, Calif. "The power and reach of the Internet is where the real impact of this book will be.
“I want the entire young Persian-speaking world who have access to the Internet to have the ability to download it, read it and research it.”
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly insisted that the Holocaust is a "myth" and that the extermination of six million Jews at the hands of Nazis never happened. The Ahmadinejad line is in keeping with the denials of the hard-line government that has ruled the Islamic Republic since the revolution of 1979.
When Babaknia began researching his subject 15 years ago, he was surprised to discover that there was no Holocaust material in Persian, the language also referred to as Farsi. Not only was there no description of the Holocaust, there was little historical context for younger Iranians to learn about the mid-20th century events that shaped the world.
“I wanted to know where the rest of the world was," Babaknia said. "Where was Churchill? Where was Roosevelt? What was the reason for world leaders to be indifferent?”
After all, he said, “forgetting the Holocaust is repeating the Holocaust."
Babaknia's book is self-published through his Memorah Foundation, together with Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. Once he recoups his expenses, he plans to release the content online for free.
That could be problematic, however, as Tehran has announced plans to create a separate Internet for Iran, one that the theocratic government could control.
Babaknia knows of that plan but is unfazed.
"What happens with the Internet over there is beyond my control, but you cannot suppress humanity forever," he said.
Babaknia has managed to create some awareness within Iran of his project, largely through dozens of interviews with Iranian satellite TV stations that broadcast directly into the country. One important point he emphasizes is that Iran has a positive story to tell regarding the Holocaust.
“Iran has always been good to Jews," he said. "During the Holocaust, there are many instances that show how good the Iranian people and officials were to Jews. This goes against Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Iran was one of the refuges for victims.”
Babaknia, who came to the U.S. in 1974 to complete his residency in gynecology at Johns Hopkins University and has lived here ever since, originally thought he would be able to finish the book in a year or two.
“I didn’t care how long it would take, I took it upon myself to tell the whole story, and it took five years,” he said.
The volumes are entitled, “Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” “America’s Response to the Holocaust,” “The World’s Response to the Holocaust” and “End of the Holocaust and Liberation of Nazi Camps and the Genocides of the Last 100 Years.”
The four volumes are available through Amazon and the websites HolocaustinFarsi.com and Memorah.com for $200. Babaknia is also traveling the country for book signings and speaking engagements. In April, Babaknia will be coming out with a second book, this time in English, about the psychological experiences of both Holocaust victims and oppressors.