Iranian Exhibit Takes On the Holocaust

By Parisa Hafezi
Thursday, August 17, 2006

TEHRAN, Aug. 16 -- At the exhibition entrance, a poster shows a helmet with the Star of David lying on top of others carrying a Nazi swastika. Inside, the Statue of Liberty is pictured holding a Holocaust book while giving a Nazi salute.

Organizers say the exhibition of more than 200 entries from Iran's International Holocaust Cartoons Contest aims to challenge Western taboos about discussing the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews died. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth."

"This is a test of the boundaries of free speech espoused by Western countries," Masoud Shojai, head of the Cartoon House, which helped organize the exhibition, said as he stood next to the Statue of Liberty drawing.

Iran's best-selling newspaper, Hamshahri, launched a competition in February to find the best cartoon about the Holocaust, in retaliation for the September publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish paper and later in other European publications.

Those cartoons sparked attacks on European embassies in Muslim nations, including missions in Iran.

"We wanted to challenge European taboos. Why should questioning the Holocaust be a taboo?" Shojai said. "Why should anyone who talks about it be fined or jailed?"

It is a crime in European countries such as Germany and Austria to deny the Holocaust. The initial plans for a contest about the Holocaust provoked a storm of condemnation and revulsion in some countries, including the United States, which called the idea "outrageous."

The newspaper broadened the rules to include any caricature that tests "freedom of expression."

The contest, held jointly with the Cartoon House, a syndicate for caricaturists, will be open until Sept. 14. Shojai said that 1,193 drawings had been received from 61 countries and that judges chose 204 to put on display. The winner and runners-up will be announced Sept. 2, with the top three entries receiving $12,000, $8,000 and $5,000, respectively.

Several cartoons depicted the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, one showing him smiling as he stood behind President Bush while bombs carrying the Star of David fell. Another showed a turtle with a U.S. emblem laying eggs carrying the Star of David.

The contest was welcomed by some visitors at the exhibition on Wednesday, two days after it opened.

"After the Holocaust was questioned by the president, now I have real doubts about it," said Maryam Zadkani, 23, a graphic artist. "I came here to see what other cartoonists around the world think about the Holocaust."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company