Holocaust Conference Begins in Iran

The Associated Press
Monday, December 11, 2006; 4:43 PM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran hosted Holocaust deniers from around the world Monday at a conference examining whether the Nazi genocide took place, a meeting Israel's prime minister condemned as a "sick phenomenon."

The 67 participants from 30 countries included former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and Holocaust skeptics who have been prosecuted in Europe for questioning whether 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis or whether gas chambers were ever used.

"The number of victims at the Auschwitz concentration camp could be about 2,007," Australian Frederick Toben told the conference, according to a Farsi translation of his remarks. "The railroad to the camp did not have enough capacity to transfer large numbers of Jews," said Toben, who was jailed in 1999 in Germany for casting doubt on the Holocaust.

The two-day conference was initiated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an apparent attempt to burnish his status as a tough opponent of Israel. The hard-line president has described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Earlier this year, his government backed an exhibition of anti-Israel cartoons in a show of defiance after Danish cartoons caricaturing Islam's Prophet Muhammad were published in Europe, raising an outcry among Muslims.

Organizers and participants touted the conference as a scholarly gathering aimed at discussing the Holocaust away from Western taboos and the restrictions imposed on scholars in Europe. In Germany, Austria and France, it is illegal to deny aspects of the Holocaust.

Duke, a former Louisiana state representative, praised Ahmadinejad for his "courage" in holding a conference "to offer free speech for the world's most repressed idea: Holocaust revisionism."

"In Europe, you can freely question, ridicule and deny Jesus Christ. The same is true for the Prophet Muhammad, and nothing will happen to you," Duke said. "But offer a single question of the smallest part of the Holocaust and you face prison."

Also among participants were two rabbis and four other members of the group Jews United Against Zionism, who were dressed in the traditional long black coats and black hats of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The group rejects the creation of Israel on the grounds that it violates Jewish law.

Rabbi Ahron Kohen urged participants not to deny the Holocaust. "If we say that this crime did not happen, it is a humiliation and insult to the victims," he said, according to a translation of his remarks.

But he added that Zionists have used the Holocaust to "give legitimacy to their illegitimate project," the creation of Israel.

Another participant, Robert Faurisson, has been convicted five times in France for denying crimes against humanity _ most recently last month, when he was fined for denying in an interview with Iranian TV that the Nazis meant to exterminate Jews.

Faurisson, a retired university professor, has regularly caused outrage in France, claiming that no gas chambers were used in Nazi concentration camps.

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© 2006 The Associated Press