In an old people’s home in Israel, specifically for those that had survived the holocaust, the men and women who had been through hell and back arranged their chairs in a circle and awaited their guests. As they arrived, the smiling residents welcomed the group of ten young Iranians with applause.
The Iranians, all of whom have dedicated their lives to Yeshua, were overcome with awe. “How can you be applauding us?” they gasped, with incredulity, and some began to weep.
There were many tears as the survivors shared their tales of terror and stories that were almost impossible to take in. It is not common for survivors to tell their harrowing stories freely, as the emotional cost to bringing it all back to mind is extremely high. “We will not sleep well tonight”, said one. “We suffer all the time from the memories, but tonight it will be worse. We will have nightmares.”
One lady, called Shoshana, stretched out her arm to show the number that was still tattooed there from the Auschwitz death camp. The stories and memories, like the tattoo, have left a permanent mark. As she and others shared the trauma they had been through, the Iranians absorbed what they were hearing with grief, heightened by the fact that they had recently visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum; a day which had left a strong impression on them all. The two experiences together made for a deeply moving and humbling experience for the group, many of whom described it as a highlight of their trip.
After hearing about the ghettos, the loss and the horror, the leader of the group knelt down before the men and women, saying, “It is a privilege and a great honor for us to hear about your life. It is difficult to accept and understand what happened to you and the other people who experienced the Holocaust. Perhaps only God can.”
The young believers of Iranian descent now live in the UK, some having come to faith while in Iran, and others after they had left the country. Most were from Muslim backgrounds.
The leader of the group told them, “I am from Hamadan in southern Iran. Every morning at school the day was opened with the shout, “Death to Israel.” Only years later when I became a Christian I realized it was the holy land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’m very glad we came here and heard these things.”
The brave survivors asked that this information should be told to other Iranians who had not heard the truth about the atrocities committed against the Jews, and especially to the Holocaust-denying president Ahmadinijad. The leader’s wife admitted,
“I always knew that things really happened, but it was still shocking to hear first hand about the violence inflicted by man. I was in shock when I heard that Ahmadinijad denies the Holocaust. I was embarrassed from the ignorance, and frustrated. Really, we have no way to influence the Iranian government, but we can pass on the stories we’ve heard here.”
According to Ynet news, Shimon Sabag, founder of the host institution, said that this was one of the most exciting meetings he had experienced in his 20 years with the program.
“The survivor’s greatest fear is that one day they will stop telling their stories. Here they had an opportunity to tell the story and see that it would move onto a place where Holocaust deniers live and act.”
One of the group was staggered at the welcoming attitude of Israelis to them as Iranians, and also as Christians, after all the violence that has been done in the name of Jesus – most notably in Jewish minds, the Holocaust.
“I can’t believe how they just smile and welcome us – this would never happen in other places,” he said. “Germans, Christians, Iranians… after everything that has happened, they are still able to welcome us. It’s amazing”.