June 9, 2019 By Navras J. Aafreedi. Ph.D
KOLKATA, India –The Diary of Anne Frank has been translated into seventy languages, including a few South Asian ones. These include Hindi, the official link language of India and the fourth most widely spoken language with 341 million speakers; Bengali, the national language of Bangladesh and the fifth most widely spoken language with 228 million speakers; Assamese; Malayalam; and Marathi.
However, it has not yet been translated into Urdu, the lingua franca of linguistically diverse South Asian Muslims (almost one third of the global Muslim population) and the national language of Pakistan.
It has been translated into other Muslim languages. There are translations of the diary available in Arabic, Azerbaijani, Dari, Farsi, Kazakh, Turkish, and Sudanese. Although the diary itself is yet to make its appearance in Urdu, a theatrical dramatization of it is ready for presentation in Urdu, thanks to Afaq Almas.
Almas obtained official permission from the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, Switzerland, to publish in Urdu as a play the English translation by Susan Masotty, though he is not sure if he would be able to find a publisher willing to bear the cost of its publication in every sense of the word. He also wishes to stage the play. According to the agreement signed with the Anne Frank Fund in Basel, Switzerland, he has to stage it in four major cities of India by March 31, 2020. He is clueless as to where he would get the funds to cover the production cost and the other expenses involved in this noble endeavour aimed at raising Holocaust awareness in India, home to one sixth of humanity and to the second largest Muslim population in the world, though a minority in the country.
What Almas has done and intends to do becomes all the more significant considering the fact that this year June 12 marks the 90th birth anniversary of Anne Frank and 77th anniversary of the day when she received the notebook she wrote her diary in, which was her thirteenth birthday in 1942. South Asia is a “safe area for casual hatred” as Aatish Taseer described his father’s world, where people can voice ugly opinions of the weak and the marginalized, numerically or politically, without challenge, comforted by homogeneity. And, a popular target, particularly in certain sections of Muslims there, are the Jewish people.
Taseer recounts in his memoir cum travelogue, Stranger to History (2009), as to how his father, Salmaan Taseer, who served as the Governor of Punjab, the most populous state in Pakistan, from 2008 to 2011, minimized the scale of the Holocaust: “He felt that the number of people who had died in the Holocaust was wildly exaggerated. Even if the Germans were working day and night through the whole war they couldn’t have killed as many people as it was claimed. ‘The job was too big. I’ve seen Belsen by the way,’ he sneered. ‘I was expecting a big warehouse or something. It was hardly bigger than this room. There’s no way they could have fitted in more than three hundred people a day. Then they brought them in a train, which had to go back and forth . . . I’m not denying the Holocaust, the Jews were definitely gassed, but not so many.’” It is interesting that this came from the same person who was later to be assassinated by his own bodyguard for standing up for a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, wrongly accused of blasphemy. Holocaust denial or minimization are the most common expressions of anti-Semitism in South Asia, where it is not even illegal, unlike several countries in Europe.
Muslim Holocaust deniers apparently believe, according to Meir Litvak, “that the memory of the Holocaust was the foundation of Western support for the establishment of the State of Israel. Therefore, refuting it would severely undermine Israel’s legitimacy in the West and help in its eradication.” For them, “it never happened or else was hugely exaggerated.” As the eminent scholar of anti-Semitism, the late Robert Wistrich pointed out: “The denial of the Holocaust – whether in Britain, France (where it first originated), America or other Western countries – has become an integral part of the revamped anti-Semitic mythology of a world Jewish conspiracy.”
The fact is that it was not the Holocaust but the Yishuv that founded the State of Israel. Had there not been a thriving self-governing community or 600,000-strong-Yishuv (the Zionist Jewish entity residing in pre-State Israel) built over years since the first settlement in 1860, the 360,000 survivors would not have found a shelter. “And the UN November 1947 partition resolution, voting for the establishment of a Jewish State,” as the eminent Holocaust scholar Dina Porat points out, “came indeed after the Holocaust but not as its direct result. Political considerations, such as the Soviet interest in replacing Britain in the Middle East and in preventing American future influence in the area, were much more instrumental than belated empathy.”
Anything that ever appears in Urdu on the Holocaust is aimed at either denying or minimizing it, with just a few exceptions. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a section of its website in Urdu. I published a trilingual brochure with a section in Urdu to commemorate the Holocaust films retrospective I held at universities in Lucknow, a major center of Muslim scholarship, in 2009. It is the same city where the playwright Almas received his tertiary education. The brochure also contained an Urdu poem written by Anwar Nadeem (1937-2017) of Lucknow, perhaps the only Urdu poem on the Holocaust:
The Series Of This Pain Should Not Continue!
The magic of life and death, Is spread in all directions, Relief comes with tribulations, Troubles come with fortitude,
Each footstep is laden with darkness, Light is in the hands of Time, What should I comment on the event unfurled? A moment of false comfort.
Life, again in this torture cell, The Day of Judgment in every epoch, A blood bath of humanity, If only one could interpret this nightmare.
The only desire that still remains, friends! The series of this pain should never be born again!
(Translated from Urdu by Saira Mujtaba)
The event was a befitting response to the Holocaust denial conference held in Iran just a few years before. While the retrospective was in progress the two most widely circulated Urdu daily newspapers in Lucknow, Aag and Rashtriya Sahara, published front-page stories denying the Holocaust with the aim of sabotaging the event. The articles were largely based on the arguments made by well-known Holocaust deniers, such as Arthur R. Butz, David Irving, Harry Elmer Barnes, David Hoggan, and Paul Ressinier.
Although Almas read the Diary of Anne Frank decades ago it was only four years ago that he got in touch with the Anne Frank Fund to obtain permission to adapt it as a theatrical play in Urdu, which was granted to him in January this year. His objective, as he says, is to raise voice against the persecution of minorities and the injustice against them. It is something that he would not be doing for the first time with this play based on the Diary of Anne Frank. He wrote and staged a play several years ago on the colossal tragedy that the 1947 partition of India was. The play was entitled Ye Vo Sahar to Nahin! (This is not the dawn we yearned for!). He also did a theatrical dramatization of Asghar Vajahat’s short story Shah Alam Camp ki Roohein (The Souls of Shah Alam Camp) depicting the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002.
He is conscious that he could be asked by Muslims as to why in spite of being a Muslim himself he did not think of depicting the sorrow of displaced Palestinians and is instead focusing on the Holocaust, the sorrow of those who are often considered to be their adversaries. According to Almas, “the problem is that we consider the sorrow of any persecuted group to be different to that of another, though it is the same even if the location, the circumstances and the actors are different. Anne Frank herself expresses in her diary the desire to be seen just as a fourteen-year-old-girl seeking freedom, instead of Jewish or non-Jewish. Anne Frank has emerged as a voice not only to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but to all the persecuted of all times across the world, transcending time and space.”
It reminds me of what the Holocaust scholar Alvin H. Rosenfeld wrote: “It is as if the broad public has chosen to pay tribute to the memory of the others by remembering the one child who today stands for all the child victims of the Nazi era. To the million or more who perished we have given the collective name: Anne Frank.” Almas feels, “Anne Frank has shown us all a mirror and it is incumbent on us to see ourselves in it and realize how we look.” He only wishes “no child ever finds herself/himself in such circumstances that he/she writes a diary like that of Anne Frank.”
The author, Dr. Navras J. Aafreedi is an Assistant Professor of History at Presidency University, Kolkata, where he teaches a Holocaust focused postgraduate course and an undergraduate course in Global Jewish History among several self-designed courses.
This article was originally published by San Diego Jewish World on June 9, 2019, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.