In November, already into my ninth decade, I had the surprising privilege of becoming the first Holocaust survivor to tell my story in Dubai. I never dreamed that I would visit the UAE, let alone speak there about my horrific experiences under the Nazis. So, when I got the invitation, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only was it a part of the world I had never visited, but I hoped it would be an opportunity to meet local people and foster understanding, respect and friendship between Arabs and Jews. After all, even during an age when people can learn about anything on the internet, there is no substitute for a personal meeting. Although I was a bit nervous, I'm glad to say that the visit was everything I had hoped it would be.
Dubai is well-known for its sprawl, its six-lane highways and its incredible buildings, most famously the Burj Khalifa, and being another place in the Middle East – such as Israel – that has made the desert bloom. I knew all this before my visit. What pleasantly surprised me, however, was the great interest the people there showed in my visit and the history of the Holocaust.
When I arrived, I had the pleasure of meeting with Rabbi Levi Duchman, the first resident chief rabbi of the Emirates. He assured me that there was no antisemitism in Dubai, something I gladly shared afterwards with friends in London, who were astounded that the city had given a platform for a survivor to speak. We all agreed that this was a tremendous step forward.
Rabbi Duchman organised my first talk, to a group of high school students, half of them Jewish and half of them Muslim. This thrilled me. We hear so much about animosity between Muslims and Jews, so it was wonderful to see them learning together. I told them about my experiences during Kristallnacht (a Nazi-organised wave of violence against Jews and Jewish-owned businesses in 1938), how the Nazis arrested my father, destroyed his business and burned down our synagogue. I told them how we escaped to France, where we managed to survive Nazi occupation despite the constant threat to our lives.
Afterwards, the most thoughtful question came from a Muslim boy. He asked what advice I would give the students because of my experiences. "We are all human beings, and we are all essentially the same," I said. "Get to know people of different religions, ethnic and racial background, and treat others with kindness and respect, so that there will never be another Holocaust." I was pleased to see that these boys were already doing just that.
The main event of the visit, at Dubai's Crossroad of Civilisations Museum (founded by Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori), was held on November 9 to commemorate the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, as part of International March of the Living's "Let There Be Light" campaign. I spoke to a full house of about 200 people. After re-telling my family story, I told them what my mother always said: "Everyone has to know what happened, so that it may never happen again."
Although everyone kept telling me that I was making history by becoming the first Holocaust survivor to give personal testimony in the UAE, it was only when I was up on stage that I felt the enormity of the responsibility and honour that had been bestowed upon me. I have told my story publicly on countless occasions but facing the expectant crowd in Dubai on the anniversary of Kristallnacht was the first time in ages that I had felt nervous. I shouldn't have worried, though. I was overwhelmed by the wonderful reception I received. I saw the audience wholeheartedly agree that the Holocaust must be remembered, that "Never Again" must not become an empty slogan.
My visit was, of course, only one step. I hope that there will be more public events in Dubai and elsewhere in the Arab world, and more opportunities for Arabs and Jews of all ages to meet one another and find common ground. I hope that people who don’t currently know about the Holocaust will have the opportunity to learn about it, as well as other atrocities throughout history. I will keep telling my story for as long as I can, but I know that soon the time will come when the torch will be passed on to the next generation, to the children and grandchildren of the victims and survivors. The fact that I know that their testimony will be welcome in places like Dubai makes me optimistic for the future.