Standing near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the oldest public Holocaust monument in North America, a small group of politicians, Jewish leaders and survivors of the Shoah blasted the Iranian regime for organizing a conference that sought to call into question the occurrence of the calamitous genocide.
"It pains me to have to rebuke and denounce a government that has arranged an event that should never have occurred, and is questioning something that isn't questionable," said U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-District 6), who was joined by his colleague U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13), along with Rep. Daylin Leach (District 149) and State Sen. Vincent Fumo (D-District 1) at a press conference on Monday, held next to the 42-year-old Memorial to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Beginning on Dec. 11, a cadre of infamous Holocaust-deniers, including former Ku Klux Klan member and Louisiana politician David Duke, attended a two-day conference in Tehran. In addition to questioning the Holocaust, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the destruction of the State of Israel.
Among the speakers was Rabbi David Gutterman, executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, who compared the contemporary Iranian leader to Haman, the Persian villain of the Purim story.
"Personally, I'm appalled by what happened in Iran," said Schwartz, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. "We will not allow any nation to deny the reality of the history of our people."
Both legislators supported a Dec. 8 House Resolution condemning the Iranian conference. In fact, the entire Pennsylvania delegation backed the resolution, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-District 2), who according to a staff member was not in the capital on that day.
Also on Dec. 18, Philadelphia-area religious leaders released a joint statement condemning the conference.
Among the groups that signed on were the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Eastern Pennsylvania Baptist Association, the Episcopal Bishop of Pennsylvania, black and Hispanic clerical organizations, local imam Abdur-Razzaq Miller and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia.
"Any claim of objectivity or alleged attempts at understanding historical truth is belied by President Ahmadinejad's warm welcome to well-known racists, anti-Semites and Holocaust-deniers," read the statement. "His repeated calls for the destruction of Israel and his well-documented contempt for the Jewish people are more than ample evidence of the motivation underlying this conference."
The Philadelphia press conference, organized by the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, also called attention to the Holocaust monument itself.
Displayed next to the speaker's podium was a rendering of the planned $10 million renovation and beautification of the memorial's new space. The plans include the addition of a garden, a plaza and columns.
Jeffrey Schwartz, president of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, said that "the current Holocaust-denial conference is reaffirming the importance of the Philadelphia monument."