The Only Urdu Poem about the Holocaust, and Its Author

March 10, 2021 | Navras Aafreedi
About the author:

In 2009, a fourteen-day event was held in the Indian city of Lucknow—home to a large Muslim minority—where films about the Shoah were shown and lectures on the subject delivered. Its purpose was to counteract Holocaust-denial propaganda emanating from Iran, a country with long and deep-seated cultural connections to Lucknow. There Anwar Nadeem, a distinguished Urdu-language poet, read a poem he had written about the extermination of European Jewry. Navras Aafreedi explains its significance:

The Urdu language is the lingua franca of linguistically diverse South Asian Muslims, who make up almost a third of the global Muslim population. . . . In the 18th century, it emerged as the language of Indo-Persian Muslim high culture. It is spoken as a first language by nearly 70 million people and as a second language by more than 100 million people, primarily in Pakistan and India.

In India, even those with university degrees are often completely unaware of the Holocaust, and history textbooks that cover Nazism at all often omit mention of the Holocaust. Moreover, textbooks and curricula often focus on Hitler’s abilities as an “impassioned speaker,” who “devised a new style of politics,” sometimes portraying him with outright admiration. Worse still is the attitude found in Urdu media:

As a consumer of news provided by the Urdu press, Nadeem had read much that aimed at either denying the Holocaust, minimizing its scale, obfuscating it, or simply reversing it by describing the Jewish Israelis as the present-day Nazis. Even when the Holocaust films retrospective was taking place in Lucknow, . . . the Urdu press there published front-page stories denying the Holocaust and calling it the biggest hoax of the 20th century, with the intention of sabotaging the ongoing event. . . . Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, revered as the ideological father of Pakistan and one of the greatest Urdu poets ever born, is regularly cited by Urdu columnists for his anti-Jewish statements and couplets.

It was precisely these attitudes Nadeem sought to combat. A translation of his poem can be found at the link below.

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