Museum tells the story of Pakistan at 72

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The partition of the Indian subcontinent of India forced migration of several hundred thousand people between the new states of Pakistan and India.
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Muhammad Ali Jinah being introduced to Muslim League leaders at Quetta on a visit to Baluchistan.
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Muhammad Ali Jinah with his sister, Fatima Jinah and wife Rati Bi.
Updated 13 August 2019

Museum tells the story of Pakistan at 72

  • National History Museum in Lahore chronicles country’s birth and struggle
  • Pakistan and India never tell the truth about Partition, academic says

LAHORE: Established by the Punjab government, the National History Museum at the Greater Iqbal Park shows all aspects of the country’s history not only after its creation, but also throws light on the struggle of Muslims ruling the subcontinent for centuries prior to Partition.

The mega project was envisaged to keep new generations of Pakistanis informed about the struggle of their forefathers for a separate country.

The museum narrates the tales from the independence movement and the first few years of the newborn state. The historic events, important statistics and speeches of the leaders of the movement have been displayed at the digital library of the National History Museum while another section displays pictures and mementos from the British colonial era.

“I have crossed the 65th year of my life and have come here with my grandson. Every wall, every corner introduces with us to a new phase of the struggle of our elders The pain they bore, they did so for the peace of their people,” Nisha Begum, a visitor, told Arab News.

A portion of the museum showcases the stories with the help of archival content, including newspaper articles, personal letters and first hand accounts.

This portion also shows the scenes of great migration of August 1947. Britain left the subcontinent after 90 years, dividing it into two separate countries. Millions of Muslims started journey to West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) while millions of Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite direction. Unprecedented violence — Hindus and Sikhs on one side and Muslims on the other — was witnessed.

“The carnage was especially intense, with massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered,” an article from The New Yorker recalled in June 2015.

“I have seen those black days with my eyes. I was little child at that time. I saw trains pelted with dead bodies. The Muslims sacrificed their lives for a peaceful land but the politicians wasted the struggle. The looters have taken control and the noble lost their dignity,” Salahud Din, 82, told Arab News.

Few historians believe that the truth was told to the people of India and Pakistan.




Muhammad Ali Jinah with the central leaders of the All India Muslim League.

“Partition had resulted in the biggest forced migration in history and as many as 14 million people, including 10 million from Punjab, were forcefully evicted. Although historians have failed to narrate the violence, some masterpieces of Urdu literature have highlighted the women’s experiences during Partition,” said historian Dr. Ali Usman Qasmi.

The veterans, however see the 72-year journey of Pakistan with disappointment and hope at the same time.

“The 72-year journey of Pakistan is very pathetic. A few years after its creation, the country entered the clutches of army dictators, and we failed to set up of the country as per our needs. Dictators used the country for personnel gains, depriving the people of their legitimate rights,” said veteran journalist Khadim Hussain, 84.

“I saw the moment of creation of Pakistan. The people sacrificed their lives, properties and relations in the hope of good but successive martial rule destroyed everything. Even a popular leader like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto failed to complete his agenda.”

Gen. Khawaja Ziauddin Abbassi has a different point of view: “Despite having nuclear weapons Pakistan never put the world in danger. It always behaved sensibly. The Pakistani army played important role not only in the development of the country but also contributed for peace at international level.

“Pakistan was created in the name of Islam but unjustified distribution of resources among different segments of society kept the poor away from its blessings.”

The veteran politician Raja Zafrul Haq, who took part in the independence movement, says that Pakistan is a story of success and failure at the same time.

“We lost credibility and international level because of weak system and discontinuity in democratic systems.”


Berlin celebrates postwar visitor program for expelled Jews

Updated 15 September 2019

Berlin celebrates postwar visitor program for expelled Jews

  • The program has brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city
  • The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis

BERLIN: Berlin was the last place Helga Melmed had expected to see again. She was 14 when the Nazis forced her and her family onto a train from their home in the German capital to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, in 1941.

That started a gruesome odyssey that later saw her imprisoned at Auschwitz and Neuengamme outside Hamburg before she was finally freed by British soldiers in 1945 from Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany, a 46-pound walking skeleton.

For years, she never considered returning to Germany until she was invited on a trip by the city of her birth, in a reconciliation program meant to help mend ties with former Berliners who had been forced out by the Nazis.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the program has successfully brought people like Melmed on one-week trips to Berlin to reacquaint themselves with the city.

Some 35,000 people have accepted the invitation since it was first issued in 1969, and while the numbers are dwindling a few new participants still come every year.

“I thought I’d never come back,” Melmed, 91, who emigrated to the US via Sweden after the war, told The Associated Press in an interview.

The “invitation program for former refugees” has brought back primarily Jewish emigrants who fled the Nazis, or those like Melmed who survived their machinery of genocide.

On Wednesday, she and other former program participants were invited to Berlin City Hall to celebrate the half-century anniversary.

At a ceremony mayor Michael Mueller thanked them for coming back — despite all they suffered at the hands of the Germans.
“Many people followed our invitation, people who had lost everything they loved,” he said. “I want to express my strong gratitude to you for putting your trust in us.”

Despite skepticism at the time that anyone persecuted by the Nazis would want to return, in 1970 — one year after the program’s launch — there was already a waiting list of 10,000 former Berliners who wanted to come back for a visit.

More than 100 other German cities and towns have instituted similar programs but no municipality has brought back as many former residents as the capital.

Berlin, of course, also had the biggest Jewish community before the Holocaust. In 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, around 160,500 Jews lived in Berlin. By the end of World War II in 1945 their numbers had diminished to about 7,000 — through emigration and extermination.

All in all, some six million European Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Melmed’s father was shot dead in the Lodz ghetto — where the Nazis concentrated Jews and forced them to work in factories — a few months after their arrival and her mother died of exhaustion a few months later, shortly after Melmed’s 15th birthday.

Melmed, who lives in Venice, Florida, received her invitation under the reconciliation program 42 years ago. “One day, out of the blue, I found a letter in the mailbox inviting me to come back for a visit,” the retired nurse said at the hotel where she was staying with two of her four children and a grandson.

“So, in 1977, my husband and I traveled to Berlin.” They were part of an organized group tour of dozens of other former Berliners who had been persecuted by the Nazis.

“I don’t know if the trip was a dream or a nightmare,” Melmed said. One afternoon, she went for a coffee at Berlin’s famous Kempinski Hotel — today called the Bristol Hotel — just like she used to do as a little girl with her mother and dad, a banking executive.
“It was heart-breaking,” Melmed said.

Her life story is chronicled in the exhibition “Charter Flight into the Past” about the program, which opened Thursday at Berlin’s City Hall and will run through Oct. 9.

Johannes Tuchel, the director of the German Resistance Memorial Center, which curated the exhibition, said that many returnees had conflicting emotions.

They didn’t trust the Germans — especially in the early years of the program, when many people they saw in the streets still belonged to the Nazi generation. Often, memories of loss and pain were stirred up by the visit, but at the same time many were also able to reconnect with a city that harbored many happy childhood mementos for them.

For Melmed, closure came only at an old age. In 2018, when she turned 90, she decided to return once again to Berlin. It was then that she met the current tenants of her old family home in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood of Berlin.

They invited her back into the apartment and organized a plaque-laying ceremony last week to commemorate her parents on this year’s visit.

Last week, city officials presented her with her original birth certificate and her parents’ marriage certificate. “Now it’s all closure for me,” Melmed said with a peaceful smile as she touched her golden necklace with a Star of David pendant. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”