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In hit Iranian TV drama, Holocaust no 'myth'

An Iranian student helps save his love – a French Jew – from the Nazis in World War II.

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The final episode of "Zero Degree Turn" shows Nazi Germany in favor of the Zionist enterprise as a way of moving Jews out of Europe. In the story, the Zionist uncle – who tries to keep the Iranian Muslim and his Jewish niece apart, sometimes at the point of a gun – is seen in a synagogue, expounding on the virtues of Zionism. "Any Jew who lives outside Palestine is not a Jew."

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The series could not have come at a more relevant time for Iranians. The president hosted a Holocaust conference last December that featured Holocaust deniers. In a bid to reassure the Jewish community, Iran's foreign ministry in March facilitated a diplomatic tour of Jewish facilities in Tehran.

The magnified relevance of the series has been coincidence, says Mr. Fathi, a veteran director of historical fiction. "I decided to produce this series in 2002, and in those days the Holocaust was not an issue," he says.

"Even if one single Jew is killed in German camps, the world should be ashamed. By the same token, if a single Palestinian dies, the world should be ashamed," says Fathi. "I sympathize with the Jewish victims of World War II, to the same extent [I sympathize] with women and children victims of the war in Palestine."

The TV series is one of the most expensive and elaborate ever produced here, with period costumes on location in Paris, Budapest, and cities in Iran. Iranian viewers say the love story and its iconoclastic content kept them glued to their sets Monday nights. "This was the most professional TV series in Iranian history. Everybody watched it," says one regular viewer. "The first episodes were counter to what President Ahmadinejad was saying, and showed the Holocaust existed, so it was not clear what the signals were."

But it was not long before the differences between Judaism and Zionism were made clear, a point made by Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign affairs adviser to Iran's supreme leader. His live commentary immediately after the final segment was advertised during the show by a ticker along the bottom of the screen.

"The European policies created Zionism more than the Jews [though] extremist Jews had a role. The Jews are victims, and Muslims were the same," asserted Mr. Velayati. "Europeans fighting Jews, the last time in Germany, has historic roots. And the correlation between Zionism and Nazis is known."

The political subtext was secondary to the story for many Iranians. Iranian character Habib Parsa's pursuit of his Jewish heartthrob, Sarah, lands him in prison three times. She also surmounts constant challenges and then is waiting in the falling snow when Habib — much older — is released from prison.

"It was a very tough night for me," says Fathi of the final episode. "But I was so happy Sarah and Habib got together. The days that God is very happy are the days that people from different cultures hug each other in brotherhood."