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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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For seven months, millions of Iranians have turned on their television sets Monday at 10 p.m. to watch a World War II drama that challenges stereotypes about Iran and Judaism.

The story line could not be less likely in the Islamic Republic, whose president calls the Holocaust a "myth": An Iranian-Palestinian student in France helps save his love – a French Jew – and her family from the Nazis and from becoming victims of the Holocaust. This week the 30-part love story comes to a spectacular end with state-owned television broadcasting an encore presentation of the final episode, which includes a shootout amid the ancient ruins of Persepolis.

The message of the series, says director Hassan Fathi, is that "what is endangering peace is extremist thinking, and political hard-liners that separate people from each other. God created people to love each other, regardless of religion.... Unfortunately [when it comes to] religion the current of extremism is always on, creating misunderstanding between cultures." The Iranian hero and his Jewish love are finally united in the last scene at the foot of Iran's snow-covered Damavand mountain, ending a saga sympathetic to the fate of European Jews. The series is fiction, but inspired by Abdol Hussein Sardari, a real-life Iranian consul in Paris who issued Iranian passports to more than 1,000 European Jews during World War II so they could flee.

The tale surprised many Iranians with its apparent challenge to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements about the Holocaust.

But "Zero Degree Turn" highlights another message commonly lost amid fierce anti-Israel rhetoric: That Iran and many Iranians differentiate between Jews, who are meant to be accepted by Muslims as fellow monotheists and "people of the book;" and Zionism, which is officially vilified in Iran as the destructive ideology of Israel.

That difference is often highlighted by Iran's estimated 25,000 Jews, who form the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel.

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