I’ve been rolling around in the mud too much in the past week or so after exposing David Lange and Yeshayahu Rotter. It’s time to hear of heroes and human decency for a change. I hope you appreciate these courageous acts as much as I did in reading about them and writing this post.
Anyone who knows anything about the Holocaust knows about the Righteous Gentiles, those heroic non-Jews recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem museum for saving the lives of Jews at great peril to themselves. In almost every instance, these gentiles are Christian. It is a lesser known fact that a number of Muslims also saved Jews during World War II. In a number of cases, Israel has been unwilling to recognize their heroism by bestowing the designation on them.
The first case is that of an individual known as the “Muslim Schindler,” an Iranian diplomat who risked everything in wartime Paris to save Jews who sought his assistance:
Abdol-Hossein Sardari, a junior Iranian diplomat, found himself almost by accident in charge of Iran’s mission in Paris in 1940 and went on to help up to 2,000 Iranian Jews flee France, according to In the Lion’s Shadow.
But he only recently received posthumous recognition for his deeds.
…But by cultivating his contacts with German and Vichy officials, Mr Sardari somehow managed to win exemptions from Nazi race laws for at least 2,000 Iranian Jews by arguing that they did not have blood ties to European Jewry.
He claimed that despite the fact that some Iranians had followed the teachings of the Prophet Moses for thousands of years, they had always been of Iranian stock and therefore were “Mousaique” – Moses followers, which he dubbed “Djuguten” – and not part of the Jewish race.
…His task became even more dangerous when Britain and Russia invaded Iran in September 1941, when he was ordered by Tehran to return home as soon as possible after it signed a treaty with the Allies. But he stayed on regardless, using instead inheritance money to keep his office going after being stripped of his diplomatic immunity and pay.
A perfect example of an ingenious, resourceful individual exploiting the machinery and thinking of the Nazi bureaucracy in order to retain a sense of humanity. For his troubles, Sardari died a lonely, unheralded figure in exile:
[He] neither sought nor received much recognition for his efforts in his lifetime and died lonely in a bedsit in Croydon, south London, in 1981.
He had lost his ambassador’s pension and Tehran properties in the Iranian revolution.
In one of the rare instances in which you will find me speaking positively of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, they recognized Sardari’s achievements in a 2004 ceremony. Though I suspect the reason may’ve been remunerative in that Los Angeles Iranian Jewish community is immensely wealthy and such a award would tend to open the spigot for their donations to the Center. No matter, even doing a good deed for a bad reason is good.
In the second case, another Jewish Holocaust survivor from Arab lands wrote of her championing of her Muslim savior. When I first read the author’s last name, Weisel, I figured she would be a relative of Elie Wiesel, writing of her own survival of the Holocaust. How wrong I was.
In her op-ed she masterfully presents her story as if she was a typical (if there can be such a thing) survivor saved in WWII Europe by a Righteous Christian Gentile:
IN December 1942, when I was 13 years old, German troops occupied my hometown. Within days, our house was commandeered as an officers’ mess hall. I soon had a yellow star on my dress, setting me apart from many of my childhood friends. The men of our family were ordered into forced labor. My happy life had vanished.
Luckily, an influential local man knew of our difficult straits and generously offered his protection. One night, he ferried the women, children and old men in our family to a farm he owned about 20 miles outside of town. There, he said, we would be safe. Though the stables he provided us for lodging were modest, with just a drape across the door to protect against the elements, we were relieved to be behind the thick, high walls of his property. We were deeply grateful.
Yet here she ‘lowers the boom,’ exposing the true identity of her savior:
During the horrors of the Holocaust, non-Jews saved many thousands of Jews from death and depravity at the hands of Germans and their allies. Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial museum, has recognized more than 23,000 of these brave men and women as “The Righteous Among the Nations.” Our family’s rescuer deserves to be among that number. And in his case, the impact of recognition would have powerful reverberations, striking a blow against Holocaust denial in a part of the world where such denial is widespread.
That is because my hometown is Mahdia, on the eastern shore of Tunisia, and our rescuer, Khaled Abdul Wahab, was an Arab Muslim. (He passed away in 1997.)
Yet his noble act of heroism has yet to be recognized by the State of Israel. In fact, efforts by her to do so have been summarily rejected. So despite the enormous suffering inflicted on the Jews during the Holocaust and the few non-Jews who assuaged that suffering by saving their lives, Israel perpetuates some of that injustice by denying Khaled Abdul Wahab his due as a Righteous Gentile:
So far, however, Abdul Wahab has been denied the recognition he deserves. Nearly five years ago, in January 2007, the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem nominated him to be a “righteous,” the first Arab ever to be formally considered for this honor. This nomination was based on witness testimony from my late sister, Anny Boukris. In March of that year, however, the official Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, a body presided over by a retired Israeli judge and created by Israeli law to decide who merits recognition as a “righteous,” voted to reject the nomination. That decision was kept secret for two years.
It gets worse, one of the key Israeli figures who denied Wahab the status he is due was the same man who chaired the Israeli commission which exonerated the IDF of any misdeeds resulting from the Mavi Marmara massacre. Retired Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel continued his record of prejudicing the deeds of Muslims by refusing to honor Wahab:
In 2010, that same jurist, Justice Jacob Tuerkel, sent the Abdul Wahab file back to the commission for a second review. This time, the case was bolstered by two fresh testimonies — a video interview of my cousin Edmee Masliah, who was with me at the farm and now lives outside Paris, and a notarized letter I wrote recounting my own experience. Yad Vashem now had three firsthand accounts of the story. But to my complete dismay, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous once again voted to reject the nomination. Abdul Wahab was a noble man, I was told by Yad Vashem, but his actions did not rise to the statutory level required to merit the “righteous” designation — that is, he didn’t “risk his life” to save Jewish lives.
This is patent nonsense. Anyone with any knowledge of the Holocaust period knows that anyone caught harboring Jewish fugitives could be killed, even summarily executed. To claim that Wahad didn’t endanger his own life is unspeakable.
Eva Weisel, the survivor, is entirely too generous and kind to Israel for this behavior. But I will allow her to display her graciousness in hope it may shame Israelis into pressuring this committee to reverse the injustice it has committed:
I refuse to believe that Yad Vashem has one standard for “righteous” in Europe and another for “righteous” who performed their sacred duty on the other side of the Mediterranean, in an Arab country.
Sixty-nine years after pinning a yellow star to my chest in my native land, I know that I was able to enjoy a long, full life because Abdul Wahab confronted evil and saved me, as he saved other fortunate members of my family. I hope that Yad Vashem reconsiders his case before no one is left to tell his story.
One of the hardest things for me to accept concerning the Holocaust in contemporary times is the blithe disregard some of us non-survivors have for those who endured this unspeakable horror. We stand in judgment of them. Take the abomination that is the attack on George Soros, who was a Hungarian teenager when he was taken in by a non-Jewish family friend. To hear Glenn Beck tell it, Soros practically betrayed the Jews in their hiding places. Who the hell is Glenn Beck to sit in judgment? What does he know about what Soros and those other Jews went through? How does he know how he would’ve reacted under the same circumstances? Would he have behaved better, worse?
By the same token, how can someone comfortably ensconced in the 21st century determine that a Tunisian who saved a large Jewish family from liquidation, did so at no direct danger to himself? How would someone not privy to the period know that Wahab behaved in a way that was little better than any average human being would have? It’s damn offensive, I say, both to history, the victims and their protectors.
Justice for Khaled Abdul Wahab! Let us not allow the current climate of Islamophobia that reigns in Israel to invade the sacred precincts of recognizing Holocaust heroes.
I’m also reminded of the true story behind the novel, People of the Book, which recounts the brave acts of heroism by Croatian Muslims who took the Sarajevo Haggadah from the local Jewish community for safekeeping during the Holocaust. As one of the most valuable and unique historic Jewish illuminated manuscripts, it was highly sought after by the Nazis for their museum of the Jewish people which they planned after they’d liquidated every one of us. Local Muslims frustrated these aims and preserved the book so it could be repatriated to the Jewish community after the War.
During the Sarajevo siege, the book was again endangered as it would housed in the national library building which was savagely shelled by Serbian forces. Once again, the brave citizens of the city spirited the book to a secret hiding place until it was safe for it to resurface. James Wolfensohn generously subsidized a new facsimile reprinting of the Haggadah which is for sale (click on link).
In the Ted Koppel era, Nightline aired an amazing documentary by Edward Serotta about the saving of the Sarajevo haggadah. I recommend it very highly and you can buy it through the Amazon ad here.
The moral of this tale is that there are Israeli Jewish nationalists who seek to deny the goodness and decency of Muslims. They do this for purely political reasons. And when they do so they not only perpetuate the sins of the Holocaust, they deny Jewish humanity and give in to the fear and ignorance of racism. Let us not give in. Let us give all Righteous Gentiles their due, including Muslims.