When light pierced the darkness: Moslem rescuers during the Holocaust
Sigmund Carl & Alfred has written a post that tells a story I'd not heard before, of "The Mosque that Sheltered Jews."
The rescue occurred in France during the German occupation of WWII. Here are some details:
The mosque-based resistance network consisted of people from Algeria's mountainous Kabylia regions. Kabyls are one of several North-African groups who have preserved their Berber language and culture; the Berbers inhabited North Africa before the Arabs invaded and introduced Islam in the 7th century. At least 95 percent of Algerian immigrants to France came from Kabylia. The network's Kabyls communicated in their Berber dialect, Tamazight, making infiltration almost impossible.
The soul of the network was the mosque's rector, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, a man with three nationalities - Algerian, Moroccan, and French - who moved with ease in all three worlds, and whose Islam was tolerant and inclusive.
More than 1,700 people are thought to have found short-term shelter in apartments on or near the grounds of the mosque. Benghabrit set up an alert system that allowed fugitives to disappear swiftly in case of a raid - if necessary to the prayer room's women's section, where men were normally not admitted. He wrote numerous false birth certificates making Jewish children into Muslims....
My friend Mathis Szykowski, also a Holocaust survivor and a hidden child, testifies to this: "It must be said and repeated that in any account of survival, there are many people who will help, at great risk to themselves, people who appear almost mysteriously, whom you trust instinctively. No one can survive such circumstances by themselves. So it becomes obvious that in life as in death, we are all interdependent." A human being whose mind has not been distorted by ideology will instinctively help another in danger, especially a child.
This harks back to my own post on Dr. Wafa Sultan, and the idea that there are some people who will help others even at risk to their own lives, because their humanity and integrity dictates that they cannot do otherwise.
For millennia there had been many Jews living in Arab lands, and the history of the two peoples, although complex, was at least one of familiarity and not strangeness. Jews at that time were not totally "other," as they are today to most Arabs.
The blog "Point of No Return" is dedicated to telling the story of these Jews from Arab lands. Here is a brief history of what has happened, and why most of the Arab world is now virtually Judenfrei.
Take a look around the blog; it contains much fascinating and little-known history. Here is a post entitled "In search of righteous Arabs," which contains the heretofore unknown (at least, to me) story of how Hitler tried to extend the Holocaust into Arab and North African lands, and how some inhabitants cooperated fully whereas some were rescuers much like those in the Paris mosque:
Taken together, this history is rarely told, and the heroes, in particular, have never been recognized. Of the more than 19,000 “righteous Gentiles” honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem for rescuing Jews from death during the Holocaust, not a single one is an Arab (though there are a number of Muslims, including Turks, Bosnians, and Albanians). In my view, the reason for this lacuna is dual: few have ever looked for “Arab righteous,”and fewer still have had an incentive to be found. For Arabs, the legacy of World War II was soon overshadowed by two other developments: the conflict with Zionism over the fate of Palestine and the struggle for independence against European colonialism. By the late 1940’s—and certainly by the time of the Suez crisis in 1956—the blurring of the state of Israel with “the Jews” was already a deeply embedded theme of Middle Eastern politics. For an Arab, there was little to be gained (and much to be lost) by being identified with the defense of Jews or of Jewish interests.
...[This was] my reception by the children of one of my prime candidates for recognition as a “righteous Arab”: Tunisia’s wartime prime minister, Muhammad Chenik. Walking a dangerous line between the Germans and his longtime personal friendships with Jews, this Arab notable, according to various interviewees, had used his connections to warn Jewish leaders of impending arrests and had secured dispensations from forced labor for the sons of Jews he knew from his business days. He very likely saved Jewish lives, perhaps at risk to his own.
Whatever the motive behind these deeds—personal friendship, old business obligations, simple kindness—they were truly noble. Since I was intending to resurrect the story of this long-forgotten statesman, and bring honor to his name, I had expected his family to embrace the revelations I was offering them, or at the very least to thank me for my efforts. And indeed, the family members who gathered in their comfortable seaside villa to hear my tale were polite, generous, and welcoming,plying me with tray after tray of delicious sweets and several rounds of coffee and tea. But through the smiles and handshakes, it rapidly became clear that they wanted nothing to do with my story of their father’s exploits. We have never heard about any of this, they insisted, and even if what you say is true, it does not amount to anything significant. Although they urged me to return with irrefutable proof, they offered no help, and it was obvious they hoped never to hear from me again. Perhaps the hardest blow has been the silence that has greeted most of my entreaties to moderate, forward-thinking Arabs to assist in shedding light on this chapter of their history. For every positive response to a phone call or a posting on an Internet message board, there have been a dozen cold shoulders, unanswered faxes, or unfilled promises...the taboo against recognizing any Arab connection to the Holocaust, even in order to celebrate the deeds of a heroic Arab rescuer, is evidently too strong.
In Semites and Anti-Semites, Bernard Lewis traces the origins of anti-Semitism in the Arab world. His book, which I encourage you to read, advances much evidence for the thesis that virulent anti-Semitism (as opposed to the milder, garden-variety type) in that area is neither inherent in Islam, nor does it have a lengthy history, nor does its genesis lie in the establishment of Israel. Lewis makes a strong case (and this is why I used the word "Judenfrei" earlier in this post) that the vicious anti-Semitism present in the Arab world has its true origins in the nineteen-thirties, and was a direct result of Nazi influence and propaganda taking root there at that time.
The establishment of Israel certainly made the situation worse. But the change had occurred prior to that event, and was exploited by many in the Arab world to incite people further against Israel and against Jews in general. The Arab world (including Egypt, which is not strictly Arab but is part of the area and has a similar history), as well as Iran, is today the home not just of "anti-Zionism," but of Nazi-type hatred of Jews and widespread belief in the truth of such old lies as the Protocols and the blood libel.
The current absence of Jews in Arab countries has paradoxically made them easier to hate, since few Arabs now have personal knowledge of Jews as neighbors or friends. It has come to such a sad and sorry state that even mention of the brave, selfless, and humane acts of Arabs towards Jews is hush-hush, a source of shame rather than of pride.
Light pierced the darkness in Arab lands, too. But this is a very dark time--and it's getting darker, I fear.