Wednesday, March 15, 2006

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.


At 10:29 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you for the references. I have liked Lewis's other books, and the links were enlightening. It is good to know, and to remember, in these times.

At 10:40 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Colin said...

Thank you for posting this. Especially now, as attitudes begin to harden and fear of the "other" begins to grip the people of our nation and the world, it pays to remember that Muslims are just a capable of compassion as any Christian.

Remembering "righteous Arabs", even if people in that part of the world don't want us to, will help us show that we are fighting an hiding behind the curtains of a religion, and not the actual religion. Such rememberances will help our global war on terror from becoming what we all fear it might become, the Great Islamic War.

At 11:02 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

I don't know if the connection of Muslim anti-Israel hatred can really be compared with Nazi anti-Jewish hatred. There's no question that to the Nazis all Jews were racially or biologically unredeemable. As you correctly note, that has never been a feature of Muslim interactions with Jews. In fact, there are still Jews in Muslim lands, including Iran, which had about 25,000 Jews in Tehran alone, and a couple dozen synagogues, as late as 1998.

It's also true that the Muslim radicals, and particular, the Palestinians, use every conceivable canard to stir anti-Jewish feeling, the Protocols, the Blood Libel, you name it.

I expect that in the future Muslims and Jews will get along, even, as today, Muslims and Jews who are both Israelis self-evidently along.

This is the Purim season, in which Jews celebrate the defeat of an evil man who wanted to destroy the Jews. That's fine for religion but history and politics is a bit more complex than that. You can keep knocking off the head man, but if you don't deal with the underlying problems -- those notorious "root causes" -- you'll never have peace, as the US has discovered itself in Iraq.

Nor can you bludgeon, shame, humiliate, or MOAB your enemies into submission. Ultimately you have to get along with them, and make concessions, as in fact we did with the Germans and Japanese. It's a two way street. This doesn't really apply to the US in Iraq: the Iraqis, at this point, have to settle their own scores, we just have to make sure it stays relatively stable.

But if the solution is not just getting rid of another Hamann, it's not just finding another Cyrus, either. It's not about One Guy or One Woman. It's about everyone on our team breaking bread with everyone on theirs.

Israel, on the other hand, is going to have to live in a mostly Muslim world, and for them, it really is a two way street. The Roman Walls, the Great Wall, and even the wall we want to build in the South West, didn't, and won't, stop the influx of others, which in turn brings change. And it can only be a temporary expedient for Israel as well.

At 11:22 PM, March 15, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I don't know why but I feel like I've read this post before... sometime, somewhen.

At 11:48 PM, March 15, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

This is off topic, but did anyone read the Totten entry in N. Iraq? The wahabi (or whatever you want to call them) turned a holy muslim shrine into a toilet. His comment was something along the line of "the more I am around it, the less they seem like actual muslims". I suspect that a jewish, christian or other person running away from death would find safety in the majority of Mosques.

At 2:11 AM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

"It's about everyone on our team breaking bread with everyone on theirs."
What to do about those pesky folks on their side that want to kill the ones on their side who would like to break bread with our side?

At 2:24 AM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

"In fact, there are still Jews in Muslim lands, including Iran, which had about 25,000 Jews in Tehran alone, and a couple dozen synagogues, as late as 1998."
Come to Los Angeles. There are almost as many Jewish Persians here than are left in Iran. You should ask them why they left. The History of Jews in the Arab world is a rhythm of a kind of tolerance (with taxes and second class citizenship) and abuse. There is a reason why there are so few Jews in the Arab world today, since the establishment of Israel.

I would guess that those Muslims who helped save Jews from the Nazis were motivated by seeing people they worked with and were friendly aquaintances with being treated badly (and probably worrying that they might be next). I've noticed that most Arab Muslims are extremely friendly (beyond a superficial level) on an individual basis, but as soon as a personal attachment is removed from the equation, it's a different story (the jewish friend I do business with is a good guy, but the rest of them- evil). It's a classic study in mob mentality.

At 7:51 AM, March 16, 2006, Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...


The New York Times reports that the Dutch government has decided to upgrade the compulsory “cultural integration” exams prospective immigrants have to take before obtaining a visa to the country of order to “filter away all unwanted religiously conservative individuals”

“A lesson, about the Netherlands' nude beaches, is followed by another: homosexuals have the same rights here as heterosexuals do, including the chance to marry.

Just to make sure everyone gets the message, two men are shown kissing in a meadow.

The scenes are brief parts of a two-hour-long film that the Dutch government has compiled to help potential immigrants, many of them from Islamic countries, meet the demands of a new entrance examination that went into effect on Wednesday

Or course citizen of certain countries with high numbers of “religious conservatives” such as Israel and the US are exempted from taking the exam…but the Dutch government wants us to believe this shouldn’t be interpreted as blatantly racist double-standard directed at Arabs and Mohammedans!

But there’s even worse that sheer racism at work here: ironically, by focusing its message on nude beaches, swingers clubs, hash bars…etc. the Dutch government is contributing to the distortion and debasement of Western culture in the eyes of its critics, thus reinforcing their prejudices.

Just like their Neocon friends in Washington and Tel-Aviv, the Muslim-bashers of Amsterdam and The Hague are useful idiots feeding the anti-Western narrative of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri.

Instead of promoting humanistic and secular values by building schools and universities with modernist secular curricula in the Middle-East and South Asia, instead of telling prospective immigrants the world over that Europe is a beacon of humanism and democracy, we’re content with provoking Muslims gratuitously.

In Hitler’s Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses were forced to accept blood transfusion and force-fed ham so they could become “good Germans”.

In Guantanomo’s prisons, Arab and Muslim detainees were routinely forced to watch gay porn movies while listening to the Israeli national anthem

I guess this must have paved the way for the Dutch government’s new immigration law…

At 8:21 AM, March 16, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

de la varga - you failed to mention that pigs were kept in the cells with the detainees - either you are slipping or the US is - I thought America had torture down to a fine art? I better fire off a quick letter to the CIA and President Bush reminding them to use pigs when torturing muslims. You so remind me of Baghdad Bob - keep up the good work. What a hoot! Gay porn films and the Israeli - God I love it!

At 3:57 PM, March 16, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

It looks like the Left excommunicated Holland. How many people are they going to send to the gulag by the end of this war, anyways?

At 5:39 PM, March 16, 2006, Anonymous Jim said...

Varga just posted the identical thing over at Cathy Young's blog. It doesn't seem to matter to him that it has next to nothing to do with the topic of this thread. The commenters ate him for a snack, so he shows up here.

At 6:44 PM, March 16, 2006, Blogger bataween said...

Excellent post, neo-neocon, and thanks for the wonderful plug for my blog 'Point of no return'.
Your story of rescue by the Paris mosque is a moving one, but I would suggest that it is no accident that the rescuers in this case were Kabyls, who are far from typical of Arab Muslims. For a start, the Berbers and Kabyls were forcibly converted to Islam and arabised in culture and language in the 7th century. Many today are struggling to maintain their distinctive identity and language - quite a few (secretly?) identify with the Jews.
Douglas points out, mostly correctly:
' those Muslims who helped save Jews from the Nazis were motivated by seeing people they worked with and were friendly aquaintances with being treated badly (and probably worrying that they might be next)'. In the pro-Nazi Farhoud of 1941 (note 1941, seven years before Israel) which claimed the lives of at least 170 Jews in Iraq and injured 1,000s, Muslims did save the lives of their Jewish neighbours. On the other hand, the Jews recognised the rioters and rapists as the milkmen, the tradesmen and the gardeners known to their families. What on earth motivated them?

At 11:44 AM, March 17, 2006, Blogger aliyah06 said...

Just a "hello" and thank you--I just found your blog courtesy of westbankblog. I not only love your posts, but I feel a kindred spirit as I, too, am a 50-something Recovering Liberal following 9/11, and what my circle of friends sees as 'reactionary' I see simply as becoming better acquainted with 'reality.

At 9:48 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Gary McGath said...

Found this by way of Cathy Young's blog. A very interesting and well-written article!

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At 2:11 AM, April 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book should suggest the peace between jews and muslims since the days of the crusades. Today people critisize the peace of those days by saying the muslims taxed non muslims even though they were given true tolerance to practice their faith and anyone who would harass them was going against the muslim law.
Second western culture has never given the jewish people the kind of peace that was given to them in the islamic empire and its a historic fact. Mainstream fact not a sidelined research fact of some lunatic historian.
Third total islam in practice has never been practiced in any nation other then the islamic empire, which is an example every islamic country should follow, but slaves to former western colonization and imperialistic years...they are now slaves to capitilization and international debt.
Even though "interest" is a sin in islam, muslim nations took loans based on interest and are stuck with em.
The jewish when they first came to palestine after worldwar 2 gave the arabs interest based loans, and in return sacked their lands to set up their colonys, when the uneducated poor arabs werent able to pay the loans and got stuck in the cycle of debt. Once again in islam "interest and interest based loans" are a total sin!
And lastly muslims of today have a bad habit of taking islam and allahs name with everything...even if its not related to islam. Thats why i suggest western society to learn more about islam and other then british orientalist scholars....base their middle eastern studys on logic and non rascist views.
Dr. Asad Rana

At 11:10 PM, April 17, 2008, Blogger peter said...

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