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“Among the Righteous”:Lost Stories of Arabs Who Saved Jews During the Holocaust

Allan C. Brownfeld
Summer 2008

by Robert Satloff,  
Public Affairs Press,  
263 Pages,  
Thousands of people have been honored for saving Jews during the Holocaust — but not a single Arab. Were there, in fact, Arabs who saved Jews during this period? Seeking a hopeful response, Robert Satloff set off on a four-year quest to find an Arab hero whose story would change the way Arabs and Jews see one another. In the end, he found many.  
The book Among the Righteous is the story of that quest, and the many Arabs whose stories of courage in helping their Jewish fellow-citizens in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya — and in occupied France — slowly emerged.  
Robert Satloff, who has served since 1993 as executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is a widely respected expert on Arab and Islamic politics. Soon after September 11, 2001, he moved his family to Rabat, Morocco, where his research focused on unearthing stories of Arab “heros” and “villains” of the Holocaust, drawing on archives, interviews and site visits in 11 countries. His discoveries helped convince the German government to award compensation to Jewish survivors of labor camps in North Africa, and led Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum to formally consider an Arab for the first time as a candidate for recognition as a “Righteous among the Nations.”  
Catastrophe of Holocaust  
In the Introduction, Satloff writes that, “In the eyes of many Arabs, the catastrophe of Israel’s founding would not have occurred if the catastrophe of the Holocaust had not occurred first; accepting the uniqueness and enormity of the latter therefore runs the risk of accepting the validity and legitimacy of the former. As an historian, it is important to recognize the critical role that the Holocaust did play in the founding of Israel ... For most Arabs I have met, that history muddies the image of European colonialists paying with Arab land to atone for their guilt over the fate of the Jews during World War II. To them, the creation of Israel was the world’s indulgence to Jews as compensation for the destruction of the Holocaust ... I decided that the most useful response I could offer to 9/11 was to combat Arab ignorance of the Holocaust ... I needed to make the Holocaust accessible to Arabs; I needed to make the Holocaust an Arab story.”  
Satloff reports that, “The answer came to me one autumn evening in 2001. ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world,’ says the Qur’an, an echo of the Talmud’s injunction, ‘If you save one life, it’s as if you have saved the world.’ If I could tell the story of a single Arab who saved a single Jew during the Holocaust, then perhaps I could make the Arabs see the Holocaust as a source of pride, worthy of remembering, not just something to avoid or deny. It was, I thought, the most positive solution I could imagine ... This is the most hopeful story I have ever told. Recapturing these lost stories from the Holocaust’s long reach into Arab lands offers people of goodwill among each community — Arab and Jewish — a way to look through the lens of the most powerful narratives in history and see each other differently.”  
Jews suffered special hardship during the years of World War II in North Africa because of the legal persecution and condoned harassment imposed upon them by the collaborationist government at Vichy, established under Field Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain in the wake of the French defeat by Nazi Germany. After 16 months of Vichy rule, a bad situation for Tunisian Jews turned much worse. In November 1942, American and British troops launched Operation Torch, the amphibious invasion of Morocco and Algeria. Germany responded by building up its defenses in Tunisia, where it decided to hold the line against Allied advances. On November 9, 1942, German airplanes landed at Tunis’s airports and the German occupation of Tunisia began.  
Plan for Tunisia’s Jews  
“From the beginning,” writes Satloff, “the Germans had more on their minds than just military strategy. Very soon after their arrival, they began to put together the building blocks of their master plan for Tunisia’s Jews. This included arbitrary arrests, confiscations, forced labor, deportations, the yellow star.”  
By February 1943, after the Red Army turned back the Germans at Stalingrad, the main front of the European theater of war was not in Europe, but in Tunisia. General Eisenhower moved his headquarters from the underground bunkers of Gibraltar to the whitewashed villas of Algiers and began to execute plans for the 560-mile march eastward, to Tunis. His goal was to expel Axis forces from the African continent and to begin a methodical march northward, through Italy and into the heart of Nazi-controlled Europe.  
Hitler’s order was clear: “North Africa, being the approach to Europe, must be held at all costs.” That sentence, wrote one historian, “condemned a million men from both sides to seven months of torment.” But soldiers were not the only ones to suffer because Europe’s war took a detour through Arab lands.  
“The people of Tunisia suffered, too,” writes Satloff, “And the Jews of Tunisia suffered most ... The region was home to more than a half million Jews. During the three years from the fall of France in 1940 to the expulsion of German troops from Tunisia in May 1943, these Arab lands — along with Libya, an Italian colony ... shared a largely common fate. In the brief period when they had a chance, the French Vichyites, the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists applied in these countries many of the same methods that would be used to devastating effect among the much larger Jewish populations of Europe. These included not only statutes depriving Jews of citizenship, property, education, livelihood and residence, but also forced labor, confiscations, deportations and executions. The goal was to isolate Jews, to persecute them, and — in Tunisia, at least — to lay the foundation for their eventual extermination.”  
No Jew Untouched  
Virtually no Jew in North Africa was left untouched. Thousands suffered in more than 100 forced labor camps, set up throughout the region. Many thousands lost homes, farms, jobs, professions, savings and years of education. By stroke of fortune, relatively few perished directly as a result of Fascist rule, with estimates ranging between 4,000 and 5,000 people. The story of Europe’s wartime persecution of Jews in the region has three main parts: the application by Vichy France of its policy of “state anti-Semitism” to its North African possessions; the imposition by Mussolini’s Italy of an increasingly harsh regime of anti-Jewish laws, arrests and mass incarcerations in the colony of Libya; and Germany’s six-month occupation of Tunis.  
The history of Jews in North Africa in the era of European colonialism was a complex one. In 1870, France’s socialist minister of the interior, Adolphe Cremieux — a Sephardic Jew, who was born Isaac Moise Cremieux — issued a decree offering Jews in Algeria the option of full French citizenship. Unlike Morocco and Tunisia, which were protectorates of France, Algeria had been annexed and incorporated into France. Its territory, though not its population, was an integral part of France. The sole proviso was that aspiring citizens accept French civil law. For Jews, this meant giving up the right to be governed in tribunals of rabbinical judges under Jewish communal law, as had long been the local tradition. In the 1920s, a similar, though somewhat more restricted, offer was made to Tunisian Jews. Tens of thousands of Jews became French citizens and, in so doing, leapfrogged over the Muslim majority, which had not been offered the option of French citizenship — to join the ranks of the colonialists, at least in the legal sense.  
“One of the first official acts of the new regime,” writes Satloff, “was to annul the Cremieux decree ... Abrogating the decree was an easy way to appease the powerful settler community, which had always fought against its own privileged system of command and control. Overnight, more than 105,000 Algerian Jews who had enjoyed French citizenship for up to three generations suddenly found themselves relegated to a netherworld status ... At almost exactly the same moment that they lost their French citizenship, Jews in Algeria and elsewhere in French North Africa also lost most of their civil, legal and personal rights ...”  
Italians in Libya  
In Libya, during the early years of Italian rule, there was little anti-Semitic content to Fascist colonial policy, and Libya’s Jewish community of 30,000, about 4 percent of the population, survived undisturbed. That began to change in 1938, when Mussolini’s rapprochement with Hitler spurred Italy to adopt its own anti-Jewish legislation. This included laws calling for the expulsion of Jewish students and teachers from Italian schools; the confiscation of most Jewish-owned real estate; a prohibition on Jews working as doctors or lawyers or in other professional occupations, a ban on ownership by Jews of factories, stores and other business concerns.  
Italo Balbo, the local governor, notes Satloff, “was a loyal party man and a zealous Italian nationalist, but he never supported the turn to rabid anti-Semitism that marked Italy’s alliance with Nazi Germany. He believed that the racial laws against Jews were not only distasteful and odious but counterproductive, in that they undermined the critical role that Jews played in the economic and financial life of Italy’s vast colonial possessions. Balancing between his commitment to the success of Italy’s colonial enterprise and his loyalty to his Fascist superiors, Balbo found clever ways to slow the implementation of Rome’s anti-Semitic decrees. In June, 1940 ... Balbo was killed when his airplane was mistakenly shot down in a friendly fire episode, just days after France fell to the Germans and Italy entered the war in earnest. That confluence of events marked the beginning of a new, darker period for Libya’s Jews.”  
During the six month Nazi occupation of Tunisia, from November 1942 to May 1943, the Germans and their local collaborators took Jewish hostages, confiscated property, extorted millions of francs in gold, jewels and money, sent thousands to labor camps, executed prisoners and deported others. Thousands of Jews were forced to wear the Star of David. To execute and supervise their plans for Tunisia’s Jews, the Nazi hierarchy dispatched to Tunisia some of its most ruthless killers. Leading the effort was SS Col. Walter Rauff. On a single day, more than 1,500 Jews — including the elderly, sick and teenagers as young as 15 years old — were rounded up. Captives over 50 were sent to the military prison of Tunis. The rest were led on a forced march to a work site 40 miles away. The first Jew to be killed by Germans on Arab soil was an 18-year-old named Gilbert Mazuz, who wore an orthopedic device on his leg. Pushing himself to the limit, when he could walk no more, he was carried along by healthier friends. Just before they stopped for the night, his comrades received permission to bury him. About 5,000 Jews were eventually sent to forced labor camps throughout Tunisia.  
Arabs Helping Jews  
In many instances, Arabs collaborated with Nazi and Fascist regimes, and Satloff describes many cases of such collaboration. The majority of Arabs appeared to be indifferent to the treatment of their Jewish neighbors. The larger story, however, is the fact, as Satloff writes, that, “At every stage of the Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist persecution of Jews in Arab lands, and in every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the persecution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the anti-Jewish campaign spin more efficiently. Some Arabs shared the fate of Jews and, through that experience, forged a unique bond of comradeship. And there were occasions when certain Arabs chose to do more than just offer moral support to Jews. They bravely saved Jewish lives, at times risking their own in the process. Those Arabs were true heroes.”  
Many stories are told in this book. Mirella Hassan, a Tunisian Jew, responded to an Internet posting by Satloff soliciting stories of Arabs who helped Jews during the war: “When I was a little girl, my parents told me often of the difficulties they had to survive in this period, and above all of the help they received from their Muslim neighbors — for food, for milk — because I had two sisters at a very young age. They (eventually) died during the war, of malnutrition. My father used to go look for goat’s milk, at night during the bombardments, at the (home of local) shepherds. Mother also was nursing. A Muslim wet-nurse came to help nurse my sisters. That’s all I remember. I don’t recall her name, but this help given by these Tunisian Muslims, in their own way, what they could, a gesture often made with selfless friendship, which enabled the saving of many lives ... That is my humble testimony.”  
Exemplary Attitude  
Similarly, David Guez, who passed the war in the Tunisian city of Sfax, recalled what he termed “the fair and exemplary attitude” of Arabs toward Jews. “Really, their behavior was wonderful,” he said. “I won’t forget the Arab who helped me and allowed me to get an extra loaf of bread every day. Even though it was difficult to obtain bread — you had to wait in line — he (the Arab baker) would give me an extra loaf. That was a great thing.”  
Emile Tubiana, who wrote an unpublished memoir of his childhood in the Tunisian town of Beja, scene of heavy wartime fighting, gave this account of his family’s flight into the countryside: “Around noon we reached the Nezer farm which had become a commune, housing 30 families. We were warmly welcomed with hugs and kisses. The farmer set aside a stable as a dormitory for us and delivered a cartload of hay for bedding. Everyone tried to make us feel at home, they warmed us up with a rich soup after our tiring journey. At last we felt secure and happy.”  
During a May 2004 visit to Tunis, Satloff writes, “I was escorted around the city’s Jewish landmarks by an engaging professor named Andre Abitbol. As we walked the streets, he told a captivating tale of one of his wife’s relatives, a well-to-do man named Albert Bessis, who evidently passed much of the German occupation hiding in the cellar of an imposing townhouse at one of the city’s most fashionable addresses, 19 Avenue de Paris. German officers had requisitioned the residence, one of the city’s finest, and were living just upstairs. Every day, said Abitbol, an Arab chauffeur — a man remembered only as Kaddour — brought messages, packages and mail to the Germans above and took the opportunity to deliver a parcel of food to Albert below. Thanks to Kaddour, Albert survived the German occupation.”  
In Algeria, when the Vichy regime stripped citizenship from Jews, notes Satloff, “By and large Algerian Arabs saw through the French ruse and generally refused to take part, even though they may have enjoyed short-term political benefits. ‘Your racism runs in all directions,’ nationalist leader Ferhat Abbas commented on Vichy. ‘Today against the Jews and always against the Arabs.’ On the cancellation of the Cremieux decree, Messali Hadj, jailed head of the Parti Populaire Algerien, said: ‘This cannot be considered as progress for the Algerian people — lowering the rights of the Jews did not increase the rights of Muslims.”  
Muslim Religious Establishment  
One of the main sources of pro-Jewish sympathy among the Arab population of Algiers was the Muslim religious establishment. “Here,” states Satloff, “the shining star was Abdelhamid Ben Badis, leader of Algeria’s Islah (Reform) Party. Ben Badis was an intensely devout man with a modern, open, tolerant view of the world: among his many achievements was the founding of the Algerian League of Muslims and Jews. Regrettably, he died in spring 1940, before he could lend his personal strength and charisma to the Muslim response to Vichy’s coming to power.”  
During the Vichy era, that mantle was worn by Shaykj Taieb el-Okbi. Like Ben Badis, el-Okbi was a reformist leader who cultivated close ties with the leading Jews of Algiers. El Okbi showed his mettle in early 1942, reports Satloff: “When he heard rumors that leaders of a French pro-Fascist group, the Legion Francais des Combattants, were prodding Muslim troops to launch a pogrom against the Jews of Algiers, el-Okbi did all he could to prevent it, including issuing a formal prohibition on Muslims from attacking Jews. Indeed, one historian favorably likened el-Okbi to the celebrated philo-Semitic French archbishops Saliege and Gerlier, both of whom have been recognized by Yad Vashem for rescuing Jews. This historian, however, noted one difference — that the level of ‘great personal risk’ el-Okbi bore for campaigning on behalf of Jews exceeded those of these French Catholic priests.”  
Beyond this, from the pulpits of Algiers mosques, imams issued instruction to local Muslims not to take advantage of Jewish suffering for financial gain. “This act of self-denial at a time when many French colonialists were getting rich at the expense of Jews,” writes Satloff, “was an especially noble act on the part of the local Muslim community.  
Vichy Law  
Vichy law required Jewish property owners to turn over their fixed assets to conservators who manage the business affairs in trust. In reality, this arrangement presented the conservator with a lucrative opportunity to make windfall profits. “To their great credit,” Satloff declares, “not a single Arab in Algiers stepped forward to accept Vichy’s offer. One Friday in 1941, religious leaders throughout the city gave sermons warning all good Muslims to refuse all French offers to serve as conservators of Jewish property. They even forbade Muslims from purchasing auctioned Jewish goods at below market prices. Despite the economic difficulties faced by Arabs during the war, they refused to take advantage of Jewish suffering for personal gain. And, true to their imams’ call, not a single Arab took the opportunity of quick financial gain either to serve as a trustee-conservator or to purchase Jewish property at Vichy-mandated fire-sale prices.”  
In a post-war interview, Jose Aboulker, a Jewish hero of the local resistance in Algiers, praised the city’s Arab population: “The Arabs do not participate (in the fight against Vichy). It is not their war. But, as regards the Jews, they are perfect. The (Vichy) functionaries and the German agents try to push them into demonstrations and pogroms in vain. When Jewish goods were put up for public auction, an instruction went around the mosques: ‘Our brothers are suffering misfortune. Do not take their goods.’ Not one Arab became an administrator (of property) either. Do you know other examples of such an admirable, collective dignity?”  
Sultan Muhammad V of Morocco, scion of the Alaouite family that had ruled Morocco since 1649, was especially appalled that Vichy based its anti-Jewish laws on race (how much Jewish blood someone had) rather than religion (whether someone professed to be Jewish, Christian or Muslim). This violated a central tenet of Islam, which welcomes converts as full members of the faith, juridically equal in status to other Muslims. Vichy’s anti-Jewish laws declared people Jewish if their parents were Jewish, regardless of whether they professed to be Jewish.  
“Commander of the Faithful”  
“Not only did the new French edicts offend whatever sensibilities Muhammad V may have had regarding his concern for his loyal Jewish subjects,” writes Satloff, “but they also insulted the sultan’s generations-old role as descendant of the Prophet and ‘Commander of the Faithful.’ On October 31, 1940, less than a month after Petain signed Vichy’s anti-Jewish statute, the sultan affixed his royal seal to the application of the law in Morocco. But he did so only after wringing from the French two concessions: first, that Jews in Morocco would be defined by religious choice, not by race or parentage; and second, that prohibitions against Jewish professionals and quotas on Jewish students would not apply to exclusively Jewish institutions such as religious schools and communal charities. The second concession had a very practical implication — Jewish communal life in Morocco continued without much disruption by Vichy authorities. Not only did Jewish schools escape the suffocating strictures that Vichy applied to schools in Algeria, but they continued to receive much of their budget — up to 80 percent — from the government treasury.”  
The Sultan’s public statements made on behalf of his Jewish subjects burnished his reputation even more. At the annual Throne Day ceremony, with the elite of Moroccan and Vichy officialdom gathered at the royal palace, the sultan made a point of welcoming the leaders of the Jewish community in attendance. “I must inform you that, just as in the past, the Israelites will remain under my protection,” he said in a voice loud enough for Vichy officers and at least one French journalist to get the message. “I refuse to make any distinction between my subjects.”  
In Tunisia, the wartime rulers, Ahmed Pasha Bey and his cousin Moncef Bey, heirs to another North African dynasty, the Husselnids (“Bey” is an honorific title of Ottoman Turkish origin adopted by North African princes) operated within the tight confines of a French protectorate and had little room for independent maneuver. When a Vichy emissary demanded that Ahmed Pasha sign a local version of the anti-Jewish statute, the bey had no choice but to acquiesce. “A loophole in the Tunisian version of Vichy anti-Jewish laws gave the ruler the right to grant exemptions to native Tunisian Jews who had performed exceptional service to the state,” writes Satloff. “Ahmed Bey took advantage of this oversight to exempt two leading Jewish personalities — Roger Nataf, an ophthalmologist, and Paul Ghez, the man who later served as head of the Jewish Labor Bureau during the German occupation. Ahmed Bey’s successor, Moncef Bey, went even further. He signaled his solidarity with his persecuted Jewish subjects, as well as his independence from Vichy, by brashly awarding the highest royal distinction to about 20 prominent Jews just eight days after he ascended the throne.”  
Warned of German Plans  
Tunisia’s Prime Minister, Mohamed Chenik, a businessman with long-standing ties to the Jewish community, regularly warned Jewish leaders of German plans, helped Jews avoid arrest orders, intervened to prevent deportations, and even hid individual Jews so they could evade a German dragnet. Acting in the name of the bey, cabinet ministers gave special dispensations to some Jewish young men so they could avoid forced labor and tried to intervene with German authorities on behalf of Jewish hostages. Even members of the royal court hid Jews who had escaped from German labor camps.  
Moncef Bey is remembered with fondness by Tunisia’s Jewish community. “The Bey of Tunis did a lot to save Jews,” recalled Mordechai Cohen. He “actually gave the Jews equal treatment,” said Shlomo Barad. To the credit of the Bey, said Mathilde Guez of Sousse, he gathered all the senior officials of the realm at the Bardo palace and reportedly issued the following warning: “The Jews are having a hard time but they are under our patronage and we are responsible for their lives. If I find out that an Arab informer caused even one hair of a Jew to fall, this Arab will pay with his life.”  
“One of the most remarkable examples of Arab generosity toward Jews in distress is the story of Si Ali Sakkat,” writes Satloff. “At least two postwar accounts of the German occupation written by Tunisian Jews makes at least passing reference to his exploits. But his selflessness is long forgotten. His is truly a lost story ... Si Ali Sakkat hailed from a noble Muslim family ... He rose from being a humble prefect in out of the way provincial towns to become the appointed mayor of Tunis. He was eventually named a minister in the princely court ... At a crucial point in the battle for Tunisia, fighting raged in the Zaghouan Valley. With cannons firing and bombs falling all around them, a group of about 60 Jewish workers at a nearby Axis labor camp took the opportunity of the battle to escape. Seeking refuge, they found their way to the walled gate of Si Ali’s farm. The former government minister turned country squire opened his home to all of them, provided them with lodging and food, and safely kept them under his care until the Allies took the Zaghouan Valley on their way to Tunis and Bizerte. Thanks to him, the 60 survived what might have otherwise been a dangerous, perhaps deadly, ordeal.”  
Saved from a German Predator  
A 71-year-old woman in Los Angeles named Anny Boukris responded to Satloff’s request for stories of Arabs who saved Jews in North Africa. She wrote that during the war, an Arab man scooped up her family in the middle of the night and hid them on his farm, safely away from the sexual predations of a depraved German officer who had his sights on Anny’s attractive mother.  
Late one night, several nights into the stay of the Boukris family at an oil factory, together with other Jewish families who had been displaced from their homes, there was a knock at the door. The caller was an Arab named Khaled Abdul-Wahab, the son of a wealthy landowner and former minister to the court of the bey, Hassan Husni Abdul-Wahab. Hassan Husni was one of Tunisia’s most celebrated public servants. His name is memorialized on Tunis street signs and a room in the national library. Anny reports that Hassan Husni and her father had been close friends. The man at the oil factory door was his only son.  
Khaled told them they were at great risk and had to hurry and he would take them to safety. They packed their belongings and, by shuttling back and forth through the night, Khaled eventually managed to get everyone settled at his family’s farm in the small village of Tlelsa, about 20 miles west of Mahdia. By Dawn, the oil factory was empty. Near the farm was a German Red Cross encampment that tended to injured soldiers. Many of its workers knew about the Jews being hidden at the farm but kept quiet about it. Some even brought food or bandages when someone at the farm was hurt. Anny recalled one kindly German who came almost every day. Her Uncle Neldo later explained that the German told him that his mother was Jewish.  
“Anny’s story was unlike any other I had heard in the course of my research,” writes Satloff. “Yad Vashem’s standard to consider a candidate for its honorable designation ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ is ‘when the data on hand clearly demonstrate that a non-Jewish person risk his (or her) life, freedom, and safety in order to rescue one or several Jews from the threat of death or deportation to death camps without exacting in advance monetary compensation.’ By Anny’s telling, Khaled Abdul-Wahab meets the test; he would merit recognition as a ‘righteous Arab.’’’  
Great Mosque of Paris  
It was not only in North Africa that there is evidence of Arabs who saved Jews. The head of what could be considered the most important Arab institution in Europe, the Great Mosque of Paris, was Si Kaddour Benghabrit. Built in the 1920s, the mosque was a gift from the French government to recognize the 100,000 or so Muslim soldiers who died in World War I. But its creators conceived of the mosque as more than a symbol of French gratitude. They hoped that the mosque would serve a practical function by creating a special connection between Paris and its Arab immigrants and, through them, to the religious authorities of the countries from which they came. Si Kaddour Benghabrit (the abbreviated Algerian form of Sidi Abdelqadr Ben Ghabrit) was a religious leader, spiritual guide, and well-connected political actor at the same time.  
In 1920, the French parliament turned to him to establish a mosque in Paris. When the impressive, green-roofed building was formally opened six years later, Benghabrit was installed as its head as rector. Both the sultan of Morocco and the president of the French Republic were in attendance. Benghabrit served as head of the mosque until his death in 1954 and is buried inside the mosque’s walls.  
“Stories of the mosque’s role in aiding Jews during the war have circulated for years,” Satloff notes. “The principal source was a North African Jew named Albert Assouline, a captive in a German prison camp. According to Assouline, he and an Algerian named Yassa Rabah escaped together from the camp and stealthily traversed the countryside across the French-German border, heading for Paris. Once in Paris they made their way to the mosque, where, evidently thanks to Rabah’s connections to the Algerian community, the two found refuge. Eventually Assouline continued his journey and joined up with Free French forces to continue the fight against the German occupation ... the most fantastic part of the story was his claim that the mosque provided sanctuary and sustenance to Jews hiding from the Vichy and German troops as well as to other fighters in the anti-Fascist resistance.”  
Refuge in Underground Caverns  
In a 1983 article for Almanach due Combattant, a French veterans’ magazine, Assouline wrote: “No fewer than 1,732 resistance fighters found refuge in its underground caverns. These included Muslim escapees but also Christians and Jews. The latter were by far the most numerous.” According to him, the senior imam of the mosque, Si Mohammed Benzouaou took “considerable risk” by hiding Jews and providing many (including many children) with certificates of Muslim identity, with which they could avoid deportation and certain death. Assouline recalled one “hot alert” when German soldiers smelled the odor of cigarettes and, convinced that Muslims were forbidden to smoke, searched the mosque looking for hidden Jews. According to Assouline, the Jews were able to escape via sewer tunnels that connected the mosque to nearby buildings.  
In Satloff’s view, “Assouline’s stunning story described the mosque as a virtual Grand Central Station for the Underground Railroad of Jews in France. If France’s most influential Arab leader of its most important Muslim institution, was actually responsible for saving Jewish lives, it would turn on its head conventional thinking about the role Arabs played during the war...”  
Derri Berkani, a French documentary film-maker, of Algerian berber origin, was so moved by the untold story of the mosque that he made the 1991 film “Une Resistance Oubliee: La Mosque de Paris” (The Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris). This half-hour movie, which aired on French television, follows the story of a young Frenchwoman whose Algerian grandfather, a fighter in the French resistance, was killed on a street near the mosque. She, in turn, looks inside the mosque for an explanation of a death she never understood. What she finds is a story of a community that protected the unprotected from North African escapees from German POW camps to American and British paratroopers who found medical care and refuge in the French-Muslim hospital nearby. Most of all, the story focuses on Jews, especially Jewish children.  
Previously Unknown Details  
Berkani adds many previously unknown details: that Benghabrit had a special button installed that he would push to trigger a warning alarm in the event of a police raid and that, in emergencies, Jews would huddle in the mosque’s main sanctuary, which was known to be off-limits to non-Muslims, including German soldiers. In addition, Berkani provides the testimony of a physician in the municipal department of public hygiene, a man named Ahmed Somia, who tells the story of a young Jewish orphan, 7 or 8 years old, whom Benghabrit hid in the safety of his home. “Si Kaddour felt that we had to do something for this child,” he said. The solution was to provide the boy with a false birth certificate from the mosque that certified him as a Muslim and allowed him to live openly.  
Another case is that of Salim (Simon) Halali, a world-renowned singer, who died in Cannes, France in 2005. Born in 1920 to a poor Jewish family in Annaba, near the Algerian-Tunisian border, he made his way to France when he was just 14. It was not long before Halali became France’s most celebrated “oriental” singer. For the next 40 years, he was a fixture of Andalusian music. It seems that he owed his success, and his life, to the mosque of Paris.  
Virtually every obituary of Halali, on both sides of the Mediterranean, told the same story: Halali escaped certain deportation and death thanks to the generosity and ingenuity of Benghabrit. French writer Nidam Abdi explained in the Paris newspaper Liberation that the 20-year-old Halali found himself all alone in 1940 after his closest friend joined Radio Berlin, the Nazis’ premier propaganda organ. When Vichy started its pursuit of Jews, Halali turned to the mosque for help. Benghabrit, who had been a fan of Halali’s, evidently provided him with a certificate of Muslim identity. But because Halali was such a public figure, Benghabrit had to go one step further. To lend credibility to Halali’s claim of Muslim roots, Benghabrit arranged to have the name of Halali’s grandfather engraved on an abandoned tomb in the Muslim cemetery on Bobigny.  
“For a certain number of Jews living in France — it is impossible to know how many — passing as Muslim was a clever ploy to avoid confiscation, arrest or deportation,” writes Satloff. “This was a particularly useful ploy for Jewish men, since Muslims, like Jews, are circumcised, often the defining test of Jewishness under Vichy rule.”  
Links Between Jews and Muslims  
Satloff met in Paris with Dalil Boubakeur, the current rector of the Paris mosque and president of the governing body of all French Muslims, the Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman (CFCM). Boubakeur spoke of the historic links between Jews and Muslims: “In the past there existed special elements of common humanity, of our common life, a symbiosis between us that regrettably has been interrupted by the politics of the second half of the 20th century.”  
When asked about the mosque’s role during World War II, he said that the reports of Jews being saved were true: “The mosque represented the sensibilities of the Muslims of North Africa toward their Jewish brothers. It was a natural phenomenon. But from the view of fifty years later, given the experience of the massive crime that befell the Jewish people, the extent of which we now know, and the establishment of the state of Israel and the blockage of political relations between Jews and Arabs, it regrettably looks differently ... What happened then (in the 1940s) was very symbolic but exemplary.”  
Boubakeur noted that, “It is true that the mosque provided certificates of Muslim identity to some Jews. This was possible because, especially for North African Jews, the names are very close.” The motive, he said, was selfless, to enable Jews to avoid persecution by providing an acceptable rationale for their circumcision. The opportunity took advantage of a “double game” that, he said, characterized the complex relationship between the German occupation authorities and the Muslim community of Paris.  
“The Germans were always pressing the mosque, trying to impose themselves on the mosque to use it for propaganda among Muslims,” he said. “They always wanted to have visitors here; at one point, we feared that Hitler himself would make a visit. We tried to resist but it wasn’t always possible.” Asked by Satloff if it was not courageous for the mosque to risk its status by helping Jews, Boubakeur replied: “Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely, it was courageous. It was very courageous. Courageous and natural at the same time.”  
Document from French Archives  
Boubakeur showed Satloff a copy of a document from the French Archives. Dated Sept. 24, 1940, the document was a note to the French minister of foreign affairs from the deputy director of the ministry’s Political Department. In it the writer — a bureaucrat identified by the initials “P.H.” — informed his superior about a certain peculiar action taken by the German authorities in Paris. The brief, typewritten note read as follows: “The occupation authorities suspect the personnel of the Mosque of Paris of fraudulently delivering to individuals of the Jewish race certificates attesting that the interested persons are of the Muslim confession. The imam was summoned, in a threatening manner, to put an end to all such practices. It seems, in effect, that a number of Jews resorted to all sorts of maneuvers of this kind to conceal their identity.”  
Far from downplaying the role played by the mosque of Paris in rescuing Jews, Satloff points out that its Web site not only includes praise for the “active role” the mosque played during the war “in saving Jews and resistance fighters,” but there is also reference to “the late friend of the mosque, Abraham Assouline, (who) advanced the figure of 1,700 persons.”  
Another heroic figure in Satloff’s view is Mohamed Chenik, Tunisia’s prime minister during the German occupation. Satloff visited the fashionable seaside village of Sidi Bou Said where, “I was welcomed into the home of the family of Mohamed Chenik ... He should be a candidate for recognition as a ‘righteous Arab.’ A prominent businessman and onetime head of Tunisia’s Chamber of Commerce, Chenik counted many Jews among his friends and acquaintances; even his personal lawyer was Jewish. According to stories from various historians, he walked a fine and dangerous line between safeguarding Tunisian state interests vis-a-vis the Germans and using his position to warn Jewish leaders of impending arrests by the Germans and securing dispensations from forced labor for the sons of Jewish friends. He very likely saved Jewish lives, perhaps at risk to his own. These were truly noble deeds ...”  
Suffering in Tunisia Recognized  
In May 2005, 62 years after the expulsion of German troops from North Africa — German authorities reached agreement with the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which was founded in 1951 to represent the interests of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to pay compensation to survivors of nearly 100 labor camps in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Then, after another round of negotiations in June 2006, Germany agreed to include Jewish labor camp survivors as claimants in pension programs provided by the German government. “It is the first time that the suffering of women and children in Tunisia has been recognized, and it is very important historically,” said Gideon Taylor, the Claims Conference’s executive vice president  
Repeatedly, Satloff encountered stories of Arabs helping Jews throughout North Africa. On a “festive Ramadan stroll through the old city of Tunis” he “purchased a copy of an obscure biography of a long-forgotten Tunisian physician from the town of Nabeul, a man named Mohamed Tlatli. Among his claims to fame, his biography noted, was that Tlatli protected Jews during the German occupation by hiding several on his family farm and providing others with medical certificates excusing them from forced labor. Then, the very next day, I spent an hour with award-winning Tunisian filmmaker Abdel Latif Ben Ammar, who told me that he himself had nearly made a movie about Arab shepherds from Tebarka, in western Tunisia, who hid Jews fleeing from German persecution during the war. ‘It happened all the time,’ he told me. ‘Arabs would share what they had with the Jews — their small huts, their meager food, their tattered clothes. And when the Germans would come looking for Jews, the Arabs would say they are their cousins.’ The film never got made, he said, because nervous post-9/11 investors were just not interested in a story that showed Arabs actually saving Jews. ‘In France, they told me I was crazy for trying to do a film that showed a poor, illiterate Arab as the good guy and the Germans as the bad guy. After all, they said to me, we French and we Germans are building a partnership in the new Europe.’”  
Breaking New Ground  
Robert Satloff has indeed broken new ground with this important book. The response among Arabs and Muslims has been impressive. Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and author of Journey into Islam, states that, “Robert Satloff is something like a modern-day Indiana Jones. He sets off on a mission in a dangerous part of the world and he comes back with an incredible finding ... For me, he has done a tremendous service, as a Muslim committed to interfaith dialogue ... To me, Robert Satloff is a true hero.”  
Fouad Ajami, Director of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, declares that, “Robert Satloff ... has looked into a great unexplored terrain; the reach of the Holocaust into Arab lands. He has returned with both heartbreaking and bracing stories ... A book of great integrity, it throws a floodlight on the Middle East and North Africa at a time when all tissues of civilization were torn asunder.”  
In the course of three days, Satloff delivered what he believes to be the first set of public lectures on the Arab role in the Holocaust ever delivered in an Arab capital. In November, 2006 he spoke at Cairo University, the Egyptian Council on Foreign Relations, and the Diplomatic Institute of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. He appeared on four nationally televised interview shows. At his final event, he addressed a group of about 75 people of every political view, from radical Islamists to longtime communists, at the offices of Egypt’s largest newspaper al-AHRAM. The event was hosted by Dr. Hala Mustafa, the courageous editor of a journal called Democracy.  
About one month later, in December 2006, the American Moroccan Institute asked royal counselor Andre Azoulay to appear with Satloff to discuss the Moroccan Holocaust experience at the National Press Club in Washington. Satloff writes that, “Azoulay is Jewish and a banker by profession. He served as financial and diplomatic adviser to King Hassan II and has retained the post under the current monarch, Muhammad VI. ... I have known Andre for years, but I was nervous about what he would say at the press conference. My book tells a complex story about Morocco’s experience during the war and I feared Andre would have no choice but to safeguard his sensitive position by distancing himself from it — and from me. But standing in front of a room full of Moroccan journalists, Andre endorsed the book unreservedly. ‘We must learn these stories,’ he said. He showed courage and tenacity too.”  
“Righteous Among the Nations”  
Yad Vashem has reported that Khaled Abdul-Wahab has been formally nominated for consideration as a “Righteous among the Nations.” On April 16, 2007, at Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, nearly 500 people watched, cheered and wept as Faiza Abdul-Wahab (the youngest daughter of Kahled Abdul-Wahab who lives in France) placed her hand over her heart and accepted a menorah engraved with her father’s name. Faiza then embraced Nadia Bijaoui, the daughter of Anny Boukris, whose family Khaled rescued and whose persistence for so many years ultimately brought his story to light. Satloff recalls, “How proud I was to orchestrate the first-ever meeting between the family of an Arab ‘rescuer’ and the family of the Jews he saved. ‘It is as though we have known each for years.’ Nadia said later. ‘We are like sisters.”  
At a time when many believe that conflict and tension between Jews and Moslems is a long-standing phenomenon, the historic record tells a far different and more hopeful story. Indeed, when Jews were being harshly persecuted in Christian Europe, they found a Golden Age in Muslim lands.  
In her Book, The Ornament of the World, Professor Maria Rosa Menocal of Yale University explores the history of Jews under Muslim rule in Spain: “Throughout most of the invigorated peninsula, Arabic was adopted as the ultimate in classiness and distinction by the communities of the other two faiths. The new Islamic polity not only allowed Jews and Christians to survive but, following Qur’anic mandate, by and large protected them, and both the Jewish and Christian communities in al-Andalus became thoroughly Arabized within relatively few years of Abd-al-Rahman’s arrival in Cordoba ... In principle, all Islamic polities were (and are) required by Qur’anic injunction ... to tolerate Christians and Jews living in their midst. But beyond that fundamental prescribed posture, al-Andalus was, from these beginnings, the site of memorable and distinctive interfaith relations. Here the Jewish community rose from the ashes of an abysmal existence under the Visigoths to the point that the emir who proclaimed himself caliph in the 10th century had a Jew as his foreign minister.”  
Fatal for Jews  
As Karen Armstrong notes in A History of God, “The destruction of Muslim Spain was fatal for the Jews. In March 1492, a few weeks after the conquest of Granada, the Christian monarchs gave Spanish Jews the choice of baptism or expulsion. Many of the Spanish Jews were so attached to their home that they became Christians, though some continued to practice their faith in secret ... Some 150,000 Jews refused baptism, however, and were forcibly deported from Spain; they took refuge in Turkey, the Balkans and North Africa. The Muslims of Spain had given the Jews the best home they ever had in the diaspora, so the annihilation of Spanish Jewry was mourned by Jews throughout the world as the greatest disaster to have befallen their people since the destruction of the Temple in CE 70.”  
Jane S. Gerber, in her book The Jews of Spain, points out that, “In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries ... it was the Ottoman Empire, then at the zenith of her power, that alone afforded exiles a place where ‘their weary feet could find rest’ ... Her sultans — Bayezid II, Mehmet II, Suleiman the Magnificent — were dynamic, far-sighted rulers who were delighted to receive the talented, skilled Jewish outcasts of Europe ... Bayezid II, responding to the expulsion from Spain, reportedly exclaimed, ‘You call Ferdinand a wise king, who impoverishes his country and enriches our own.’ He not only welcomed Sephardic exiles but ordered his provincial government to assist the wanderings by opening the borders. Indeed, the refugees would find the Ottoman state to be powerful, generous and tolerant.”  
Road Map for the Future  
There is distinct lack of historical understanding on the part of those who present the current impasse over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the latest in a long history of strife and conflict. The real story is far different — and far more hopeful. It may provide us with a genuine road map for the future. By writing Among the Righteous, Robert Satloff has performed a notable service by telling the largely unknown story of Arabs who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, adding another chapter to the historical record of Muslim-Jewish relations. Gregg Hickman, Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Anti-Semitism at the U.S. Department of State, notes that, “Many times Muslims say that they cannot be anti-Semitic because they are themselves Semitic. Let the incredible research Robert Satloff has poured into his book be seen as a sign of that commonality.”

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