Friday, February 06, 2015

Muslims Who Sacrificed Themselves To Save WWII Jews



Noor Inayat Khan was recruited by Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) to work in Paris as a wireless operator. Her clandestine efforts supported the French Underground as England prepared for the D-Day invasions. Among SOE agents, the wireless operator had the most dangerous job of all, because the occupation authorities were skilled at tracking their signals. The average survival time for a Resistance telegrapher in Paris was about six weeks.
Khan’s service continued from June 1943 until her capture and arrest by the Gestapo in October. Her amazing life and eventual murder in Germany’s Dachau prison camp in September 1944 are the focus of a PBS film I co-produced that is airing this week. In researching her story, I came across quite a number of other Muslims who bravely served the Allied cause — and sometimes made the ultimate sacrifice. History is rich with examples of their daring heroism and split-second decisions that helped defeat the Nazis.
Behic Erkin, the Turkish ambassador in Paris, provided citizenship papers and passports to thousands of Jews (many with only distant claims to Turkish connections) and arranged their evacuation by rail across Europe. One fateful day, Necdet Kent, the Turkish consul-general in Marseille, stymied the shipment of 80 Turkish Jews to Germany by forcing his way onto a train bearing them to their likely death and arranging for their return, unharmed, to France.
Abdol-Hossein Sardari used his position at the Iranian consulate in Paris to help thousands of Jews evade Nazi capture. Later dubbed the Iranian Schindler, he convinced the occupying Germans that Iranians were Aryans and that the Jews of Iran had been Iranian since the days of Cyrus the Great — and, therefore, should not be persecuted. Then he issued hundreds of Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews and saved their lives.
Ahmed Somia, the Tunisian co-director of the French Muslim Hospital outside Paris, organized weapon caches, facilitated Resistance radio transmissions, treated wounded Resistance fighters, and helped save many downed U.S. and British pilots by hiding them in fake T.B. wards where Gestapo and French gendarmes feared to go.
Khan was posthumously decorated with the highest British and French civilian and military honors, but so were other Muslims, including standout heroes among the 2.5 million British Indian troops fighting Axis forces around the globe. In this largest volunteer army in recorded history, Muslims (roughly one-third of the force) played prominent roles. 
In a letter to President Roosevelt during the war, Churchill pointed out that Muslim soldiers were providing “the main army elements on which we [the British] must rely for the immediate fighting.” 
In 1944-45, the French Army of Africa, joined to de Gaulle’s Free French Forces, was expanded to 260,000 men, of whom 50 percent were North African, the great majority being Muslim, while another substantial group were Senegalese Muslim riflemen. These forces invaded Italy and helped liberate southern France.
 Eastern Europe offered more examples: 
In the Balkans, for instance, only 200 Jews lived in Albania before WWII. Yet by war’s end, almost 2,000 Jews lived in the country, because so many had fled Greece, Austria and other locations in Europe to take shelter there among the predominantly Muslim population, which hid and protected them.
As Cole wrote elsewhere, commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day: 
“While a few Muslims did support the Axis, out of resentment of Western colonialism and hopes that the rise of an alternative power center would aid their quest for independence, they were tiny in their numbers compared to the Muslims who not just supported the Allies… but actively fought on their behalf.”
Arab Rescue Efforts During The Holocaust

Si Ali Sakkat

During his career Si Ali Sakkat held positions of a government minister and mayor of Tunis. By 1940 Si Ali Sakkat was enjoying retirement on his farm at the base of Jebel Zaghouan. There was a forced labor camp for the Jews not far away from Sakkat's farm. Jews from the camp were put to work repairing an airfield, which was regularly bombed by Allies. Arabs saw how Germans who ran the camp beat Jews on a regular basis. One night, during an especially heavy battle, sixty Jewish laborers were able to escape. The first structure they encountered was the wall of Sakkat's farm. They knocked on the gate, and were allowed shelter and food. They were also allowed to stay until the liberation of Tunisia by Allied forces.

Khaled Abdul-Wahab

Main article: Khaled Abdul-Wahab
Abdul-Wahab was a son of a well-known Tunisian historian. He was 32 years old when the Germans occupied Tunisia. He was an interlocutor between the Nazis and the population of the coastal town of Mahdia. When he overheard German officers planning to rape a local Jewish woman, Odette Boukhris, he hid the woman and her family, along with about two dozen more Jewish families, at his farm outside of town. The families stayed there for four months, until the occupation ended. Abdul-Wahab is sometimes called the Arab Oskar Schindler. In 2009 two trees were dedicated to honor his bravery. One tree was planted in Adas Israel Garden of the Righteous in Washington, D.C., the other was planted in the Garden of the Righteous Worldwide. His daughter Faiza attended the ceremony in Milan.

Shaykh Taieb el-Okbi

Taieb el-Okbi was a member of Algerian Islah (Reform) Party, and a friend of the prominent Algerian reformist Abdelhamid Ben Badis, who was tolerant to different religions and cultures. Ben Badis founded and directed the Algerian League of Muslims and Jews. He died before Vichy forces occupied Algeria, but Taieb el-Okbi took his place. Taieb el-Okbi discovered that the leaders of the pro-fascist group the Légion Français des Combattants were planning a Jewish pogrom. He did everything he could to prevent it and ordered Muslims not to attack Jews. His actions were compared to French archbishops Jules-Géraud Saliège and Pierre-Marie Gerlier, both of whom saved some Jews in France.
Muslim Rescue Efforts In Europe

Refik Veseli

Most of the 2,000 Jews of Albania were sheltered by the mostly Muslim population. Refik Veseli, a 17 year old Muslim boy, took in the family of Mosa and Gabriela Mandil, including their five year old son Gavra and his sister Irena, then refugees from Belgrade but originally from Novi Sad, for whom he had been working as an apprentice in their Tirana photographic shop. When the Germans took over from the Italians, he took them, and another Jewish family by night on long journey to his family village at Kruja, where they were protected by his parents for the war's duration, some 9 months later, even against Enver Hoxha's partisans. His example inspired his whole village to risk their lives in order to protect Jews. On receiving Gavra Mandil's request for them to be recognized as righteous, the authorities of Yad Vashem inscribed both Refka and Drita Veseli in 1988 among the Righteous. The story became better know after Albania's surviving Jewish community was allowed to perform aliyah in the 1990s, and many survivors told how their Albanian hosts vied for the privilege of offering sanctuary, on the grounds that it was an Islamic ethical obligation. Since that date, a further 50 Albanians have been registered among the ranks of the Righteous.
Source: Wikipedia

“Les Hommes Libres” (“Free Men”)

An unlikely savior of Jews during the Nazi occupation of France: the rector of a Paris mosque.
Muslims, it seems, rescued Jews from the Nazis.
“Les Hommes Libres” (“Free Men”) is a tale of courage not found in French textbooks. 
According to the story, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the founder and rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, provided refuge and certificates of Muslim identity to a small number of Jews to allow them to evade arrest and deportation.
In the early 1940s France was home to a large population of North Africans, including thousands of Sephardic Jews. The Jews spoke Arabic and shared many of the same traditions and everyday habits as the Arabs. Neither Muslims nor Jews ate pork. Both Muslim and Jewish men were circumcised. Muslim and Jewish names were often similar.
The most graphic account was given by Albert Assouline, a North African Jew who escaped from a German prison camp. He claimed that: 
more than 1,700 resistance fighters — including Jews but also a lesser number of Muslims and Christians — found refuge in the mosque’s underground caverns, and that the rector provided many Jews with certificates of Muslim identity.
In his 2006 book, “Among the Righteous,” Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, uncovered stories of Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and included a chapter on the Grand Mosque. 
Dalil Boubakeur, the current rector, confirmed to him that: 
some Jews — up to 100 perhaps — were given Muslim identity papers by the mosque, without specifying a number. Mr. Boubakeur said individual Muslims brought Jews they knew to the mosque for help.
Mr. Boubakeur showed Mr. Satloff a copy of a typewritten 1940 Foreign Ministry document from the French Archives. It stated that:
the occupation authorities suspected mosque personnel of delivering false Muslim identity papers to Jews. “The imam was summoned, in a threatening manner, to put an end to all such practices,” the document said.
Mr. Satloff said in a telephone interview: “One has to separate the myth from the fact. The number of Jews protected by the mosque was probably in the dozens, not the hundreds. But it is a story that carries a powerful political message and deserves to be told.”
A 1991 television documentary “Une Résistance Oubliée: La Mosquée de Paris” (“A Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris”) by Derri Berkani , and a children’s book “The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust,” published in 2007, also explore the events.
Albanian Muslims Rescued Jewish Lives From Nazis
In 1934, American Ambassador to Albania Herman Bernstein proclaimed, “There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians are divided into three faiths.” Indeed, as Jews across Europe were being massacred en masse as part of the Nazi final solution, one country in Europe didn’t have a negative Jewish growth rate and that country, Albania, had a Muslim majority.
Prior to WWII, only 200 Jews lived in Albania, yet by the end of the war, about 2,000 Jews lived within the country because so many Jews fled Greece, Austria, and other locations in Europe to take shelter there. Other Jews, such as Albert Einstein, used Albania in order to pass on to other countries. Immigration officials in Albania permitted Jews to enter even if they didn’t have the proper paperwork and when the Nazis took over, the local inhabitants protected the Jews who lived within their country, providing them with paperwork stating that the Jews were Albanian Muslims. As a result, the Jews who fled to Albania were spared the horrors that the rest of the Jews of Europe endured.
Indeed, the Albanian Muslims have an honor code known as besa, meaning to keep the promise, which mandates hospitality and protection of guests as if they are members of ones own family. Because of this Albanian honor code, many of the Albanians who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust often don’t feel that what they did was particularly extraordinary, for they assert that any one in their culture would do the same. Yet, the reality is that other peoples in Europe did not live by the besa code, thus preventing what happened in Albania from happening elsewhere. The Albanian Muslims truly live by the Quranic principle, which is also cited in the Talmud, “If one saved a life, it would be as if he saved all humanity.”
Yet, Albanian Muslims living within Albania were not the only Albanians to help save Jewish lives. Dervis and Servet Korkut, who were Albanian Muslims that hid the Sarajevo Hagaddah from the Nazis, also saved the life of Mira Papos. When Mira’s parents were murdered by the Nazis, Mira escaped to the forests and joined the partisans. After the partisans suffered some horrendous defeats, they ordered Mira and the other young children to return to Sarajevo, which Mira viewed to be a death sentence. However, she also understood that remaining in the forests without assistance would also lead to death.
So, when she returned to Sarajevo, she met someone who worked with her father and begged him for help. He brought her to Dervis Korkut, who immediately took her into his home. Even though Nazis lived nearby, no one suspected them because they dressed Mira in traditional Muslim clothes, gave her a Muslim name, and told people that she was hired to take care of their baby. She was instructed not to speak to people outside the family, so she wouldn’t be detected as non-Albanian. Thanks to them, she survived the war. The Korkut family lived by the besa code and thus took it upon themselves to save Mira, in addition to one of the oldest Hagaddah prayer books in Europe. This demonstrates the marvelous ethics demonstrated by the Albanian people.
To watch a documentary on Albanians saving Jews during the Holocaust, see below!


The "Righteous Muslim" Exhibition
The Righteous Muslim Exhibition, launched at the Board of Deputies of British Jews in Bloomsbury, will feature photographs of 70 Muslims who hid Jews from the Nazis, alongside their stories and detailing their acts of heroism.

These 70 Muslims were recently added to Yad Vashem's list of "righteous among the nations" detailing those who risked their lives to protect Jews.
Among those listed in the Righteous Among the Nations are Muslims from Albania, Bosnia and Turkey.

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