Some time ago I posted an item from the Washington Post regarding Arabs who protected Jews in North Africa from persecution at the hands of the Reich. A couple of days ago I came across a news item on the BBC website regarding Khaled Abdulwahab who may be the first ever Arab to be recognised as one of the Righteous among the Nations.
Researchers at Yad Vashem plan to examine the life of Khaled Abdulwahab, who died in Tunisia in 1997, to see if he is eligible to be so recognised. He is said to have sheltered Jews on his land during the Nazi occupation. The request to recognise Mr Abdulwahab was submitted by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (he wrote the Washington Post article), who has researched the situation of Jews in North Africa in the 1940s.
There used to be a substantial Jewish population in North Africa, before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (now there are just a few thousand in left in Morocco and Tunisia). At the time Tunisia was home to 100,000 Jews and the only North African country to come under direct Nazi rule during World War II. Tunisian Jews were subject to persecution during the Nazi occupation, but they were not sent to death camps as happened in Europe.
Contemporary accounts say Mr Abdulwahab, got wind of a plan to rape Jewish women and put others in a brothel. Anny Boukris, a 73-year-old Jewish woman who subsequently emigrated to the USA described how Abdulwahab rescued her and 24 relatives from their hiding place and hid them on his farm until the end of the German occupation. Boukris, who was 11 at the time, related that Abdulwahab risked his life when he stopped a German officer from raping her mother.
Before Satloff’s research not a single case had been uncovered of an Arab who saved a Jew. In part it seems that historians did not really make an effort to look for Arab rescuers. However, it seems that Arabs also did not want to be found - the grandchildren of the mayor of Tunis, Si Ali Sakat, who saved Jews believed. that he had German soldiers and not Jews.
An earlier report in Haaretz included an interview with Satloff who hoped that his research will help break the "conspiracy of silence" in the Arab world surrounding the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust. He also hopes the research will help release the study of the Holocaust in the Arab world "from the lies, myths and poisons."
Some Holocaust researchers in the United States are sceptical. Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, for example, feels that "Satloff is being a bit naive here. It is strange that the highly respected executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a well-trained historian should have convinced himself that history could serve as an antidote to irrational hatred,"
I am not sure whether Abdulwahab will be awarded status as one of the Righteous or not but his story and as well as those of the collaborators should be heard - particularly in the Arab world itself. Whether anyone in the Arab world will listen is debatable.