More on the Holocaust’s Arab heroes…

Robert Satloffwrote his new book ‘Among the righteous’ just in time, for several of his interviewees have since died. In a major Sunday Times feature based on Satloff’s book, Deirdre Fernand reports that many Jews had a lucky escape during the Holocaust – when Arabs risked their own lives to rescue them.But to acknowledge that Arabs saved Jews – and their bravery needs recognising – is not to deny that Arabs in wartime, no less than Europeans, stood by and did nothing, and many participated fully and willingly in the persecution of Jews. (With thanks: Mira)

(…) “A few weeks later came another knock at the door. This time the caller was no German but a local man, the son of a wealthy landowner. “You are all at great risk,” he told them. “You must leave straight away.” In the middle of the night he drove them to his farm, about 20 miles away. There they stayed hidden for four months, until the Germans had been driven out of the country and they could return home. It was only then that Anny came to understand the significance of the rescuer in the night.

“The man was 32-year-old Khaled Abdelwahhab, a prominent and well-connected Arab from Mahdia, who made it his business to fraternise with German officers so he knew what was going on. Handsome, sophisticated and educated in the West, he made an agreeable companion and would sit drinking with them into the early hours. He knew, for instance, which brothels they frequented, which females they lusted after. He had also heard tales of local girls, many of them Jewish, being abducted for sex and never being seen again.

“One night, one of the soldiers confided to him that he had his eye on a beautiful Jewish woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, whom he was going to take away “for his own pleasure”. When Abdelwahhab realised that the blonde he intended to rape was Anny’s mother, Odette, he sprang into action. He plied the soldier with drink, and when he eventually fell into a stupor, Abdelwahhab drove directly to the farm and whisked everyone to safety. “We left like that,” Anny recalled. Abdelwahhab, who later married and had a daughter, became a lifelong friend of the Boukris family. Forever an honoured guest, he was always invited to celebrate the sabbath with them, sitting down to share chicken couscous and memories. There, around that table, they would talk of the war. Arab and Jew shared a special bond.

“Abdelwahhab’s heroism in saving Odette from abduction and rape – and rescuing her entire family from persecution and possible death – would have been forgotten were it not for the efforts of one remarkable historian of the Middle East, Robert Satloff. A 44-year-old American of Jewish descent, he has devoted the past four years to searching out lost heroes of the Holocaust. Not just any heroes, but Arabs such as Abdelwahhab. “He could so easily have been killed if the German officer had found out that he had tricked him to save a Jewish woman,” he says. Executed swiftly, perhaps, or tortured to death in any of the 104 “punishment” camps then being built across the Sahara.(…)


“In order to understand the bravery of these Arab heroes, it is necessary to put their behaviour in context. As a remark by the philosopher Edmund Burke warns us, “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.” There were plenty of men who did nothing.


“From the beginning of the second world war, Nazi plans to persecute and eventually exterminate Jews extended throughout a great swathe of Arab lands. Though Germany and its allies controlled this region only briefly, they made substantial progress towards that goal. From June 1940 to May 1943, the Nazis, their Vichy French collaborators and their Italian fascist allies applied in Arab lands many of the precursors to the Final Solution. These included not only laws depriving Jews of property, education, livelihood, rights of residence and free movement, but also torture, slave labour, deportation and execution. Though there were no death camps, many thousands of Jews were consigned to more than 100 brutal labour camps. The very first concentration camps to be liberated by allied troops in late 1942 were in Algeria and Morocco. About 1% of North African Jews (4,000 to 5,000) died under Axis control, compared with more than 50% of European Jewry. As Satloff says, “These Jews were lucky to be in Africa, where the fighting ended relatively early and where boats – not just cattle trucks – would have been needed to take them to the ovens in Europe.”


“In this world, Arabs were both willing participants and collaborators. They worked as interpreters, going house to house with SS officers pointing out where Jews lived, oversaw work gangs and guarded prisoners in labour camps. Without a compliant populace, the persecution of Jews would have been impossible.”

Read article in full

Interview with Robert Satloff inMoment magazine



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.