Month: August 2009

Muslims who rescued Jews from the Nazis

With thanks: Lily

The only Muslims who have been recognised as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, have been Albanian. Some 65 people saved some 2,000 Jews during the wartime occupation because of their code of honour, Besa. At the end of the war in 1945, there were more Jews in Albania than in 1939.

Norman Gershman, an American photographer, spent five years documenting this neglected story in his book Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War 11.

The popular blog Harry’s Place has this link to an interview of Gershman on NPR radio.”There are more good people in the world than Muslim terrorists,” he says. Albanian Muslims tend to belong to the Bektashisect, a Sufi subset of Shi’a Islam viewed as heretical by Sunni Islam.

The comments thread is worth reading. It features a heated discussion between hasan prishtina, who says that Gershman’s book is valuable because the Albanians who saved Jews were persecuted by the subsequent Communist regime, and Philo-semite, who claims that Jews were saved mostly through Albanian inertia and failure to implement Nazi deportation procedures.

Read post in full

Julia Gorin in World Jewish Revew

Yemen Jews ‘marginalised’ by racist practices

Jews and other ‘marginalised’ people, known as Akhdam, are being segregated at school, forced to do menial jobs, and their women raped, the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights charges in the Yemen Post:

“Yemeni Jews, Rabbi Yahya Moussa told media outlets that dozens of Jews have fled their homes in Al-Salem of Sa’ada governorate earlier this year after being received letter threats from Houthi’s followers.

“Houthis attacked our property, confiscated our religious books and then give us ten days to leave the village,” Moussa was cited as saying.” Houthis threat us to be kidnapped or murdered if not fled our village,” he added.

“According to the same sources, Jews of Al-Salem village were evacuated from their rural community to the city of Sana’a.(..)

“This story comes on the heels of a similarly shocking exposure of racist practice in a government school in Sana’a city. Earlier this year, in a state public school’s staff ordered one of the marginalized people (Akhdam)’s students to clean the class everyday.

“What is happening in the most of public school is nothing less than the formalization of racism, said a garbage worker and Akhdam’s affiliate who spoke in anonymity, adding that private school implements a policy in which Akhdam students are not allowed to be in a class with other students.

“Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights (YOHR) is warning of the increased violence against marginalized people and is calling for a rapid solution. “Large numbers of marginalized women have been categorically raped and in many cases, killed afterwards.”

Read article in full

Pro-Nazi Mufti exhibition panels removed in Berlin

Haj Amin al-Husseini with Adolf Hitler

The Jerusalem Post reports that fear of protests from the ‘German-Muslim’ community was the likely reason for three panels showing the collaboration of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with Adolph Hitler were removed from an exhibit in Berlin (with thanks: Lily):

The publicly funded Multicultural Center’s (Werkstatt der Kulturen) decision to remove educational panels of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, who was an ally of Adolf Hitler, from a planned exhibit, sparked outrage on Thursday among a district mayor, the curator of the exhibit, and the Berlin Jewish community.

The curator, Karl Rössler, told The Jerusalem Post that it is a “scandal” that the director of the Werkstatt, Philippa Ebéné, sought to censor the exhibit.

“One must, of course, name that al-Husseini, a SS functionary, participated in the Holocaust,” said Rössler.

The exhibit covers the “The Third World during the Second World War” and three exhibit panels of 96 are devoted to the mufti’s collaboration with the Nazis.

The grand mufti delivered a talk to the imams of the Bosnian SS division in 1944, and was a key Islamic supporter of Nazi Germany’s destruction of European Jewry.

Ebéné denied that there was an “agreement ” reached with the local German-Muslim community to shut down the exhibit. She termed media queries regarding an agreement as “Eurocentric.”

She told the Post that the exhibit was intended as a “homage to soldiers from African” countries who fought against the Nazis.

When asked about her opposition to the inclusion of the mufti panels, she asked, “was there ever a commemoration event in Israel to honor the [African] soldiers?”

Rössler was notified last Friday that Ebéné wanted to take out the panels dealing with the grand mufti, but he rejected her demand to remove them.

Meanwhile, the exhibit in its uncensored version has been relocated to the UferHallen gallery.

Maya Zehden, a spokeswoman for the 12,000-strong Berlin Jewish community, told the Post that Ebéné’s rejection of the exhibit showed “intolerance,” and a director who is “incapable of acting in a democratic” manner.

Zehden urged that the Berlin government consider replacing Ebéné as director. Zehden also sharply criticized Günter Piening, Berlin’s commissioner for integration and migration, for defending Ebéné’s decision to censor the exhibit.

Piening told the large daily Tagesspiegel that, “We need, in a community like Neukölln, a differentiated presentation of the involvement of the Arabic world in the Second World War.”

Zehden termed his statement “an appeasement attempt” to ignore the fact that “there was no official resistance from the Arabic world against the persecution of Jews” during the Shoah.

She accused Piening of showing a false tolerance to German-Arabs in the neighborhood by not wanting to deal with disturbances from the local community.

Read article in full

How US Holocaust museum whitewashes Mufti

Farouk Hosni reflects judeophobia of Egypt’s elite

This depressing article by Raymond Stock in Foreign Policy spotlights Egypt’s judeophobic intelligentsia, of which culture minister Farouk Hosni (above) is the most prominent example. Hosni has lately being trying to convince the world that he is the right man to head UNESCO, disseminating this clip of the Maimonides synagogue in Cairo being restored at Egyptian government expense:

“To say that Farouk Hosni doesn’t much like Israel is putting it lightly. According to the Anti-Defamation League, he has called it “inhuman,” and “an aggressive, racist, and arrogant culture, based on robbing other people’s rights and the denial of such rights.” He has accused Jews of “infiltrating” world media. And in May 2008, Hosni outdid even himself, telling the Egyptian parliament that he would “burn right in front of you” any Israeli books found in the country’s libraries.

“What’s shocking is not just that Hosni has said these things, but that he is Egypt’s culture minister — and even more scandalous, that he is the likely next head of UNESCO, the arm of the United Nations sworn to defend cultural diversity and international artistic cooperation. Less surprising but also sadly true is that Hosni’s opinions about Israeli culture are par for the course among Egypt’s intelligentsia, for whom 30 years of official peace with the Jewish state, the longest of any Arab country, have done virtually nothing to moderate its rampant Judeophobia. If anything, the opposite might be true.

“This affair has sparked protests from prominent intellectuals and politicians in Israel and around the world. And the only reason Hosni even has a shot at the UNESCO job, which he’d be the first Arab to hold, is because, in a major reversal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently lifted his country’s opposition to the Egyptian’s candidacy*. How this came to pass remains shrouded in mystery. All that’s known is that on May 11, Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and was convinced not to block the culture minister’s candidacy in return for some unpublicized conditions. A few weeks later, Farouk Hosni penned an apologetic article in Le Monde, retracting his statement on book burning. Soon after that, he pledged that Egypt’s culture ministry would translate literary works by two Israelis, Amos Oz and David Grossman. This seemed like a significant concession because official Egyptian policy mostly bars translation from Hebrew to Arabic — or at least any dealings with Israeli publishers.

“But what appeared to be signs of positive change in Egypt’s literary elite were actually just reflections of its deep-seated hostility to Jewish and Israeli culture. Hosni was quickly and widely attacked as “courting Zionist influence” by his fellow members of the Egyptian intelligentsia. In fact, Gaber Asfour, the head of Egypt’s National Translation Center, immediately denied any link between the translations and Hosni’s UNESCO campaign. He clarified that there would be no translation of the Israeli authors from Hebrew at all, but rather from existing European translations, so as not to have to actually deal with the Israeli rights-holders themselves. Although there are certainly a lot of books about Israel on the market in Egypt — most of them full of conspiracy theories or tendentious views of Jewish history — Egypt’s head translator said he wanted to publish more, if not directly from the Hebrew. For his justification, he quoted an Arabic proverb: “Who knows the language of a people is safe from their evil.”

Read article in full

*A report in Maariv (28 August Musaf shel shabbat) by Jackie Hougi claims that part of the quid pro quo for Israel withdrawing its objection to Hosni’s UNESCO bid is that Egypt will allow Israeli submarines and fleet vessels through the Suez Canal. To request the full article in Hebrew please Email [email protected] (With thanks: Levana)

Lessons of the Hebron massacre for ‘coexistence’

This week marks 80 years since the Hebron massacre, in which 67 Jews were murdered and 70 wounded. The Hebron massacre revealed the ugly face of pure bigotry: the Arab mob did not single out the ‘Zionists’ among the Jews they killed. They did not single out the Ashkenazim. All Jews were fair game, including the non-Zionists of the old Sephardi Yishuv who had ‘lived in peace with Arabs’ for generations.

False rumours began reaching Hebron from Jerusalem that the blood of thousands of Muslims was flowing like water. The Arabs of Hebron were called on to avenge their brothers. Early on Saturday 24 August 1929, the Jewish Sabbath, Arab mobs, armed with clubs, knives, and axes, began to gather. The Arab women and children threw stones, the men ransacked Jewish houses and destroyed Jewish property. With only a single British police officer in Hebron (Raymond Cafferata), the Arabs entered Jewish courtyards unopposed.

According to this article*, the head of the Sephardi community in Hebron “Rabbi (Ya’akov) Slonim ( sic : actually the head of the Ashkenazi community on account of two ancestors from Belarus), who had tried to shelter much of the Jewish population in his own home (Sic: it was actually the Rav’s son, Dan Eliezer Slonim Dwek, who invited the Bocherim to take refuge in his home and was later murdered, not Rabbi Yaakov Slonim), was approached by the rioters and offered a deal. If all the Ashkenazi yeshiva students were given over to the Arabs, the rioters would spare the lives of the Sephardi community. Rabbi Slonim (Dan Eliezer worked for a bank, although also a rabbi) refused to turn over any of the students and was killed on the spot, along with his wife and young child. In the end, 12 Sephardi Jews and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered.”

Slonims

According to Rabbi Slonim’s son (not correct – Shlomo, the son of Dan Eliezer is being quoted here – ed) , his family’s only survivor of the Hebron massacre:

Given the good relationship he enjoyed with his Arab neighbors (my emphasis-ed), local Jews believed they would be safe in his home.”

“They were wrong. As the Arabs came to the home, the people inside tried to bar the door with their bodies, but they couldn’t hold back the mob, he said.

“After bursting in, the Arabs killed 24 people with knives and machetes. Among them were Slonim’s father, his mother, Hannah, 24, and her parents who were visiting for Shabbat. They also fatally wounded his older brother, who was only four. He succumbed to his wounds several days later in Jerusalem and was buried there.”

Another story of betrayal is that of Ben-tzion Gershon, a doctor and pharmacist who treated Jews and Arabs in Hebron. He opened the door to an Arab woman who feigned that she was about to give birth. The woman moved aside, and a murderous mob stormed in and gang-raped his wife. When Dr. Gershon begged them to stop, they answered: “If you don’t want to see it, you don’t have to” – and gouged his eyes out before killing him, according to the testimony of one of Gershon’s daughters.

Of course, there is no doubt that some Arabs acted honourably and saved Jews. Indeed it has become almost fashionable, as the Haaretz columnist Tom Segevdoes, to emphasise that Arabs hid over 300 Jews in 28 homes.

“Some Arabs showed great courage in protecting Jews that day. One Arab landlord refused to allow his Jewish tenants to be murdered. He stood fast outside the door of their home, even when a fellow Arab put a sword to his throat and drew blood. The landlord refused to budge and finally the mob relented.”

Examples abound of Arabs saving Jews in the Iraqi pogrom of 1941 known as the Farhoud, which claimed the lives of 179 Jews and in the Libyan pogrom of 1945, in which 130 Jews were murdered.

In her book, A sense of purpose, Suzy Ebandescribes how in 1929 her grandparents in their farmhouse on the road to Jerusalem at Motza were forewarned by an Arab employee of the approaching mob. Thanks to her, they were able to barricade themselves in, and survived unscathed.

On the other hand, their neighbours, the Makleff family, who worked closely with Arabs, were not so lucky. Their ‘involvement with Arabs’, as Suzy Eban puts it, did not save them from being murdered. Only two members of the Makleff family survived.

The idea that familiarity leads to mutual respect underpins umpteen modern interfaith and coexistence initiatives. If Arabs and Jews live together, talk to each other, play music together, so the thinking goes, then harmonious relations, and ultimately, peace, will follow.

Events such as the Hebron massacre also show that familiarity can breed contempt or festering resentment. Jews caught up in the Farhoud and the Libyan pogrom recognised among their Arab assailants the butcher, the milkman, the gardener.

The lessons of the Hebron massacre are that coexistence is not simply a matter of living together. They are that incitement fuelled by false rumours, unchecked anger at grievances real or imagined, and sheer greed and opportunism, can turn ordinary people into violent monsters.

Remembering the Hebron massacre (Wall St Journal – with thanks: Heather)

Anti-Jewish violence in Palestine (CAMERA)

Pierre van Paassen’s article: Days of our Years (excerpt)

*The article in question contains quite a few errors, we now understand from Shlomo’s son, the great grandson of Rav Yaakov Slonim Dwek. He maintains that 30 Sephardi/Mizrahim were killed including 18 members of his family, a total of 58 in Hebron. The figure of 67 is the final toll including those who died of wounds incurred up to a year later – about 50 per cent Sephardim/Mizrahim. Please read his comment in the thread below.

About

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.