Why have more Arabs not been nominated as ‘Righteous Gentiles’? the answer, at least in Khaled Abdul Wahab’s case during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia, is that Jews were sheltered with the knowledge of the Nazis and involved no personal risk to him. The Times of Israel reports:
Abdul Wahab (pictured) was twice nominated to Yad Vashem for the honor, in 2007 and 2010, and twice rejected.
According to Robert Satloff, author of the
landmark 2006 book, “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the
Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands,” it is a “sordid story of Yad
Vashem applying criteria to this case that it has failed to apply in
other cases. Regrettably this is not Yad Vashem’s finest hour.”
“Among the Righteous” opens with the simple
question, “Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?” The book
and a follow-up 2010 PBS documentary reflect Satloff’s scholarly and
personal journey in searching for Arab involvement in the Holocaust —
Arab villains, heroes, and those in between.
“In the course of research for this book, I
came to the sad conclusion that there are two main reasons that no Arabs
have been included among the list of the ‘righteous’ — first, many
Arabs (or their heirs) didn’t want to be found, and second, Jews didn’t
look too hard,” wrote Satloff.
Abdul Wahab’s wartime deeds are recounted in
“Among the Righteous” by the Jewish Middle East historian after he
heard testimony from Weisel’s sister, Anny Boukris, who was also hidden
by Abdul Wahab at age 11.
In conversation with The Times of Israel
Tuesday, Satloff said he is “always impressed by how many Arabs ask me
about” Abdul Wahab. Many have difficulty understanding why he has been
honored by other Jewish organizations, but not by Israel.
Abdul Wahab’s daughter Faiza, who only heard of her father’s wartime experiences after the publication of Satloff’s book, said in a 2010 Ynet interview, “My father opened his home to Jews and Yad Vashem did not open their home to us.”
Head of the Righteous Among the Nations department Steinfeldt explained that part of the criteria for deciding who is eligible for the title relates
to the question of whether the nominee saved a Jew from deportation or
threat of death under risk of death or imprisonment, with altruistic
motivations. All this must be affirmed through detailed Jewish witness
testimony or, in rare cases, other documentation, such as police records
Most are nominated by those rescued or their
children, and Steinfeldt’s multi-lingual staff of 10 begin the process
of verifying their eligibility. The file is prepared, which takes on
average a year, and given to the Yad Vashem commission, which is headed
by a Supreme Court judge, for debate.
In the case of the North African countries,
said Steinfeldt, during the “German conquest, the occupation was so
short there wasn’t time to implement the Final Solution.”
Therefore, she explained, there is a
smaller likelihood that there would be Righteous Arabs from these parts,
“not because the people were different, but because the circumstances
Families didn’t have to hide, said Steinfeldt,
and though some Jews stayed with Muslim countrymen, it was done in full
knowledge of the Nazis.
“Jewish families were thrown out of their
homes and hosted by local Arabs. They were not hiding, but hosted,” she
said. “The hosts didn’t do anything illegal.”
In the case of Abdul Wahab, Yad Vashem’s
Steinfeldt said, “as much as his deeds were admirable” in hosting Jews
at his farm, he broke no law and the Germans knew of their stay.
Additionally, according to testimony Yad
Vashem received from Satloff’s source Boukris, “the men continued their
forced labor service under German supervision, and on Thursdays, to
prepare for Shabbat, the family would join the other Jews of Mahdia who
had been evicted from the town and concentrated on a Jewish-owned farm
in Sidi Alouan,” close to Abdul Wahab’s estate.
As explained by a Yad Vashem spokesperson, the element of personal riskis a clear criteria for the Righteous Among the Nations status.
“If the Germans knew about – and checked on –
the Jews who were staying with him, the element of extraordinary risk is
clearly lacking,” she said.
The Muslims in Europe were a different case,
said Steinfeldt. For example
, Yad Vashem has granted the title of
Righteous Among the Nations to many Muslims from Albania, the only
European country that ended WWII with more Jews than it began with due
to its famous protection of the up to 1,800 Jewish refugees who joined
the country’s indigenous Jewish population of 200.