Denying Holocaust Heroes

A touching and sad story of combating the world’s worst hatred and of a failure to understand all that was risked in doing so.

Eva Weisel writes in an op-ed of a man, Khaled Abdul Wahab, an Arab Muslim, who protected and saved her and her family from the Holocaust at great personal risk in Tunisia.

A snip from The Times Op-ed:

As luck would have it, however, a German unit arrived in the area not long after we did. Our host told us to get rid of our yellow stars, stay inside the farm walls and keep far away from the main house. He had his own strategy for dealing with the Germans. A bon vivant and world traveler, he invited German officers for evenings filled with food and drink. While nearly two dozen of us were hiding in one part of the farm, he protected himself from the prying eyes of the Germans by entertaining them on the other side of the farm.

Our host’s strategy worked well, until the night a couple of drunken German officers wandered away from the main house.

In the courtyard outside the stables, they started banging on the courtyard door and shouting, “We know you are Jews and we’re coming to get you!”

My grandmother started screaming “Cachez les filles!” — “Hide the girls!” I remember being shoved under the bed, trembling and sobbing as I tried to hide under a blanket.

At that moment of unspeakable fear, as our hearts pounded and tears poured from our eyes, a guardian angel came to the rescue. Out of nowhere, our host appeared. A strong, powerful man who projected authority and commanded respect, he stopped the Germans and managed to lead them away.

The next day, our host came to the stables. We rushed to express our thanks to him, but he was more eager to apologize to us. He said he was sorry that we had to face the terrifying ordeal of the Germans’ threats, expressed relief that he had intervened in time to prevent a horrible tragedy, and promised that it would never happen again. We never found out how he fulfilled his promise — perhaps he bribed the Germans — but he did. We passed the rest of the German occupation at our host’s farm, without incident.

The suggestion is that Yad Veshem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial has refused to recognize him as one of the “righteous” because he is a Muslim. And that indeed is shameful.

Karl Rahner, the great Vatican II theologian, was a student of Heidegger, who was later found to be a Nazi sympathizer. It was the great anxiety of his life that the Catholic Church in Germany did not do enough for the Jews. He often would ask his students to “pray for his happy death.” It seems if upon reflection, Rahner could understand how important it was for the members of church to so SOMETHING to save the Jews (and others), then perhaps it’s equally important for everyone to honor and recognize what many people DID do.

Yad Veshem claims that Abdul Wahab didn’t risk his life to save the Jews. Which doesn’t reach the qualifications they’ve required for him to be honored. I think that’s speculative and ridiculous. What if the Nazis had caught him? What if a larger group of German soldiers had found the barn? What if they decided that his money was no good to them? Nobody knows what could have happened and Abdul Wahab did the right think without knowing what would happen either.

Doing the right thing is usually hard. Perhaps honoring an Arab Muslim when so many Arab Muslims deny the Holocaust or at least deny the numbers of dead and claim the the Jews use it as some kind of advantage. But not honoring Abdul Wahab denies something too. We call that heroism, bravery and having a moral compass.

Perhaps not denying that, is a good example for all of us and helps heal relations between Arabs and Jews who long for a lasting peace?

Or we can continue to cycle of denying.

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