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Remembering Muslims Who Saved Jews from the Holocaust

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2016

One of the largely untold stories of the years of the Holocaust in Europe  
and in the Nazi-occupied countries of North Africa — Libya, Tunisia, Algeria  
and Morocco — is the brave resistance shown by many Muslims and their  
commitment to help save Jews.  
The British newspaper The Independent (Feb. 3, 2016) reports about the work  
being done by the group “I Am Your Protector” (IAYP) who describe themselves  
as “a community of people who speak up and stand up for each other across  
religion, race, gender and beliefs.” The group is attempting to highlight  
the often forgotten stories of Muslims who helped Jews during the Nazi  
Among the individuals cited is Islamic diplomat Abdel Hossein Sardar, dubbed  
the “Iranian Schindler.” He saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi regime  
when he served as head of the Iranian consulate in Paris. According to The  
Independent, “Issuing Iranian passports to occupied Jews, without the  
consent of his superiors, Mr. Sardari helped 2,000 Jews escape the Nazi  
regime. Mr. Sardari is just one of many people who feature in a new campaign  
honoring Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.”  
Others cited by IAYP include Selhattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat in Greece  
who organized boats to carry Jews to safety in Turkey during the Nazi  
occupation of Greece. Si Ali Sakkat, former mayor in Tunisia, and a  
descendant of the prophet Mohammed, protected 60 Jewish escapees from a  
labor camp by hiding them on his estate. Khaled Abdul Wahab is remembered  
for saving Jewish families by sheltering them in stables on his farm near  
Mahdia, Tunisia.  
Of particular interest is the story of the most important Muslim institution  
in Europe at the time of the Nazis, the Great Mosque of Paris. Its leader  
was Si Kaddour Benghabrit, a native of Algeria who was both a spiritual  
leader and well-connected politically. The Mosque provided sanctuary and  
sustenance to Jews hiding from Vichy and Nazi troops as well as to other  
fighters in the anti-fascist resistance.  
Albert Assouline, a North African Jew who escaped a German prison camp and  
found refuge in the mosque, wrote an article in a French veterans’ magazine  
in 1983 noting that, “No fewer than 1,732 resistance fighters found refuge  
in its (the mosque’s) underground caverns. These included Muslim escapees  
but also Christians and Jews. The latter were by far the most numerous.”  
Derri Berkani, a French documentary film-maker of Algerian Berber origin,  
made the 1991 film The Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris. The film  
was widely acclaimed and was shown on French national television.  
In his book, Among the Righteous, Robert Satloff, executive director of the  
Wash¬ington Institute for Near East Policy, reports that, “At every stage of  
the Nazi, Vichy and Fascist persecution of Jews in Arab lands, and in every  
place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the  
persec¬ution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs  
denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the  
anti-Jewish campaign spin more efficiently.”  
In Algeria, under Vichy law and Nazi occupation, Jewish property owners had  
to turn over their fixed assets to conservators. This, in reality, provided  
a windfall to such conserv¬ators. Robert Satloff notes that, “To their great  
credit not a single Arab in Algiers stepped forward to accept Vichy’s offer.  
One Friday in 1941, religious leaders throughout the city gave sermons  
warning all good Muslims to refuse all French offers to serve as  
conservators of Jewish property. They even forbade Muslims from purchasing  
auctioned Jewish goods at below market prices … True to their imams’ call,  
not a single Arab took the opportunity of quick financial gain …” •

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