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Jewish Holocaust Memorial Honors Arab Muslim

A Jewish organization in Los Angeles has honored an Arab Muslim who saved Tunisian Jews from Nazi persecution. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports on a memorial service at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

The Holocaust memorial featured invocations in Hebrew and in Arabic.

The author Robert Satloff documented the story of North African Arabs who helped their Jewish neighbors during the Second World War. One dramatic account comes from Tunisia, controlled at the time by the pro-Nazi Vichy regime, and eventually occupied by the Germans. Satloff says some Jews were placed in labor camps, and some were executed.

In the Tunisian town of Mahdia, a family named Boukris took refuge in an olive-press factory, with other Jewish families. One day, an Arab man named Khaled Abdelwahhab decided to help.

"That night, he went to the olive press factory, banged at the door, and told everyone there to pack their bags and come with him," said Robert Satloff. "For the rest of the night, he ferried 24 people back and forth in his car to a farm that he owned 20 kilometers away."

Satloff heard the story from survivor Anny Boukris in 2003. She died a short time later, and her daughter represented her at the ceremony.

Khaled Abdelwahhab died in 1997, and his daughter, Faiza, spoke on his behalf. She says she hopes this recognition has a wider impact.

"Today, as a daughter of Khaled Abdelwahhab, I extend my hand as a sincere and truthful bridge to my Jewish brothers and sisters," she said. "Together, we can open space for dialogue and encounter between our peoples."

She says that in a world haunted by war, the message of this Holocaust ceremony should give confidence to those who dream of peace.

After the war, according to the account of the late Anny Boukris, Khaled Abdelwahhab was a frequent honored guest at her family's Sabbath dinners.

There are other stories of wartime Muslims helping Jews in Arab lands, outlined in Robert Satloff's book Among the Righteous.