Meet the Muslims who saved Jews from the Holocaust

As the unimaginable evil of the Holocaust brought a dark cloud over Europe, where indifference to Jewish suffering become commonplace, some resisted and stood up against Nazi tyranny.

Individuals of various backgrounds are rightfully immortalised in Yad Vashem for their acts of courage in aiding and protecting Jewish life from the Nazis. But as an organisation, we at Faith Matters wanted to highlight the positives of Jewish and Muslim relations in the darkest moments of the 20th Century – to bring our communities closer when both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice ebb and flow in Europe today.

The Righteous Among the Nations recognises Muslims – from Albania, Bosnia, Turkey, countries of the former Soviet Union, and an Egyptian doctor residing in Berlin. In Albania alone, Yad Vashim honours 69 individuals, the story of individual Albanian bravery, which fused their Islamic faith and cultural norms (Besa) protected Jews even when the Nazis occupied the country.

Our booklet ‘The Role of Righteous Muslims’ highlights the personal stories of Muslim heroism but also recognises those not officially entered into Yad Vashem. For example, In Nazareth, Khaleed Mahameed, runs a Holocaust Museum to educate fellow Palestinian Arabs about past Jewish suffering. Mr Mahameed hopes the museum builds bridges between faiths in the region.

When we stop to reflect on Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow – a day that also marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – a death camp alone responsible for more than a million deaths – we mourn in collective sorrow – as the atrocities in Paris also remind us that anti-Semitism still has fatal consequences.

But not all Muslims espouse this hatred. If you turn the pages of our booklet, stories of individual bravery leap off the pages. In Tunisia, Khaled Abdelwahab evacuated two Jewish families to his farm in Tiesla, 20 miles from Nazi-occupied Mahdia, after getting one German soldier drunk. Mr Abdelwahab was nominated to enter Yad Vashem (but this is not yet confirmed). But The Simon Wiesenthal Centre and California Museum of Tolerance recognises his bravery.

Turkey’s only recognised name in Yad Vashem is Selahattin Ulkumen, a man who used his position as Turkish Council on Rhodes to argue personally that Germany release Jews awaiting deportation on the island. The German officer refused citing Nazi law that all Jews must be deported to concentration camps. Yet, Ulkumen stood his ground and cited a Turkish law that all citizens were equal in spite of their faith, and a refusal to acknowledge this law would create an international incident. All the Jews protected by Ulkumen were released but were subjected to harassment and still had to report daily to the Gestapo.

A measure of Ulkumen’s bravery included his fabrication of Turkish law. In total, he saved 50 Jewish lives but only 13 were Turkish citizens, his bravery and initiative saved lives. Of the names not on his list, the Nazis managed to deport 1,700 names to Auschwitz.

Outraged, the Nazis took their revenge by bombing the Turkish consulate and mortally wounding Mr Ulkumen’s pregnant wife (who sadly passed away in childbirth). Both were deported to Piraeus, on the Greek mainland, until the war was over.

Bosnian Muslims preserved Jewish tradition by hiding the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year-old manuscript that narrates the Exodus from Egypt every Passover, under the floorboards of a mosque until the war ended, after two men spirited it through Nazi checkpoints.

As we look to Holocaust Memorial Day 2015, whether we are Muslim or Jewish, we stop to remember the horrors of the Holocaust in a shared moment of remembrance. The story of these righteous Muslims needs retelling to bring our communities closer. Thankfully, thousands of schools received this booklet nationwide. Our boards retelling these stories even went on display during the Foreign Office’s Holocaust Memorial event on January 21. But we will continue to educate on this matter.

So we encourage you to read our booklet and learn why other Muslims stood up to Nazi tyranny to protect Jewish lives in WW2.

End notes: The full list of Muslims recognised by Yad Vashim: