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Museum of Tolerance premieres documentary about 'Arab Schindlers' who saved Jews

March 26, 2010 | 10:40 am

Sing A capacity crowd filled the Museum of Tolerance's 300-seat film auditorium Thursday night for the premiere of "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands." (About 50 to 60 more attendees, who skewed toward the Social Security set, watched the film from another theater, requisitioned as an overflow venue.)

The documentary, exploring Arab efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust and funded by Jewish and Muslim donors, is based on a similarly named book by Dr. Robert Satloff, a historian and executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Among the attendees were Judea and Ruth Pearl, parents of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002 and whose story was depicted in the film "A Mighty Heart," as well as at least one North African Holocaust survivor, who later thanked Satloff, saying, "You made me cry tonight."

Si Ali Sakat (2)Satloff's historical investigation stemmed from what he describes as a desire to find an "Arab Schindler," change Arab views of the Holocaust and improve Arab/Jewish relations. The documentary depicts him arriving at this quest after the shock of 9/11 and a subsequent move to Morocco, where his wife, an economist, accepted a job at the World Bank.

He was also puzzled that there were no Arabs listed as the "righteous among the nations" -- the designation created by Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial and museum, for gentiles who risked their own lives to save Jews from the Holocaust.

Proficient in Arabic and French, Satloff was disappointed by the Holocaust denial he routinely heard when living in Morocco and that he observes in Arab media (the author has made many appearances on Al-Jazeera and other Arab media). Yet it was this same language ability that allowed Satloff to traverse Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and France to track down survivors and their alleged rescuers.

The quest was largely successful. Satloff gleaned firsthand testimony from Jewish survivors and descendants of Arab rescuers who saved Jews from deportation to the dozens of concentration camps set up in North Africa by Axis governments. Some children of rescuers expressed pride at their parents' actions, while others wanted nothing to do with Satloff.

During the subsequent Q&A, Satloff said that it was "inexplicable" and smacked "of a double standard" that Yad Vashem rejected as a righteous among the nation a man featured in the documentary, Khaled Abdul Wahab. He attributed the rejection of Wahab -- a debonair Tunisian landowner who entertained German soldiers so that he could steer them away from the Jews he hid on his estate -- to political differences between departments within Yad Vashem. Satloff expressed hope that his documentary would lead to further research on the subject and to the honoring of Wahab and other rescuers.

That research seems to be well underway: among the questioners was a young Muslim woman researching a book on Muslim perceptions of the Holocaust.

The hourlong documentary airs on PBS on April 12, coinciding with Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

-- Jacob Silverman

Photos from "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands," including bottom of Si Ali Sakat, a former Tunisian government minister, saved Jews who fled from a labor camp.


 
Comments () | Archives (5)

This article brings to light one of the most griping devastations in human history and couples it with a positive outlet....music. I can appreciate this psychological reconstruction effort.

Satloff said that it was "inexplicable" and smacked "of a double standard".

My students also complained that some of the definitions and the content at the website of Yad Vashem (YV) are wrong.

Indeed, evidence shows that YV has done so to justify stopping doing research on the Jews from Arab countries in the Holocaust. See my article at
http://opinion-forum.com/index/2010/02/israel-and-the-holocaust/#more-9843

And it is not as if YV has done much. As per Satloff's book and per YV's publications, YV has published only one scholarly book on Jews of Arab countries in the Shoah.

Satloff said that it was "inexplicable", and I think it is discrimination.

Edith Shaked, Holocaust educator and moderator

Dr. Satloff is certainly entitled to his opinion, but he should not misrepresent the decision in the Abdelwahhab case. Since the title is awarded by an independent commission, chaired by a retired Justice of Israel's Supreme Court, Dr. Satloff's statement about "political differences within Yad Vashem" is nonsensical. Each case is carefully examined by the Commission to see whether it meets the criteria for recognition - the most basic of which is that a non-Jew took extreme risk -- risking his/her life -- to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. While Abdelwahab's actions were certainly noble, the Commission concluded, after a thorough examination of the evidence, that the element of risk was missing, and that therefore he could not be recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem will, however, publish his story, along with the others related by Satfloff, in the Hebrew translation of Satloff's book.

Shaked's charges are specious. Yad Vashem, has among other things, published research and educational material about the persecution of Jews of North Africa during World War II, held a scholarly conference in 2008 dedicated to the topic, recorded testimony from North African survivors, included communities of North Africa in the Valley of Communities site on the Yad Vashem campus and holds an annual memorial ceremony for the Jews of North Africa, with the participation of survivors, and more. On line there is much material, including: http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/about/02/middle_east.asp, http://www1.yadvashem.org/about_holocaust/studies/vol35/Mallmann-Cuppers2.pdf, and http://www1.yadvashem.org/yv/en/about/institute/conference_april2008.asp.

Estee Yaari, Yad Vashem

Yaari at Yad Vashem (YV) is forcing me to address her comments on "political differences within Yad Vashem" and “discrimination,” because they may mislead the readers. Relevant undisputable facts:

* YV at its website declares, that “The Nazis’ proclaimed goal was the eradication of European Jewry.” But, Yehuda Bauer, current Academic Advisor to YV, differs and stated outside YV, that “the Holocaust … was the intent of the Nazis to exterminate all Jews…

* YV tells about the Holocaust in France’s North African possession in the section on “North Africa and the Middle East” and not in “Western European Jewry.” However, Bauer again differs, and correctly write about it in “chapter 10: Western European Jewry” in his book, A History of the Holocaust.

It seems to me that all the excellent Holocaust scholars at YV are pretending to ignore the correct historical realities of the Holocaust era. The question is why? There are other questions.

Why did Tunisian-born Israelis persecuted in Nazi-occupied Tunisia, had to sue to “win compensation for Holocaust suffering”? (Israeli Newspaper Haaretz, of February 12, 2008.)

Why, since 1953, did YV publish only ONE research book and ONE educational booklet (The Jews of North Africa in the Holocaust) about the Holocaust in North Africa? Why are they both only in Hebrew?

Why are now research and education on North African Jewry in the Holocaust, “supported by Yad Vashem,” done outside YV? Why the different treatment with a new location and a separate budget?

Read more about the above in the DRAFT of a report at:
http://www.u.arizona.edu/~shaked/Yad-Vashwm.pdf

CORRECTION: There was a mistake in the URL in the previous comment

Yaari at Yad Vashem (YV) is forcing me to address her comments on "political differences within Yad Vashem" and “discrimination,” because they may mislead the readers. Relevant undisputable facts:

* YV at its website declares, that “The Nazis’ proclaimed goal was the eradication of European Jewry.” But, Yehuda Bauer, current Academic Advisor to YV, differs and stated outside YV, that “the Holocaust … was the intent of the Nazis to exterminate all Jews…

* YV tells about the Holocaust in France’s North African possession in the section on “North Africa and the Middle East” and not in “Western European Jewry.” However, Bauer again differs, and correctly write about it in “chapter 10: Western European Jewry” in his book, A History of the Holocaust.

It seems to me that all the excellent Holocaust scholars at YV are pretending to ignore the correct historical realities of the Holocaust era. The question is why? There are other questions.

Why did Tunisian-born Israelis persecuted in Nazi-occupied Tunisia, had to sue to “win compensation for Holocaust suffering”? (Israeli Newspaper Haaretz, of February 12, 2008.)

Why, since 1953, did YV publish only ONE research book and ONE educational booklet (The Jews of North Africa in the Holocaust) about the Holocaust in North Africa? Why are they both only in Hebrew?

Why are now research and education on North African Jewry in the Holocaust, “supported by Yad Vashem,” done outside YV? Why the different treatment with a new location and a separate budget?

Read more about the above in the DRAFT of a report at:
http://www.u.arizona.edu/~shaked/Yad-Vashem.pdf


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