Why It's Important To Recognize The Muslims Who Saved Jews During The Holocaust

A forgotten piece of history is brought to light.

Last week, in front of the Washington Square Park arch, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna shared the story of his relatives' rescue from the Holocaust with a crowd of New Yorkers. And though the story was a familiar one, one detail did stand out. His relatives' rescuer, a German physician named Mohammed Helmy, was a Muslim.

"I attended this event because I wanted to honor the many lives of those who were affected by the Holocaust," Christina Tasca, who attended the New York City ceremony, told The Huffington Post. "I was incredibly moved by the performance of stories of Muslims who risked everything, even their own lives, to protect Jews fleeing genocide. It was a powerful reminder that even in the darkest times, there are always unsung heroes who choose to do what is right, no matter the cost."

 I Am Your Protector/ Facebook
 I Am Your Protector/ Facebook

But the rabbi wasn't the only Jew rescued by Muslims during the Holocaust. In fact, there were many who intervened — you just probably haven't heard of them. Like Abdol Hossein Sardari. Known as the "Iranian Schindler," Sardari was an Iranian diplomat that saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust by convincing Nazis that their own racial purity laws excluded Iranian Jews and really classified them as Aryan. 

Now, a new campaign called I Am Your Protector is highlighting the forgotten Muslims who helped protect Jews during World War II. Sardari and Helmy were not alone.

"I Am Your Protector is a community of individuals who stand up for each other across religion, race, gender, and beliefs with the goal of amplifying a constructive and unifying message," Andrea Varadi, a core team member of I Am Your Protector, told A Plus. "The campaign seeks to expose stories that are rarely exposed and counter the misperceptions that often depicts the 'other' as an enemy. "

Selahattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat, organized boats to carry Jews to safety. Ali Sakkat, a former mayor in Tunisia, hid 60 Jewish escapees on his estate. Khaled Abdul Wahab sheltered two families in stables on his farm, and the founder of the Muslim Institute at the Great Mosque of Paris, Kaddour Benghabrit, forged papers for Jews that made them appear to be Muslims. 

Courtesy of I Am Your Protector.
Courtesy of I Am Your Protector.

All of these efforts are perfect examples of what I Am Your Protector is trying to assert: our divisions are not as concrete as we believe.

"Being silent doesn't just mean not doing anything, it also means we agree and allow the ones who want to discriminate and hate to do so," Varadi said. "Each of us have the choice to be silent or to be a protector by speaking up and standing up for the other."

Cover photo: Carsten Koall / Getty Images.