April 12, 2007
Wiesenthal Center honors one of Shoah’s righteous Arabs
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Growing up in Tunisia, "at a certain social level there was no difference between Arabs and Jews, and our home was actually in the Jewish section," Abdul-Wahab said. In retrospect, she felt that her father was quietly frustrated that his wartime deeds were never recognized. "He seemed a little sad," she said, "but whenever he visited me in Paris, he wanted to go to the Jewish neighborhood." As for herself, Abdul-Wahab mused that "I've always tried to bring Jews and Arabs together. I felt like a link, but I never knew why. Now I understand."
It took only a local phone call to reach Nadia Judith Bijaoui, who will represent the rescued Boukris family at the Yom HaShoah ceremonies. The Palm Desert resident is the daughter of Anny Boukris, who witnessed the German occupation of Tunisia as an 11-year-old.
Boukris, whose initial message set Satloff off on his four-year search, died in late 2003, only a few weeks after detailing her life story in an 83-page transcript. Bijaoui remembers long conversations with her mother and her grandmother, the Odette Boukris desired by the Nazi officer, but they didn't talk about their wartime experiences.
"I think what they went through was so traumatic, they wanted to forget about it," Bijaoui said. "They were happy just to be alive."
Bijaoui was raised in France and came with her family to the United States in the early 1970s. She is a trained psychologist and has written two autobiographical books.
Satloff said in a phone call from Jerusalem, where he was visiting, that he hoped that his book and recognition of Abdelwahab by Yad Vashem would stimulate both Jews and Arabs to look at the Holocaust in "a different way, beyond the purely European narrative."
In addition to the dramatic Boukris story, Satloff's investigations showed that there were other individual Arabs who aided their Jewish neighbors, but, as in Europe, they represented a small minority of the population.
"The majority of Arabs, as the people in occupied Europe, were indifferent," he said. "A regrettably large minority of Arabs collaborated with the Axis powers. Many served as guards at forced labor camps, helped the SS hunt down Jews and even fought in the German army."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, urged that the deeds of Abdelwahab and other compassionate Arabs become "part of both the Jewish and Arab collective memories."
To the current Muslim rulers and media who denigrate and deny the Holocaust, Abdelwahab's deeds send a different message, Cooper said.
"If you deny the Shoah, you also deny that there were noble Arabs and other Muslims, those who put their lives on the line to rescue Jews."
Robert Satloff will speak on April 16 at the following Yom HaShoah commemorations: 10 a.m. at the Wiesenthal Center, 1399 S. Roxbury Drive, Los Angeles for reservations, call (310) 772-2529; and 7:30 p.m. at the Nessah Educational and Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills for reservations, call (310) 273-2400.
Satloff discusses his book. Click the BIG ARROW
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