A truly inspiring story

By IRENA STEINFELDT
January 30, 2012 22:11

Abdel Wahab acted to help Jews in Tunisia but does not meet criteria of being a Righteous Gentile.

4 minute read.



Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem 390. (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Khaled Abdel Wahab was a noble, generous and good man. When he saw the plight of two Jewish families that had been evicted from their homes 69 years ago in Mahdia, Tunis, he took pity on them and hosted them on his estate, as reported by his daughter, Faiza Abdul- Wahab, in her January 28 op-ed “An Arab ‘Righteous Gentile’: A daughter’s story.”

This manifestation of solidarity with his neighbors should be remembered and Yad Vashem is committed to preserving the records of this story so that it will inspire people worldwide. To the same end, Yad Vashem has published a book telling his story and others in Hebrew.

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This does not contradict the fact that the case does not fit the strict criteria of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous. When Yad Vashem was established to commemorate the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, it was tasked with another mission: to honor the Righteous Among the Nations – those non-Jews who had taken great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Thus the law delineated a small group of rescuers within wider circles of persons who helped Jews in the darkest hour of Jewish history. The Righteous, according to this definition, were people who not only helped the Jews, but were prepared to pay a price for their stand and even share the victims’ fate.

For five decades, Yad Vashem has worked toward this goal, in the process identifying over 24,000 Righteous Among the Nations, without regard to their country of origin, age, religious denomination, sex, or ethnicity. The Righteous include Christians of all denominations from around the world, as well as Muslims from Turkey, Bosnia, Albania and other countries.

The Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, an independent body comprised of Holocaust survivors and historians, examines whether rescue stories can be substantiated by primary sources and if the person in question took extraordinary risks in order to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. From its inception, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous noted that the risk in helping Jews during the Holocaust differed from one country to another and from one period to another.

AS IN every case, the file of Khaled Abdel Wahab from Tunisia was meticulously researched and carefully evaluated by the Commission. The testimonies describe Abdel Wahab’s kindness and protectiveness when the Boukris and Ouzzan families were in dire straits.

A close examination, however, revealed that as admirable as his deeds were, he broke no law and the Jews stayed on his farm with the full knowledge of the Germans. According to Annie Boukris, the men continued their forced labor service under German supervision; the families would regularly visit other Jewish families of Mahdia who had also been evicted from the town and stayed on a Jewish-owned farm nearby.

Edmee Masliah (Ouzzan) explained that the Germans would come from time to time to Abdel Wahab’s estate and check if they were all present; she describes how, when seeing the Germans approach, they would put on their yellow badges and wait for the Germans to count them. Eva Weisel said that her father would go back and forth to Mahdia to bring food. She also remembered that they received medicines from the German medical facility that was across the road from the farm.

The picture we gain from these testimonies matches the historical facts and the evaluation of historians that were consulted in the course of the investigation of this file. Because the German occupation of Tunisia lasted only six months, the plans to implement the Final Solution there never came to fruition. There were also no laws or regulations preventing Abdel Wahab from hosting Jews, and he therefore never had to face the ultimate test. Thus, the Commission concluded that in the absence of risk, he was not eligible for the Righteous Among the Nations designation.

The commission’s decision in this case reflects its commitment to evaluating cases without prejudice and without bending to political or other considerations. In this context it is important to note that the Righteous program is an unprecedented attempt by the victims of an unparalleled crime to search within the nations of perpetrators, collaborators and bystanders for persons who bucked the general trend of indifference, acquiescence and collaboration. It is a part of Yad Vashem’s quest to remember the past and try to shape a better future.

Faiza Abdul-Wahab is correct in saying that the commission’s decision does not negate her father’s noble actions. (Jerusalem Post, January 29) She argues that Yad Vashem should recognize her father as a “Righteous Gentile” and says she would proudly travel to Jerusalem to accept the honor in his name. The account of this noble Tunisian’s solidarity with the Jewish victims commands our deep appreciation, and we would be happy to host his daughter here.

The writer is director of the Righteous Among the Nations Department, Yad Vashem.


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