A truly inspiring story
LAST UPDATED: 01/30/2012 22:11
Abdel Wahab acted to help Jews in Tunisia but does not meet criteria of being a Righteous Gentile.
Yad Vashem Photo: 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.
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
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
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
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.