The new Google Doodle shared by the search engine giant on July 25, 2023, marks the 122nd birthday of Dr. Mohammed Helmy, an Egyptian-German doctor who helped save Jews during the Holocaust and who was the first Arab recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.
The doodle itself was made by Berlin-based Israeli artist Noa Snir and focuses on the duality of Helmy's background and his open-hearted generosity.
The art depicts a cartoon of Helmy in the center, clad in a white lab coat with the Google logo spelled out on the center. His arms are outstretched as if in an embrace, while people are seen either squatting or on their knees before him as he looks with a smile.
On the left side of the background is an image of the sun, sand dunes, and a palm tree, meant to symbolize his Egyptian heritage. The right side of the background features a more Europena-style building, symbolizing his life in Germany.
"My first thoughts were actually concerns - how to correctly convey Helmy's story without focusing too much on the difficult times he operated in," Snir said in a statement regarding her art. "I thought the hint of war should exist in the doodle, but it should still communicate hope and strength. I hope I succeeded in doing that."
Who was Mohammed Helmy and what did he do to be recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations?
Originally born in Khartoum, Helmy moved to Germany to study medicine and then to work as a doctor, eventually heading the Robert Koch Institute's urology department. However, Nazi regime politics discriminated heavily against non-Aryans, and while Helmy wasn't Jewish, he still faced discrimination per Nazi racial theory.
Helmy would be arrested on multiple occasions as part of discrimination against North Africans. He was only released after becoming severely ill, for which he needed to repeatedly report to the police as proof he was too sick to be in prison.
Not only that, but he was barred from his former prestigious role, now relegated to being a mere doctor's assistant.
Here though, despite Helmy himself constantly being persecuted by the Nazis, he worked hard to help save as many lives as possible, using what little authority he had to write sick notes to exempt people from being forced to do hard labor for the Nazis.
Not only that, but he also worked hard to help save his Jewish patient, Anna Boros, managing to successfully protect her, her mother, grandmother, and stepfather from being sent to a concentration camp – all of them would eventually survive the Holocaust.
Yad Vashem would recognize Helmy for his efforts in 2013 as a Righteous Among the Nations. The award was given posthumously and in 2017, it was accepted on his behalf by Helmy's nephew, world-renowned medical scholar and historian Mohamed Nasser Kotby.
In 2017, an Israeli film was released on KAN about his story, Mohamed and Anna – In Plain Sight.
For Snir, Helmy's story is very emotional and moving.
"I come from a Jewish background, and the thought of individuals outside of the Jewish community risking their lives to help others during WW2 is something that personally gives me hope about humanity," she said.
"I think Helmy's case is an especially interesting one as he himself suffered persecution due to his background and ethnicity, and that still didn't stop him from helping as many people as he could."