The role that Muslims played in saving Jews during the Holocaust is not well known, but it is an important chapter of history that deserves greater recognition, in order to help tackle some of the misinformation about Jewish-Muslim relations throughout history.
Many Muslims during this period were themselves struggling with colonialism and political upheaval. Many thousands of Muslims themselves perished under Nazi oppression, including Muslim Romani people in Eastern Europe and Arab workers in Vichy-French labour camps across North Africa.
But despite this, there are stories of brave Muslims from Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa who put their and their families’ lives at risk to protect Jewish people from the atrocities of the Axis. Their heroic stories of cooperation and rescue were inspired by their faith, sense of social responsibility and the Islamic precept that saving one life is like saving the whole of humanity.
One example is the diplomat Abdol Hossein Sardari, known as the “Iranian Schindler”, who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi persecution in Paris by persuading the fascists that Iranian Jews were actually Aryan and therefore not subject to the Reich’s racial laws. He then went on to issue Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews, saving up to 2,000 lives in the process.
In Vichy-held Tunisia, Jewish families were given protection by notables such as Si Ali Sakkat, a former mayor who protected over 60 Jewish people by hiding them on his land. Another Tunisian, Khaled Abdul Wahhab, hid and protected Jewish families on his estate despite the presence of German soldiers in a Red Cross camp adjoining the property.
These chivalrous stories are a powerful reminder that during the Jewish community’s darkest hour, some Muslims were willing to stand up and defend their Jewish friends and neighbours in their time of need, even at considerable risk to their own safety.
The Holocaust is a brutal lesson for all humanity
The Holocaust is a brutal lesson for all humanity, a powerful reminder of the extreme consequences if you stand by and allow hatred to fester. But these stories show the positive power of faith and the moral choices that people can make to challenge such hatred.
At a time when anti-Muslim hatred, antisemitism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments are on the rise, these heroic examples are poignant and timely reminders of the need to step up efforts to fight all forms of racism and hatred.