During atrocities across the globe, there are some who risk their lives to help the oppressed and marginalised. While some are later recognised and commended for their efforts, many others remain as unsung heroes whose inspiring stories are later forgotten.
While there has been a great deal of international discourse on, films about, and recognition of the monstrosities of the Holocaust, what has been ignored are the accounts of Muslims who risked their lives to rescue Jewish people from persecution during World War II.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2017, an international non-profit group, I Am Your Protector, displayed a small exhibit in a New York synagogue to recognise those Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust. While perceived opposition and conflicts between the two religious communities are often highlighted in the media, the exhibit demonstrated that there is also an important history of coexistence and mutual help between Muslim and Jewish groups.
The exhibit highlighted the brave tales of people like Khaled Abdul Wahab from Tunisia who sheltered about two dozen Jews and Iranian diplomat, Hossein Sardari, who helped thousands of Jewish people escape from the Nazis by providing them with passports.
Also recognised by the group was the Pilku family from Albania who harbored young Johanna Neumann and her mother in their home during the war. They protected them by claiming that they were family members visiting from In an interview in 2017, she recounted: “They put their lives on the line to save us. If it had come out that we were Jews, the whole family would have been killed.”
“What these people did, many European nations didn’t do,” she added. “They all stuck together and were determined to save Jews.”
The exhibit included 15 stories that the organisers said convey how event in the harshest and cruelest conditions of war, persecution, and conflict, people embrace humanity above all else by protecting one another. In reference to the exhibit, a professor who specialises in Islam and the Holocaust, Mehnaz Afridi stated: “Those stories are very powerful together because they show a different side to humanity. It shows that we can have hope even at a time like the Holocaust.”
The co-director of the group responsible for organising the exhibit, Dani Laurence Andrea Varadi, explained that while it highlights brave tales from the past, it provides a vital reminder in today’s world “given the rise of hatred”.
One of the main aims of this group based in New York City is encourage people around the world to take a stand against injustice. Varadi referred to the current political situation faced by countless Muslims against the world as a result of stereotypical thinking of Islam and communities associated with it as monolithic rather than a diverse set of individuals. In the U.S. alone, President Donald Trump issued a travel ban on Muslims entering the country in 2017. According to a report from the FBI in 2018, racially, ethnically, and religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. have been increasing over the past couple of years. In 2014-15 alone, hate crimes against Muslims soared 67%; a spike from 154 reported cases in 2014 to 257 reported cases in 2015.
“It makes people think it’s legitimate to hate,” Varadi said. “It is natural and normal to be scared and to think that we have to resist or fight, but we can also have a mechanism where we can catch ourselves and say, ‘OK, there are some people who might be problematic, and we can look at them one on one.’”
Varadi added that she hoped that the stories of courage displayed in the exhibit will inspire others to take a stand against bigotry and protect those targeted by hate crimes in a climate of increasing fear, suspicion, and hatred.
“We can speak up, stand up for the other when we witness something, raise our voices in a peaceful, nonviolent way,” she said. “Whenever people think, ‘There’s nothing I can do. I cannot make a difference,’ this is the most dangerous thing to think because it is not true.”
The exhibit’s debut was in the headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. And then was displayed in New York City’s Temple Emanu-El in 2017 on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I Am Your Protector organisers hoped that the stories would have a long-lasting impact.
“I think history shows that people stand up for each other—and those were the ones who created change. And if there’s enough people who do that, then the whole reality changes,” Varadi said. “When communities come together with that mindset, whether it’s small or big, it becomes a huge force that can basically change the course of history.”
Quotes : Time Magazine