In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Mehnaz Afridi of Manhattan College explains how many Islamic communities resisted Nazi efforts during the Holocaust.
Mahnaz Afridi is an assistant professor of religious studies and director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College. Her research interests include the Holocaust, interreligious identity, and post-genocide identity.
Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, Manhattan College – Muslims and the Holocaust
Some Jews believe that Muslims hold anti-Semitic views and perceive the Holocaust with skepticism. Anti-Semitic propaganda, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903), and the refusal to educate citizens on the Holocaust has been a longstanding problem in countries including Egypt, Iran and the Palestinian territories. Many don’t know that Muslims were actively involved in resisting the Holocaust and some predominantly Muslim countries — Albania, Morocco (Tangiers) and Turkey — took initiative in saving their Jewish citizens during World War II.
Under the pro-Nazi Vichy government, Morocco and Tangiers were instructed to house Jews in labor camps. Mohammed V, king of Morocco, refused the demands to implement anti-Jewish race laws or send Moroccan Jews to France, making him a candidate to be “Righteous among the Nations,” a term used to recognize non-Jews who risked their lives. Yad Vashem, a 1953 law in Israel to research and document every part of the Holocaust, established this title.
In other instances, Albanian Muslims changed the names of Jewish families and hid them in their homes as Nazis passed through. In fact, Albanian Muslims rescued not only all Albanian Jews but also several thousands of Jewish refugees from other countries, including Serbia, Greece and Austria (Harvey Sarner, Rescue in Albania). In 1997, Albanian Muslim Shyqyri Myrto was honored for rescuing Jews, with the Anti-Defamation League’s Courage to Care Award presented to his son, Arian Myrto.
In Mahdia, Tunisia, a Muslim man Khaled Abdelwahhab hid a Jewish family at his farm while he entertained SS guards, risking his own life (Robert Satloff, Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands). Ulkumen Selahattin, a Turkish diplomat, saved about 50 Jews and has been recognized as Righteous among the Nations.
Even though there is still denial of the Holocaust in the Muslim world, Muslims should learn from their own heroes who fought and resisted the killing of their Jewish cousins.