Duck Duck Book

46 – among the righteous
06.11.2007, 8:00 am
Filed under: history & geography

Among the righteous : lost stories from the Holocaust’s long reach into Arab lands / Robert Satloff.
New York : PublicAffairs, c2006.
[MCL call number: 940.5318 S253a 2006; 5 copies, no holds]

Robert Satloff begins his introduction to Among the Righteous by stating the central question of his project: Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?  It is a difficult question, considering the long history of animosity between the two groups, and especially considering the history of political developments in North Africa and the Middle East after World War II.  Not one of the people recognized as rescuers of Jews by Yad Veshem (Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust), Satloff explains, is Arab. 

In some ways this is not surprising — might it not be difficult for the descendents of an Arab hero to claim publicly that she or he had saved Jews, given the contemporary political climate?  And then it is also shocking, since there are many stories of people unexpectedly taking considerable risks to help Jews in other places under Nazi, Vichy, or Axis control.  Is the absence of Arabs among the number of recognized “Righteous” due to the state of Israel’s reluctance to recognize Arab individuals in this way, or to a lack of Arabs willing to participate in recognition of that sort and from that quarter?  Or is it conceivable that no Arab helped or saved any Jew during the Holocaust?

Among the Righteous is more than just the story of Satloff’s search for an Arab who saved a Jew during the Holocaust.  Satloff provides a history of the progress of the war in North Africa — the Axis occupations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya; slave labor camps along the nascent Trans-Saharan railway line (roughly parallel to the border between modern Morocco and Algeria, the political situation of Arabs and Jews in French-controlled (and then Vichy-controlled) North Africa, and the general state of relations between Jews and Arabs in the region.  Two chapters detail Arab participation in the persecution of Jews during the war, and Arab efforts to moderate or alleviate that persecution — from documented sources and orally reported stories.

But as promised, Satloff also sleuths along the trail of several promising stories of Arabs who helped Jews, and the tale of these investigations is fascinating — even a bit adventure-story-ish.  Satloff appears in small North African cities and earnestly interviews strangers about their long-ago neighbors or dead relatives; convinces powerful friends to introduce him to government officials and others who might ease his access to documentary evidence, exchanges emails with elderly Holocaust survivors about their experiences during the war, slogs through archives, and takes his family on at least one weekend drive into the desert to hunt out the location of a slave labor camp.

The investigation of possible Arab saviors, the wartime history of the North African region, and the stories of the fates and actions of Jewish and Arab North Africans during the period combine to paint a compelling picture, and it is certainly an interesting place to begin a study of the region and its history.


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