The Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 07.08.2018 15:29
Updated 07.08.2018 15:54
Nejdet Kent (L), Behiç Erkin (C), Selahattin Ülkümen (L)
Nejdet Kent (L), Behiç Erkin (C), Selahattin Ülkümen (L)

While many heroes of the Holocaust have been immortalized in movies and books, a handful of courageous Muslims who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews are less frequently remembered.

But now, more than ever, amid a rising climate of Islamophobia, it's important to recall cases in which people belonging to groups that are often seen as enemies have come together to uphold common humanity.

One such hero is Behiç Erkin, who served as Turkish ambassador to France under the German occupation after June 1940. Erkin used his position to issue Turkish documentation to any Jews who could indicate even the weakest Turkish connection, later arranging their evacuation to Turkey and thereby saving them from Nazi persecution.

Selahattin Ülkümen, a Turkish consul on the island of Rhodes, was serving in July 1944 when Germans began deporting 1,700 Jews, some of whom were Turkish citizens. Ülkümen stood up to the Gestapo, stating: "Under Turkish law all citizens were equal. We didn't differentiate between citizens who were Jewish, Christian or Muslim."

He managed to save 50 Jews, 13 of them Turkish citizens. In retaliation for his subversion, Germany bombed the consulate in Rhodes, killing Ülkümen's wife, and deported the diplomat to the Greek mainland, where he remained in detention for the rest of the war.

Another Muslim who acted to save Jews was Necdet Kent, the Turkish consul general in Marseille, France from 1941 to 1944. In 1943, Kent was alerted by a consulate worker that 80 Turkish Jews in the port city had been packed onto a train bound for Germany. He rushed to the St. Charles train station, where he found the cattle train crowded with weeping Jews.

When the Gestapo commander brushed aside Kent's objection that these people, as Turkish citizens, could not be deported, he boarded the train himself as it departed. At the next station, the German officials, shocked by Kent's action, let everyone off the train, sending them instead to Istanbul.

Kent's son, Muhtar Kent, went on to make the family name famous in the business world by serving as former CEO and now chairman of The Coca-Cola Company.

An Iranian diplomat, Abdol Hossein Sardari, also used his office to save Jews in Paris, where he served at the Iranian consular office. In 1942, after realizing the horrible plans of the Nazis, Sardari began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews to allow them to escape persecution. To ensure the viability of his plan, Sardari acted secretly without permission. However, his actions were later applauded by the Iranian government.

Khaled Abdul Wahab, a wealthy young Tunisian man, sheltered 25 Tunisian Jews at his family's farm after he heard that Nazi German officers were planning to rape the Jewish wife on an acquaintance in November 1942. The Jewish people were safely hidden by his family and estate workers until the end of the occupation in April 1943.

Another group of Muslim heroes was the Pilkus family in Albania, who sheltered Johanna Neumann and her mother in their home, convincing others that the women were relatives visiting from Germany.

"They put their lives on the line to save us," now 86-year-old Neumann told TIME in January.

"What these people did, many European nations didn't do. They all stuck together and were determined to save Jews," she said.

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