Khaled Abdul-Wahab of Tunisia, North Africa
--A Good, Compassionate and Decent Man,
but No Hero of the Holocaust
Defining the Righteous in the Context of the Holocaust
by Irena Steinfeldt, the current Director of
The Righteous Among the Nations Department of Yad Vashem.
Questioning Dr. Robert Satloff's Drive
in Reopening the Khaled Abdul-Wahab Case
I. Opening Statement
Dr. Robert Satloff, the Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington DC, USA and a Jewish historian, petitioned, some years ago, Yad Vashem to award Khaled Abdul-Wahab, a wealthy Arab Tunisian landowner, with the title and medal of "Righteous Among The Nations."
Upon careful review and consideration, after some three (3) years, Yad Vashem rejected that Petition.
Taking 'NO' for the answer received from Yad Vashem, Dr. Satloff began a relentless campaign of reviving his Petition to Yad Vashem with respect to Mr. Abdul-Wahab.
It is our contention that the new campaign of Dr. Satloff has no merit in facts or reasoning and, is willfully misleading as magnified and argued below.
II. Summary Background Facts on Tunisia During the Holocaust Years
1. Tunisia was under German Nazi occupation only for a period of some six (6) months from November 11, 1942 to May 13, 1943.
2. There were no anti-Jewish laws on the "books" in Tunisia as the ones introduced in the Nazi occupied Europe. Had the German occupation lasted longer, there is next to certainty that the European model in persecuting the Jews would have been implemented in Tunisia as well. In particular, it is worth mentioning that there were no laws on the "books" prohibiting Arabs to shelter Jews in their homes or estates.
3. The Nazi machine was able to identify rapidly practically all the Jews of Tunisia that eventually ended-up in forced slave labor camps. As a general rule however, Nazis were allowing the Tunisian Jews to observe their Shabbat.
III. Yad Vashem's Take on the Abdul-Wahab Case
The current Director of the Righteous Among the Nations Department of Yad Vashem, Irena Steinfeldt, with considerably clarity made these points in The Jerusalem Post of April 8, 2009:"ACCORDING TO THE testimonies on hand, Abdel-Wahab hosted the extended families of Boukris and Ouzzan on his estate during the period of German occupation in Tunisia. Annie Boukris described the kindness and protectiveness of Abdel-Wahab, who allowed her family to stay in his farm after their house in Mahdia had been billeted by the Germans and they had moved to an oil factory. This was no doubt a most generous gesture on the part of Abdel-Wahab, who took pity on the Jewish family.
A close examination, however, revealed that as much as his deed was admirable, in doing so he broke no law and the Jews stayed on his farm with the full knowledge of the Germans. According to Boukris, the men continued their forced labor service under German supervision, and on Thursdays, to prepare for Shabbat, the family would join the other Jews of Mahdia who had been evicted from the town and concentrated on a Jewish-owned farm in Sidi Alouan, not far from the Abdel-Wahab estate.
Edmee Masliah (Ouzzan), the second witness, also has vivid memories of that period and describes Abdel-Wahab as a noble and generous person who supported her family at a time when they had been stripped of their rights and property. Like Annie Boukris, she describes the fear and hardships her family experienced during the German occupation, but then goes on to explain that the Germans would come from time to time to Abdel-Wahab's estate and check if they were all present; she describes how when seeing the Germans approach, they would put on their yellow badges and wait for the Germans to count them.
The picture we gain from these testimonies matches the historical facts and the evaluation of historians that were consulted in the course of the investigation of this file. From its inception the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous took note that the risk in helping Jews during the Holocaust differed from one country to another and from one period to another. In Eastern Europe, the Germans executed not only the people who sheltered Jews, but their entire families. Generally speaking punishment was less severe in Western Europe, although there too, after the beginning of the deportations, the consequences of hiding Jews could be very serious and some rescuers even lost their lives.
Had the German occupation lasted longer, Tunisia's Jews would no doubt have shared the fate of their brothers and sisters in Europe. Walter Rauff was sent to prepare the ground for the murder of the Jews in North Africa, but fortunately for Tunisia's Jews the German occupation lasted only six months and the plans were never implemented. Nor was there a regulation or law preventing Abdel-Wahab from hosting the Jews on his estate, and he therefore never had to face the ultimate test. Although he certainly acted nobly and generously at a time when few others did, the commission concluded that in the absence of the element of risk, he was not eligible for the Righteous Among the Nations designation.
The commission's decision in this case reflects its commitment to evaluating cases without prejudice and without ceding to outside pressure or foreign considerations. Should we now close the file and forget about this case? This is by no means Yad Vashem's intention. The moving account about this noble Tunisian's solidarity with the Jewish victims deserves our deep appreciation. It should be remembered and will certainly inspire people worldwide. Indeed, Yad Vashem's publications department will be a partner in publishing Dr. Robert Satloff's book in Hebrew, which includes the chapter about Abdel-Wahab. Yad Vashem is committed to preserve and impart this and other stories, and to continue its search for the rare moments of humanity in the darkness of the Holocaust."
IV. On Dr. Robert Satloff's Drive of Reopening the Abdul-Wahab Case
In various media outlets, Dr. Satloff rationalizes his campaign as necessary so to help breaking the "conspiracy of silence" in the Arab world surrounding the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust; to implement new methods in teaching the Arab world about the Holocaust --a subject that, according to Dr. Satloff, is "a primary source of friction between the West and Islam"; to help getting rid of "the lies, myths and poisons" from the study of the Holocaust in the Arab world. Dr. Satloff goes on saying in a published article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (4/10/08) that he feels that the current traditional methods for learning the lessons of the Holocaust "have gone bankrupt" in the Arab world.
"I searched for a new approach, and the idea was that if there were Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust, this would be the most positive response to Holocaust denial."
As such, upon such a rationalization, Dr. Satloff began embarking into a must-get Righteous drive for finding such an Arab.
All that characterization, purported concern and rationalization for the necessity of an Arab Righteous drive provided by Dr. Satloff is, respectfully, pure nonsense.
Dr. Satloff's campaign is in fact about something totally different: it is about himself and nothing else, using the Holocaust, in a cynical way, to advance his own personal glorification and nothing else. It is utterly absurd indeed to think, even for one second, that the finding of a Righteous Arab (real or imaginary) will change anything in any way. As Emory University Professor of Holocaust Studies, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, noted
"Satloff is being a bit naive here. It is strange that the highly respected executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a well-trained historian should have convinced himself that history could serve as an antidote to irrational hatred."
Dr. Satloff's "discovery" and "amazement" in seeing in Morocco, Algeria, or Tunisia a lack of animosity of the Arab population, at large, towards Jews is in fact common knowledge for those familiar with those parts of the world.
In fact, the anti-Semitism in the Arab world, during the Holocaust years, was not greater than in many European countries and in fact it was far less in a number of Arab countries when compared even with the most civilized Nazi occupied European countries such as France or The Netherlands.
Kindness in not a rare commodity in the Arab world. To the contrary, one can find it in ample supply. To equate the kindness of Khaled Abdul-Wahab --the wealthy Arab Tunisian landowner, towards Jews or anybody else as an "heroic" act is utterly absurd and quite offensive to the mainstream Arab culture. Dr. Satloff's campaign in reopening the case of Abdul-Wahab is nothing but a sham.
V. Concluding Remarks
The sacred grounds of the Holocaust need not be transformed into playgrounds of advancing personal agendas. If Dr. Satloff's genuine desire is to bring closer "West and Islam," a good starting point is to stop offending the Arab culture and its values by equating Arab kindness and hospitality with heroism.
Dr. Satloff needs also show respect for the true Holocaust Righteous that have been recognized by Yad Vashem and not mingle those names with the nominated Righteous rejected by Yad Vashem --a masquerade developed to a state of art, under the name "Visas for Life," by the Holocaust research impostor Eric Saul.
To borrow from the teachings of Art Abramson, Executive Director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, let me conclude with his words:
"Get history right. Respect the living. Honor the dead."
K. K. Brattman
Dated: April 17, 2010.
Postscript Dr. Satloff likes to compare Abdul-Wahab with Oskar Schindler and to call him the "Arab Schindler." Well, for sure, the two men had a few things in common: they were both very good looking and they were both womanizers. But that parallel stops there: while Schindler was a rescuers of Jews for which Yad Vashem awarded him with the Righteous title, Abdul-Wahab was not, but a kind, compassionate and good man in evil times. In that regard, the case of Abdul-Wahab is not too different than the one of another rejected Righteous candidate --the late Hiram "Harry" Bingham IV.