A Jewish-Muslim tale of rescue: First Arab to be honoured as „Righteous Among the Nations“ Israel

Anna the Jew and Mohamed the Muslim

Anna the Jew and Mohamed the Muslim, © Taliya Finkel Productions

01.11.2017 - Article

Thirty-five years after his death, Mohamed Helmy is to be honoured as the first Arab Righteous Among the Nations. On Thursday (26 October) the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, presented the accolade to Helmy’s nephew who had travelled from Cairo to attend the ceremony.

The rescuer - himself targeted by the regime

Mohamed Helmy, the family man
Mohamed Helmy, the family man© Taliya Finkel Productions

When Helmy, a native of Egypt, came to Berlin in 1922 to study medicine, he had no idea of the uphill struggle ahead. After graduating, he initially worked at the Robert Koch Institute. But during the Nazi regime, he lost his job - as a non-Aryan he was not allowed to work in the public health sector. Nor was he allowed to marry his German fiancée. In 1939, he was arrested together with other Egyptians and spent a year in prison. Mohamed Helmy risked his life by offering a Jewish family refuge in a hut in the Buch district of Berlin.

The story of Mohamed und Anna

Although he himself had been targeted by the regime, the doctor from Egypt never ceased speaking out against the inhumane policies of the Nazis. Anna was a patient of his and turned to Mohamed at a time of absolute desperation. Thereafter, Mohamed pretended Anna was his niece, even directly under the noses of the Gestapo. Right until the end of the War, he looked after the family of four and thus saved their lives. The family later migrated to the United States but they never forgot their rescuer. In several letters, they called upon the Berlin Senate to pay tribute to Helmy as a rescuer of Jews. Mohamed and Anna stayed in touch for the rest of their lives.

Tribute paid by the Yad Vashem Remembrance Center

The Israeli Ambassador presents the accolade to Helmy’s nephew Nasser Kotby
The Israeli Ambassador presents the accolade to Helmy's nephew Nasser Kotby© Kjer/photothek.net

The Yad Vashem Remembrance Center in Jerusalem honours people, particularly non-Jews, who risked their own lives to save Jews. This is also a way of keeping the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust alive. On 12 March 2013, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous in Yad Vashem decided to honour Mohamed Helmy with the title „Righteous Among the Nations“ as the first Muslim rescuer of Arab descent. Mr Helmy's family now wants to accept this title.

Two books have been written telling his story: Ronen Steinke: Der Muslim und die Jüdin. Die Geschichte einer Rettung in Berlin (The Muslim and the Jew. The Story of a Rescue in Berlin; 2017), and by Igal Avidan: Mod Helmy. Wie ein arabischer Arzt in Berlin Juden vor der Gestapo rettete (Mod Helmy. How an Arab Doctor in Berlin saved Jews from the Gestapo; 2017). The Israeli Taliya Finkel has now also produced a film telling the story „Mohamed and Anna – In Plain Sight“.

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