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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1977

Letter from America: Some inspiring stories of inter-faith cooperation

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

In an Internet search I came across a posting which cites a few examples of Muslim-Jewish cooperation during hard times saving lives of each other.

Here below, I share four examples of Muslims saving Jewish lives during the World War II.

These facts are important not only for the sake of history but also for creating a world in which people of different faiths can live together peacefully without intolerance and hatred, which, sadly, have become norms in certain parts of our world to tarnish our common humanity and/or heritage.

1. In 1930 Albania, a small Balkan country, had a mere 803,000 citizens of which two hundred were Jewish. In 1943 the Nazis occupied Albania and in an unprecedented act of defiance the Albanian people refused to hand-over its Jewish residents. Instead various government agencies gave Jewish families fake documentation and Jewish refugees from Europe were given sanctuary (even while under Italian rule).

At a time when the European nations were sending their Jews to the gas chambers; Albania, the only European country with a Muslim majority, not only saved its Jewish residents –but absorbed so many European refugees that the Jewish population grew a staggering 900% during the war.

2. Zejneba Hardaga, a Bosnian Muslim lady who lived in Sarajevo, had been recognised as “Righteous among the Nations” by Israel for hiding her Jewish neighbor, Josef Kavilio, from the Nazis during the holocaust.

3. Throughout World War II a small number of Turkish diplomats (such as Necdet Kent, Nam?k Kemal Yolga, Selahattin Ülkümen and Behiç Erkin) risked everything to save the lives of 35,000 European Jews from the Nazi genocide. They were able to save so many Jews by leveraging Turkey’s neutral stance to pressure the Nazis into sparing the lives of Turkish Jews residing in Europe, while simultaneously granting thousands of European Jews fleeing the Nazi genocide refuge in Turkey

It is no understatement that these diplomats risked everything, on July 19 1944, the Gestapo ordered that all of the Jews on island of Rhodes report for deportation, Selahattin Ülkümen, the Turkish Consul General, instructed the Nazis that Turkey was neutral in the war and demanded they release every Turkish Jew and out of fear of causing an international incident the Nazis complied. Ülkümen’s actions saved the lives of 42 Jewish families, who were quickly evacuated from the island. In response to this humiliation the Nazis bombed the Turkish Consulate building, killing his pregnant wife. A few days later Ülkümen was deported by the Nazis to Piraeus, where he spent the remainder of the war in jail.

4. When the Nazis came for the Iranian Jews living in France, Abdol Hossein Sardari, the Iranian Consul for Paris, used his position and influence to save the lives of the Iranian Jews in France. He fabricated a story that Iranian Jews were not ‘real’Jews, but Persians who’d accepted the teachings of Moses centuries earlier and therefore not subject to Nazi racial law. After months of intense debate by German racial scientists he’d convinced everyone but Eichmann who simply declared Sardari’s claim was “the usual Jewish trick”.

However, the delay had given Sardari the one thing he desperately needed – time. While the experts were debating in Berlin, he issued as many passports and travel documents as he could to both Iranian and non-Iranian Jews.

When Iran signed a peace treaty with the Allies, Sardari was ordered home by his superiors, an order he did not follow. Stripped of his diplomatic immunity and status, he risked his life by remaining in France to save Jews, which he financed with his personal inheritance. By the end of the war as many as 2,000 Jews owed their life to him.

Many such stories of inter-faith cooperation to save the ‘other’ people’s life can be found by searching the internet.

Such stories give us hope and say that all is probably not lost. There are still decent human beings in our planet who are willing to do what is morally right and noble.

I hope that one of the days the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims in Myanmar, including the Rohingya Muslims living in the state of Arakan (Rakhine), would cease and allow all to live in peace and harmony in this Buddhist den of intolerance and hatred.

- Asian Tribune -

Letter from America: Some inspiring stories of inter-faith cooperation
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