Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Among the Righteous: here comes the film

Robert Satloff

If we in the West have not heard stories about Arabs who saved Jews in North Africa during the Holocaust years that is because we did not try too hard to find them - and the Arab rescuers themselves did not want to be found. PBS has released this interview with Robert Satloff, author of the groundbreaking book Among the Righteous, as a trailer for its documentary of the same name, to be broadcast next Monday.

: This has largely been unexplored and unhonored territory, right?

ROBERT SATLOFF: That's right.

There's very few histories of this region, of Arab countries during the Holocaust, and none before looked at the stories of Arabs who helped Jews during this period.

JEFFREY BROWN: A lot of it takes place in North Africa. There's a lot of stories here, but, as an overview, what did you find?

ROBERT SATLOFF: Well, first of all, what I found is that the Holocaust is an Arab story, too.

During three years, from 1940 to 1943, Nazi Germany and its allies controlled Arab countries and imparted the persecution of Jews in those countries, half-a-million Jews. And Arabs in these countries played a role very much like European civilians played.

Most were bystanders. Some were collaborators. And a small, but very important number helped Jews facing persecution.

JEFFREY BROWN: And why was the story untold? Why is so little known?

ROBERT SATLOFF: Well, the story of why rescuers is unknown, I think, has two parts.

One is Jews, historians, Westerners in general, we didn't look that hard. And, on the other side, Arabs, and especially the Arab rescuers and their families, many didn't want to be found, after 50 years, 60 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict being an overlay on this entire period.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, why does it matter? I mean, what -- what -- what different does it make, to you, to tell these stories?

ROBERT SATLOFF: Well, I set out on a mission nine years ago, trying to find a hopeful, inclusive way to talk with Arabs about the Holocaust, and, in so doing, trying to -- to combat ignorance and even denial of the Holocaust in many Arab societies, not to confront Arabs, but to include them in the story, and, hopefully, thereby getting rid of this deep-seated ignorance and, in some places, denial of the Holocaust.

And these stories of rescuers is such a hopeful, positive set of stories that I think that they open a window for Jews and Arabs, Westerners and Muslims in general to talk about this most controversial of topics.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we -- we're not going to go into all the individual stories here, but, interestingly enough, a lot of it, this is territory that continues to confound and be controversial on both sides, right, Arab and Israeli.

ROBERT SATLOFF: Yes, this is a very controversial topic. Arabs don't want to talk about the Holocaust, for fear of validating Israel. There are some in Israel, or Jews in general, who don't even recognize that survivors from North Africa are survivors, let alone that the Arabs who rescued them deserve to be known as righteous, the title of the film.

The documentary film 'Among the Righteous' is to be broadcast next Monday 12 April on the US PBS channel.

Book review by Howard Jacobson

Book review by Lyn Julius

Article by Robert Satloff in the Washington Post


Independent Observer said...

"The Arabs in these lands were not too different from Europeans: With war waging around them, most stood by and did nothing; many participated fully and willingly in the persecution of Jews; and a brave few even helped save Jews."

Satloff's work is accurate and commendable. The problem is that the anti-Semitic leftist-Islamic alliance deliberately minimises or ignores the second clause (persecutors) while exaggeratng the third clause (righteous). This has unfortunately been their mis-use of an excellent book.

Thus I fear a film will do no more than add to the revisionist Muslim history which has their role as heroic saviours of the Jews throughout the ages, rather than the truth - brutal persecutors.

bataween said...

I quite agree - the book has already been distorted in the way you describe. More about this tendency in tomorrow's post.

Julia Riber Pitt said...

I've been reading a few of the entries on this blog and I would like to make a comment.

I'm assuming you are an American or an Israeli. I am an American myself. What I would like to say is, it is far more important for Americans and Israelis to criticize and raise awareness about US-Israeli crimes than it is for us to criticize the crimes of official enemy states of the United States and Israel (such as the Arab states or Iran). The reason being, as Americans or Israelis we can do much more to prevent the crimes carried out by the states in which we live and share responsibility for our states' crimes as US or Israeli citizens.

When you go on about the crimes committed by Arabs against Arab Jews you may be correct, but I do not see any moral value in it for us here and now. Maybe it has some historical value. Maybe it has some personal value if those stories are part of our families' histories. But I can say with all honesty that these events, as tragic as they were, have no moral relevance to us. Maybe it would have moral value to us if we lived in Iran or Morocco or Syria or Libya or Yemen, but as Americans or Israelis we are not morally responsible for the crimes of those states which we can't effect.

Our time is much better spent discussing US-Israeli crimes than the crimes of the Arab states and Iran. We need to realize that when we speak about others we must first look inside ourselves. For example, in the USSR (a totalitarian state) Soviet commissars would criticize American atrocities in Vietnam, and their criticisms were probably correct, but we understand why they were hypocrites. When we Americans or Israelis do the same and criticize Arab states for their atrocities against Arab Jews we may very well be correct as well, but anyone can see why we, too, are hypocritical.

For the nationalist, the state is an extension of his/her ego. This is the main reason why nationalists (or zionists in the case of Israel) will constantly whitewash all of the crimes committed by their state all while eagerly exposing the crimes of their state's enemies. If these people really were acting out of their moral conscience as opposed to their own egotistical nationalism they would realize that the stories of the Arab Jewish refugees are being used as a way of whitewashing the injustices done to the Palestinian refugees by zionists.

I'm sorry if this comment comes across as rude. I just wanted to make that statement.

bataween said...

Hello Julia and welcome to my blog.
You assume wrong on both counts.

If we do not criticise Arab crimes we infantilise them - it's the racism of low expectations.

To criticise open and free societies for their 'crimes' is easy and lazy. Much harder to target despotic societies where to speak out could cost you your life.

The moral value of our case is that Arab fundamentalism and antisemitism vindicate the creation of Israel - 50 percent of the Jewish population of Israel originate from Arab and Muslim countries. There were more Jewish refugees than Arab refugees and they lost more in terms of land and assets, but the Arabs have never recognised the wrongs they have done to their Jews, nor have they offered compensation. The Palestinians were victims of a war started by their own leadership - a war they lost.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I see that Julia's politics is a kind of moral posturing. That is: Am I good and pure??

But what service is done for the suffering, for the victims, southern Sudanese, for example, if Westerners won't criticize the Sudan?? Is the Sudan somehow exempt morally from crime because it is not European? How about Julia criticizing Britain for giving the Sudan independence as a unitary state in which the tribal African minority in the South had no legal protection against an Islamist, pan-Arabist central govt in Khartoum?? The southerners did not even have the weak defense of a federal system that might have helped them somewhat. Will Julia criticize the UK for setting up a situation [a unitary Sudanese state instead of a federal state or two states] in which the genocide there could go on for fifty years off and on since independence in 1956?? I don't think that Julia has enough real humanitarian concern for the suffering to criticize the Sudanese central govt.

What do you say, Julia, about those two or three million murdered people in southern Sudan since 1956? Is Israel to blame, perchance??