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.
JEFFREY BROWN: 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.