Undaunted by Yad Vashem's rejection three years ago of Khaled Abdul-Wahab's candidature for the accolade 'Righteous Gentile', Robert Satloff, author of Among the righteous, is hopeful, according to The Observer, that Israel's Holocaust memorial will reconsider the Tunisian's case, and make him to first Arab to be honoured for saving Jews during the Holocaust. A film documentary based on Satloff's book is due to air on PBS tonight.
He has been called the "Arab Schindler", and hailed as a man who risked his own life to save Jews during the Holocaust. Now Khaled Abdul-Wahab, a wealthy Tunisian landowner, is the object of a campaign to bestow on him the title of "righteous among the nations", the recognition by Israel for gentiles who helped to rescue Jews from the Nazis.
To coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the US television station PBS will air a documentary this week in its series Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands, which will detail the case for Abdul-Wahab and speculate that there are other cases of Arabs who helped their Jewish neighbours during the second world war.
The documentary is based on a book by Robert Satloff, a Jewish historian and executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Satloff said he hoped Abdul-Wahab's case would be looked at in a new light. Three years ago the "righteous among the nations" case for him was turned down by Yad Vashem, the body that rules on candidates. "I am certainly hopeful that the documentary puts the spotlight back on the story of Abdul-Wahab and also other Arab rescuers," Satloff told the Observer. "I am hopeful that the powers-that-be will be prepared to take another look at this case. I think the evidence is compelling."
Satloff believes Abdul-Wahab's actions deserve to put him into the same category as Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist made famous by Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List. But he also believes that his inclusion would be more significant. Among the 20,000 accepted names at the Yad Vashem memorial, there are many different nationalities. There are already more than 60 Muslims, mostly Albanians and Bosnians. Abdul-Wahab would be the first Arab.
Satloff thinks that acceptance of Abdul-Wahab's case would be a powerful force for improving Arab-Israeli relations. He believes it would show Israelis and other Jews that there had been a time when Arabs had helped Jewish people. "There is a difficulty among some people in accepting the idea that Arabs may have helped Jews," Satloff said. At the same time, it would do much to combat widespread antisemitism.
"It would show some Arabs that they were willing to help their Jewish neighbours," he said, adding that he had discovered cases where Arab families tried to cover up the fact that their relatives had helped Jews to escape Nazi persecution.