Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kabyls who helped save Jews from the Nazis

While we're on the subject of Robert Satloff's book on 'Righteous Arabs' who saved Jews during the Holocaust (see below), it is only fair to point out that the rescue of Jews by the rector of the Paris Mosque was almost entirely a 'Kabyl rescue effort'. (If the anonymous commenter who is writing a book on the subject and would like to meet survivors is reading this - the French organisation Enfants caches would be a good place to start your search.)

Here's an article by Annette Herskovits, herself a 'hidden child', about this amazing wartime episode:



" I learned of Muslims who helped rescue Jewish children only recently, in the newsletter of Enfants Caches (Hidden Children), an association of Jews who survived the Holocaust in France as children.

"The mosque-based resistance network consisted of people from Algeria's mountainous Kabylia regions. Kabyls are one of several North-African groups who have preserved their Berber language and culture; the Berbers inhabited North Africa before the Arabs invaded and introduced Islam in the 7th century. At least 95 percent of Algerian immigrants to France came from Kabylia.

The network's Kabyls communicated in their Berber dialect, Tamazight, making infiltration almost impossible. Access to Paris's sewers directly beneath the mosque's grounds provided an escape path, as did the mosque's proximity to the city's central wine market on the Seine, where barges laden with wine barrels came and went. One woman recalled being taken out of Paris on a barge; a Kabyl at the helm took fugitives concealed in his cargo to the south of France, where they could be smuggled to Algeria or Spain.


The French League against Racism and Antisemitism has asked Israel's Yad Vashem Institute to recognize Benghabrit as one of "The Righteous among the Nations," a title honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Benghabrit would be the first Muslim to earn this distinction.(...)


"On July 16, 1942, Paris police set out to arrest 28,000 Jews on orders of the French Vichy collaborationist government. They had in hand names and addresses, obtained from a census of Jews the Germans had ordered soon after they occupied France. That day and the next, the police fanned out through the city, packing the arrested Jews into requisitioned city buses. They found only 13,000 - largely because some police officers had spread the word ahead of time and many Jews had fled. More than 4,000 children aged 2 to 16 were among those arrested.

"On the second day, a tract was circulated through the miserable hotels that were home to immigrant Algerian workers. The tract, in Tamazight, was read out loud to the mostly illiterate men: "Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested. The old, the women, and the children. In exile like ourselves, workers like ourselves. They are our brothers. Their children are like our own children. The one who encounters one of his children must give that child shelter and protection for as long as misfortune - or sorrow - lasts. Oh, man of my country, your heart is generous."

"We can't know how much help these men were able to give.

"The soul of the network was the mosque's rector, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, a man with three nationalities - Algerian, Moroccan, and French - who moved with ease in all three worlds, and whose Islam was tolerant and inclusive.

More than 1,700 people are thought to have found short-term shelter in apartments on or near the grounds of the mosque. Benghabrit set up an alert system that allowed fugitives to disappear swiftly in case of a raid - if necessary to the prayer room's women's section, where men were normally not admitted. He wrote numerous false birth certificates making Jewish children into Muslims."

Read article in full

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