First Arab Ever Nominated to Receive Holocaust Honor for Saving Jews During World War II

The nomination of the first Arab ever for an award honoring those who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust shows that within the Arab world "some made the choices to be heroes," according to the author who unearthed the story.

Khaled Abdelwahhab, a wealthy Tunisian landowner, is the first Arab to be nominated for recognition as "Righteous Among the Nations," after the story of his rescue of two dozen Jews during the Holocaust was discovered several years ago by an author researching his book.

The award, presented by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance authority, is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust in which six million died.

According to Yad Vashem's Web site 21,310 individuals have been honored with the award as of 2006. The award was originally was established in 1963, and Oskar Schindler is probably the most well-known recipient.

Dr. Robert Satloff was researching for his book, "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories of the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands," when he came across the story of Abdelwahhab.

Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, is an expert on Arab and Islamic politics, and he was contacted by a woman who was saved by Abdelwahhab who wanted to tell her story.

The survivor, Anny Boukris, who was 11-years-old at the time of the rescue, told Satloff in an interview a few weeks before her death that Abdelwahhab had rescued 23 Jews, including her family, as they sheltered in an olive oil factory after being thrown out of their homes by German soldiers.

Abdelwahhab had heard a German soldier talk about raping Boukris' mother, and he rushed to the olive oil factory and told the people hiding there that they had to come with him immediately.

He then settled them all at his family farm, and they remained there until British troops ended the German occupation in April 1943.

But, in spite of stories of heroism and friendship recorded by members of North Africa’s once-large Jewish community, until now no candidate has emerged from the Arab Muslim world.

Abdelwahhab was the son of an aristocratic family who was 32 when German troops arrived in Tunisia in November 1942. The nation was home to some 100,000 Jews at the time.

According to Yad Vashem, the Germans imposed anti-Semitic policies in Tunisia that included fines, forcing Jews to wear Star of David badges and confiscating property. More than 5,000 Jews were sent to forced labor camps, where 46 are known to have died. About 160 Tunisian Jews in France were sent to European death camps.

Abdelwahhab served as an interlocutor between the population of the coastal town of Mahdia and German forces, according to Satloff.

Estee Yaari, of Yad Vashem, told The London Times that a file on Abdelwahhab had been opened and would be considered by a commission of experts led by a supreme court judge. “It looks as if there is enough material to move this forward and he would be the first Arab to become a Righteous Among the Nations,” she said.

"My understanding is that evidence in support of nomination is rather strong and compelling and they are moving quite rapidly on this case," Satloff told

Satloff hopes that this story and others like it will contribute to a different sort of conversation in Arab countries, and help to combat Holocaust denials.

"When you find Arabs who admit to saving Jews then you'd have to accept the idea that there was something to save Jews from," said Satloff.

"It's useful to recognize the wide variety of reactions people had," he added. "Some chose to be perpetrators of evil and some chose to fight evil."'s Hannah Sentenac and the Associated Press contributed to this report.