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We are still finding stories about Muslims who saved Jews from the Holocaust

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In 1990 Selahattin Ülkümen was awarded Israel’s “Righteous Gentile” medal from Yad Vashem, the only Turk to receive this honour. He is pictured at the award ceremony with Mathilde Turiel, one of the Jews he saved. (Photo Yad Vashem)

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When I was growing up, I was told that during World War II, Albania was the only Muslim country that saved their Jewish compatriots from the clutches of the Nazis the invading Italian army.

Albania turned out to be the only occupied European country to have more Jews after the war than before. As Israeli Ambassador Noah Gal Gendler put it: “[Albania stands as] an excellent example for a small country which highlights the values of humanity, sacrifice and love, values which still stand as fundamental in Albania. It would be magnificent if more nations would learn this part of Albania.” 

Germany pressured Turkey not to take in or help Jewish refugees but to return them to their ports of departure on the Black Sea that by then were already under German occupation. See: Frantz Douglas & Collins, Catherine, Death on the Black Sea (about the SS Struma tragedy). Then I learned that Turkish authorities were also under the pressure of the United Kingdom not to allow Jewish refugees to reach Palestine by land or by sea through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.

The United Kingdom is not called “Perfidious (Albion)” by the Turks and others for nothing. In acting together with Germany, in effect it became its junior partner in the perpetration of the Holocaust. To the extent humanitarian considerations registered with the policy-makers in London in connection with Kindertransport, it stopped there.

To hell they said the policy-makers with the promise of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and thereafter with her political fiduciary duty under her Mandate under the League of Nations to carry on with the Balfour Declaration to establish the Jewish homeland.

Although Turkey did use the opportunity to let in some, but not many, European Jewish academics in substantive areas where the local universities were lacking, she complied largely with the demands of Germany and the U.K. Further, she added her own draconian measures to restrict and prevent the homeward movement of Turkish refugees. It was, how shall I put it, a less than generous public policy. see: Guttstadt, Corry, Turkey, the Jews and the Holocaust, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Yet, towards the end of the war, when the German Commander set free the surviving Jews of Rhodes, Turkey and the border guards looked the other way when these refugees set foot on Turkish soil.

Yet again, when Greek resistance fighters deposited their Jewish compatriots escaping the Germans on the Turkish Aegean coast, again the government looked the other way. And so did devout Turkish border guards across the Turkish borders when Jewish refugees sought to sneak into Turkish territory. 

And fair to say, a few Turkish diplomats posted abroad did make strenuous and, in at least one instance, heroic efforts to and did save a modest segment of Turkish Jews stuck in Europe, by repatriating them, in breach of the instructions of Ankara.

Among these, the name Selahattin Ülkümen, the Turkish diplomat stationed on Rhodes Island, stands tall in his heroic efforts to save as many of the Jews as he could, which resulted in the untimely death of his wife in a retaliatory bombing of the embassy by the Nazis. see: Wikipedia; www.facinghistory.org › rescuers › selahattin-ulkumen

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A few days ago, I had a delightful encounter with a wonderful little short story in a book by Ruelle, Karen Grey & De Saix, Deborah Durland, titled The Grand Mosque of Paris-A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, Holiday House, 2019.

As described by the Toronto Public Library, “[the Mosque was] not just a place of worship but a community center, this hive of activity was an ideal temporary hiding place for escaped prisoners of war and Jews of all ages, especially children. Beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched (both authors speak French and conducted first-person interviews and research at archives and libraries), this hopeful, non-fiction book introduces children to a little-known part of history.”

I do not wish to spoil the readers’ anticipated pleasure in reading the book by relating its contents. Instead, I will let them share my joy on their own time.  Actually, the book contains another little treasure in its bibliography which contains a good number of references on the same and related topics and subjects that will be well worth pursuing.

For my part, I now know that Albanians were not the only Muslims that saved Jewish lives. Viruses come and viruses go, but the book and my joyful encounter with it, will be passed along to others and to the future generations.

Doğan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a Judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and occupied the positions of Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the Federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals, while his opinion pieces and other writings are to be found in various publications and in blogs.  

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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