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Yad Vashem to Honor First Arab as Righteous Gentile

Dr. Mohamed Helmy, an Egyptian urologist living in Berlin, risked his life to hide four of his Jewish friends. The honor was initially offered in 2013, but Dr. Helmy’s relatives refused to accept it from an institution based in Israel.

Liel Leibovitz
October 23, 2017
Courtesy of Yad Vashem
Dr. Mohamed Helmy and the family he helped rescue in Berlin, 1980Courtesy of Yad Vashem
Courtesy of Yad Vashem
Dr. Mohamed Helmy and the family he helped rescue in Berlin, 1980Courtesy of Yad Vashem

Later this week, Yad Vashem will for the first time recognize an Arab, Dr. Mohamed Helmy, as a Righteous Among the Nations for saving the lives of four of his Jewish friends in the Holocaust.

An Egyptian urologist who moved to Berlin in 1922, Dr. Helmy was working for the Robert Koch Institute, but was fired in 1937 for being non-Aryan. He was arrested by the Nazis, but was released shortly thereafter and allowed to return to his home. When the Nazis began deporting Berlin’s Jews, Dr. Helmy hid Anna Boros, a 21-year-old family friend, in his cabin in the city’s Buch neighborhood, where she assumed a false identity, pretended to be married to a Muslim man, and wore a hijab. Dr. Helmy also helped hide Boros’s mother Julie, her stepfather Gerog Wehr, and her grandmother, Cecilie Rudnik, and was himself nearly caught after the family was discovered and tortured in 1944.

Having all survived, the family emigrated to the United States after the war, but continued to return to Berlin and visit Dr. Helmy. They also wrote letters to the local German government extolling the virtues of their rescuer, who died in 1982.

“A good friend of our family, Dr. Helmy hid me in his cabin in Berlin-Buch from 10 March until the end of the war,” read one such letter. “As of 1942, I no longer had any contact with the outside world. The Gestapo knew that Dr. Helmy was our family physician, and they knew that he owned a cabin in Berlin-Buch. He managed to evade all their interrogations. In such cases he would bring me to friends where I would stay for several days, introducing me as his cousin from Dresden. When the danger would pass, I would return to his cabin… Dr. Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart and I will be grateful to him for eternity.”

In 2013, Yad Vashem recognized Dr. Helmy as a Righteous Gentile, but his family refused to accept the honor because the institute is based in Israel.

“If any other country offered to honor Helmy, we would have been happy with it,” the wife of Dr. Helmy’s grandnephew, representing the family, said at the time. Now, four years later, another relative of Dr. Helmy’s, an 81-year-old professor of medicine named Nasser Kutbi and the son of Dr. Helmy’s nephew, has agreed to accept the award on his relative’s behalf. It will be presented to him in Berlin this Thursday.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.