A 'Righteous' Honor for an Arab Who Saved Jews During World War II, in Tunisia, Khaleb Abdulwahab helped save the lives of a Jewish family. He is the first Arab nominated for a "Righteous Among the Nations" honor from Israel's Holocaust Museum.
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A 'Righteous' Honor for an Arab Who Saved Jews

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A 'Righteous' Honor for an Arab Who Saved Jews

A 'Righteous' Honor for an Arab Who Saved Jews

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We turn now to the story of a man who took action 65 years ago. He is the first Arab to be nominated to become part of the Righteous Among the Nations. That's an honor given by Israel's Holocaust Museum to non-Jews who protected Jews during World War II. Oskar Schindler is probably the most famous honoree.

The new nominee is Khaled Abdulwahab. He lived in Tunisia, which was occupied by the Germans in 1942. His story was first uncovered a few years ago by Middle East expert Robert Satloff. Satloff was researching a book about Arabs helping Jews during the war when he heard from Anny Boukris. She grew up in Tunisia's Jewish community.

Mr. ROBERT SATLOFF (Historian): Her story was that in the small seaside town of Mahdia(ph), her family had been evicted from their home and they took up residence, a refuge really, in an olive press factory with several other families. They had been evicted by the Germans, who took their home as a barracks. One evening, Khaled Abdulwahab, a 32-year-old dashing Arab notable came knocking at the door, saying to them, you have to come with me. And he took all of them that evening back and forth in his car to a farm that his family owned outside of town.

And he later learned from her parents that the reason why Khaled came that night is because he had overheard a German officer saying that he had his eyes on a beautiful Jewish woman that Khaled knew to be Anny's mother. And so that Khaled came to protect Anny's mother and her family and everyone in that olive press factory.

MONTAGNE: This week at the Museum of Tolerance here in L.A., the daughter of Anny Boukris and the daughter of Khaled Abdulwahab met for the first time. Later, they joined us in our studio.

Ms. FAIZA ABDULWAHAB(ph) (Daughter of Khaled Abdulwahab): We feel like sister. We just felt close to one another.

Ms. NADIA BIJAWI(ph) (Daughter of Anny Boukris): Yes, exactly.

Ms. ABDULWAHAB: We feel as family.

Ms. BUJAWI: Like family.

Ms. ABDULWAHAB: I don't know why. It's very strange.

MONTAGNE: Faiza Abdulwahab's father died 10 years ago. She says he rarely spoke about the war. Nadia Bijawi nods her head in recognition about her mother, Anny Boukris, who's also passed away.

Ms. BUJAWI: When she would talk to me about the war, she would say a little bit, yes. She said we were very lucky and we were protected by an Arabic friend. Thanks to your father, Faiza.

MONTAGNE: Faiza, why do you think he intervened? Because I think it must have been the dangerous for him as well.

Ms. ABDULWAHAB: I really can't tell you. He was a very secret person, very shy person. But at the same time, he was very proud. He loved his country, he loved his fellow citizens, he loved Tunisia and so if other people were Jews or non-Jews, the religion was not important for him. There was just - his friends were in danger.

SATLOFF: Tunisia was the only Arab country to have a German occupation. The Germans sent in the SS to implement a full range of persecutions of Jews. Jews were executed, Jews were deported, Jews were raped. If Khaled hadn't come along and hadn't made the choice to save Anny's family, then perhaps it would have been Anny's family that would have been a statistic as well.

MONTAGNE: Your father, Faiza Abdulwahab, has been nominated as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem, the Israeli National Holocaust Museum, how do you think he would have reacted to that?

Ms. ABDULWAHAB: He would have been very happy. In our culture, we never talk a lot. But I always felt a certain - maybe a sadness. Mainly the relation between Jews and Arabs affected him a lot, and now I understand why, because he dreamed - maybe he was dreaming of a perfect world where Jews and Arab were a family. So I think he would have been very, very happy and very honored.

MONTAGNE: That was Faiza Abdulwahab and Nadia Bijawi. The full story of Khaled Abdulwahab and Anny Boukris can be found in Robert Satloff's new book, "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands."

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