By Fiyaz Mughal, Chief Executive and Founder of Faith Matters

Fiyaz Mughal promotes interfaith and conflict resolution

Fiyaz Mughal promotes interfaith and conflict resolution

When I first started to investigate the Righteous Muslims who were regarded as ‘Righteous’ by Yad Vashem, I was shocked at the sheer lack of publicity around these individuals, given that there was so much of the Jewish and Muslim narrative tied around Israel and Palestine and here were human stories of people protecting one another in times of extreme crisis.

It was also one of the reasons why I decided with Es Rosen, to put together a small booklet that could be used for discussions in schools and to inspire people about how human beings who were Muslim, reached out and protected the lives of the most vulnerable during the Shoah which affected virtually every Jewish life in Europe.

For far too long, the politics of the Middle East has meant that the over-riding narrative of conflict has dampened down the spirits of those who may have wanted to highlight these stories. Add to this a sense of politicisation around the Righteous and one can understand the desire not to raise the stories. Yet by not doing so, many have failed to capture further stories which in itself, has been an injustice to Muslim and Jewish histories and is also an injustice to the individuals involved. It also, in my opinion, does an injustice to a sense of pride that many Muslims should feel when they read these stories of Muslims who saved Jews in the Holocaust at a time when newspaper headlines promote issue after issue that negatively portrays Muslims.

You see, take the Righteous Muslims of Macedonia and the story of the Hadzi-Mitkovs, the Kasapis and the Ribarevs.

In 1941, The Republic of Macedonia was split in two, with half of the country being ruled by Italian occupied Albania and the other half ruled by German dominated Bulgaria.

Dr Todor Hadzi-Mitkov was a Macedonian vet and he lived with his wife Pandora in the town of Skopje.

Board 3 - Roza Sober Dragoje and Zekira Besrevic

Roza Sober Dragoje and Zekira Besrevic

They were great friends with a Jewish individual called Mois Frances and his family. When Skopje was captured by the Germans in April 1941, Todor became anxious knowing how badly Jews were treated in Axis territories. He thought of ways to shelter Frances and his family and he decided to fire his servants so that space could be freed up accommodation wise for them. It also meant that sick members of the Frances family could find shelter and be protected.

As Bulgarian collaborators with the Nazis looked for Jews, the Todor family knew that they were all in danger. At this time Hadzi-Mitkov’s brother in law and his wife offered to help out and they were the only ones who knew of the Jews being protected by Todor and his family. The in-laws dressed family members of the Frances family and took them by horse and cart out of Skopje and past fascist collaborators and patrols, at considerable risk to themselves.

It also provided time to Todor so that he could arrange for false papers showing the religion of the Frances family as being Muslim so that they could be transported out of the region and away from danger.

The Frances family were then taken to the border to Albania where they were sheltered by another Muslim family, the Kasapi’s. The Frances family stayed in Albania until Yugoslav Partisans liberated Skopje and made it the capital of the new People’s Republic of Macedonia.

Or take the story of Si Ali Sakkat in French North Africa (Tunisia), who rescued 60 Jews.

An aristocratic Muslim gentleman who retired from public service, he retired to his estate at the base of the Djebel Zaghouan mountain.

In 1943 as Allied and German forces battled for Tunisia, Sakkat woke up one day to find 60 emaciated Jewish workers at the gate to his estate.

They had been working at the Zaghouan labour camp, which was one of the harshest Jewish labour camps in Tunisia.

Over a thousand Jews were being worked to death with little food and no shelter with many having work in the blistering heat and to sleep in the searing cold of the night.

As Allied and German forces clashed, 60 of the workers managed to escape and they had found their way to Sakkat’s estate.

Sakkat fed and clothed the fugitives and he realised that they would be targeted if he turned them away.

At considerable risk to himself he sheltered the 60 Jews until the Allies arrived, meaning that all 60 survived the war.

So why have these stories not really gained publicity in the UK? 

Well, whatever the reason, the Righteous Muslims must not be forgotten, nor should other stories be left to die away as many continue to pass away through old age.

The Middle East crisis has robbed us of historical narratives and stories of Muslims saving Jews in the Holocaust.

It should not rob us now of the 71 Righteous Muslims whose stories have been documented and which so need to be told to young and old alike.

Faith Matters have developed an educational exhibition of some of the Righteous Muslims which can be hired for events. A booklet on some of the stories can also be downloaded through this link.