Mohammad Wattad

A response to Mahmoud Abbas — with an emphasis on the Holocaust of North African Jews

In response to Mahmoud Abbas’ recent anti-Semitic statement, I have decided to publish this op-ed, which reflects my recent speech, that which I delivered this year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Zefat Academic College, where I am employed, focusing on the North African Jews’ Holocaust, in which framework I presented the two following heroic stories of two North African citizens.

The first story is the story of a 32-year-old MD who, following the rise of the Nazi regime, was dismissed from his job after he openly criticized the heads of the regime. At the end of 1941, the beginning of the deportation of the Jews from Berlin, the young man hid Anna Burrows, a Jewish young girl in his hut, found a hiding place for her parents and grandmother until the end of the war, and gave them medical treatment. In 2013, Yad Vashem recognized the young man as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

The second story is the story of a 31-year-old young man who, after the Germans occupied Tunisia in 1942, was employed by them as an interpreter and liaison between the Nazis and the local people in the city of Mahdia, where about 100,000 Jews lived. There, in Tunisia, the Jews were required to wear the yellow star, some were sent to local labor camps and others were sent to France and from there to the concentration camps. After the young man learned that Nazi officers were preparing to arrest a Jewish youngster, Odette Buchris, he rushed to her and brought her, along with 24 members of her family, to his hiding place in the farm until the end of the Nazi occupation in Tunisia.

The first young man was called Dr. Muhammad Hilmi, an Arab-Muslim-Egyptian, while the other was called Khalid Abd al-Wahhab, an Arab-Muslim-Tunisian. The story of Egyptian Mohamed and Tunisian Khaled is the story of those who chose not to remain silent, they chose not to be “patriots,” and moreover, they chose to act. In doing so, Muhammad and Khaled chose to wear the cloak of God, the cloak of human dignity, after all, in God’s image the human beings were created.

I do not know if the Holocaust would have occurred in any case, even if good people’s voices were heard; but it would surely have been reduced if they had cried out against Nazi tyranny. The silence of the sheep is one of the most prominent elements in perpetuating the murderous power of the Nazi regime. The fear of the good people was that they would be called “traitors,” had they raised their voices, although it would have been temporary, their cry could have been an eternal cry.

Although the Nazi regime is part of the history books, its seeds have not yet passed, and in the words of former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak: “It happened in Germany of Kant, Hegel, and Beethoven, and if that happened there, it is clear that it might happen again, anywhere.” Indeed, nationalism, free hatred, and Holocaust denial are fertile ground for the growth of the Nazi evil seeds. The denial of the Holocaust was meant to defy and provoke, to disparage and hurt, and to humiliate and contempt those who were, and still are, victims of the Nazi enterprise, wherefore I despise the deniers of the Holocaust, with every fiber of my being.

However, this is not enough, and as long as Holocaust deniers live among us, it is necessary to cry out the cry of the mute – the cry of those who were with us and no longer are; The cry of those who were flesh and blood but perished; the cry of those whose ashes were piled up between the hills of Auschwitz and the Treblinka fields; the cry of those whose ashes were washed away by the rivers of Poland; the cry of those whose voices have fallen silent but whose spirits still hover over our heads, and the pulse of their hearts is still heard in our ears.

Years have passed since the Nazi dictator laid his hand on the throne of tyranny; years have passed since this cruel hand was cut off; years have passed and the wound is still alive; years have passed and the memory is still bitter; years have passed and the pain is still floating above us; years have passed and the suffering of the survivors, their relatives, loved ones and their wives continues to seep into the personal mourning cells, into the depths of human sorrow, and into the depths of the world of grief.

On this day, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is imperative that we stand together, the citizens of the State of Israel — sons and daughters of all nationalities and religions — side by side; shoulder to shoulder, holding each other’s hands, one hand gripping the other, so the fingers are fully intertwined. Together, we must bend our heads for the victims of the Holocaust; those who are no longer with us but whose spirit, soul, breath, voice, love, anger and cry interface our spirits. On this particular day we must stand together and embrace those whom the hand of fate has saved them from the grip of the Nazi arm; those who live in a whisper in our midst, their eyes hurt and their hearts dripping with tears. On this very day, we must stand together to strengthen those which the memory of their loved ones breaks their hearts, day after day; captivating their spirits, moment by moment, and lowering their eyes, forever and ever. On this day, we must stand together as one person, regardless of religion, race, or sex. We must not be another sheep in the herd of silent sheep; we should not gallop blindly in the march of folly.

May this horror not be repeated.

* Associate Professor, School of Law, Zefat Academic College. Expert in Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and International Criminal Law

About the Author
Senior Researcher, the Institute for Israeli Thought, Dean of the School of Law, Zefat Academic College.