Shukran, Chatila

A 45 year old Lebanese Christian born in Beirut and now living in Switzerland where he ranks among the 300 richest men in Switzerland, is deserving of the highest praise and gratitude of Jews world-wide.

At a recent Munich auction house several personal items belonging to the German Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler (may his name be erased forever) were purchased by Abdullah Chatila at the amazing cost of more than one-half million euros.

Why would an Arab, a Christian, a wealthy Lebanese-Swiss national bid for and purchase personal items which once had belonged to the world’s most hated man?

And why would he donate them as a gift to Keren Hayesod and Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jewish Israeli Jerusalem?

His response was very brief and simple. “I did not want them ever to get into the hands of neo-Nazis”.

So the native-born son of a country at war with Israel has gone out of his way to purchase items from a terrible historic past as his gift to Jews and Israel.

It is a very touching story. A very heartwarming story of a son of our enemy who has gifted to us memorabilia which belonged to our greatest enemy.

I am reminded of words which my beloved Israeli-born wife used to tell me: “Yesh anashim tovim b’olam. Lo kol echad sonai otanu”. There are good people in the world. Not everyone hates us.

When I was a very young man, I read a newspaper article about a German Protestant pastor, a longtime friend of the Jewish people, who risked personal incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp for defying orders to refrain from preaching about Kristallnacht from his Evangelical church pulpit.

I remember his name and the address where he lived. Pfarrer (Pastor) Hermann Maas of 62 Beethovenstrasse in Heidelberg was a fluent speaker and writer of the Hebrew language. He was a German Christian Zionist who had visited Palestine several times, often as a guest of his friend Dr. Yellin.

He was in Jerusalem at the time that war broke out in Europe in 1939. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem offered him a teaching position. Several of his Jewish friends urged him to remain in Palestine. But Pfarrer Hermann Maas believed that he was needed back in Germany to help as many Jews as he could and to seek help for them from members of his church.

There were a few clergy colleagues who supported his efforts. But for the most part, the German Christian clergy remained silent. Gestapo officers often attended church services on Sundays and would take notes of anything positive about the Jews and anything negative about the Nazi policies preached from the pulpits.

In the early 1950’s I began corresponding with him. I wrote to him in English and he replied in a magnificent Hebrew handwriting.

He never wrote complaints about his mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis, some who were members of his own church. In spite of an evil society, he found good hearts among many ordinary German Christians.

I don’t remember when our correspondence ended but I remember how much I loved reading every Hebrew word he wrote. I made it a habit of kissing his signature at the end of each of his letters.

Good German Christians then. Good Lebanese Christians now. Perhaps not too many. Not as many as we would like and need. But as our Jewish teachings instruct us “he who saves one life is as if he has saved the world”.

Abdullah Chalita is a good Christian and a very good human being. In Switzerland one would tell him, “Merci”, “Danke Schon”. or “Grazzi”, depending if they lived in French, German or Italian cantons.

In his native Lebanon and throughout the Arabic speaking world he might be told “Shukran”.

In Israel he would be told “Todah rabbah”.

And when Mister Chatila stands before the heavenly gates awaiting permission to enter, he would be warmly greeted by the Eternal Father of us all, who would say to him “Enter, my son. And blessed may you be among the saints and the angels in paradise”.

Yehi shmo mevorach. May his name be for a blessing.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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