CAIRO – Delving into untold stories of the Holocaust, a new film is shedding the light on heroism of Muslims who risked their lives to rescue Jews from the Nazi brutality.
“This film is an event,” Benjamin Stora, France’s pre-eminent historian on North Africa, told The New York Times.
“Much has been written about Muslim collaboration with the Nazis. But it has not been widely known that Muslims helped Jews.”
The film, “Free Man”, traces the heroism of the founder of the Grand Mosque of Paris in saving Jews from the Nazis.
It tells the story of Algerian-born Kaddour Benghabrit who rescued Jews in France from the Nazi brutality.
Benghabrit provided shelter and Muslim identification documents to scores of Jews to help them escape arrest by Nazi troops.
He also used the Grand Mosque of Paris to shelter more than 100 Jews from persecution.
Despite hiding Jews inside, Benghabrit used to give mosque tours to German officers and their wives to deceive them.
The movie premiered this week in France after four years of travel and research. It is also to be released in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Holocaust refers to “systematic state-sponsored killing of Jewish men, women, and children and others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.”
The commonly used figure for the number of Jewish victims is six million.
But the figure has been questioned by many European historians and intellectuals, chiefly French author Roger Garaudy.
Stora says that there are many untold stories about Muslim heroism to save Jews from the Nazis.
“There are still stories to be told, to be written,” he said.
Director Ismael Ferroukhi says that he encountered many stories about Muslim heroism during the film making.
One account came from Albert Assouline, a North African Jew who escaped from a German prison camp.
Assouline said that more than 1,700 resistance fighters, including Jews, found refuge in the mosque’s underground caverns, and that the imam provided many Jews with certificates of Muslim identity.
The film comes almost five years after Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, revealed in his 2006 book, “Among the Righteous,” stories of Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
The book included a chapter on the Grand Mosque of Paris.
“One has to separate the myth from the fact,” Satloff told The New York Times.
“The number of Jews protected by the mosque was probably in the dozens, not the hundreds,” he said.
“But it is a story that carries a powerful political message and deserves to be told.”
Satloff recalled a 1940 Foreign Ministry document shown to him by the current mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur about the Nazi suspicions of the mosque’s role in sheltering Jews.
“The chief imam was summoned, in a threatening manner, to put an end to all such practices,” the document says.
The mosque’s role in sheltering Jews from the Nazis was explored by a television documentary tilted “A Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris” in 1991.
Another children’s book “The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust,” published in 2007, also highlighted the mosque’s role.
Ferroukhi, the director, urges the France government to take the film about the Muslim heroism to schools.
“It pays homage to the people of our history who have been invisible,” he said.
“It shows another reality, that Muslims and Jews existed in peace. We have to remember that — with pride.”