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Mohamed Helmy

(1901 - 1982)

Mohamed Helmy was an Egyptian-German doctor who hid Jews during the Holocaust. He is the first Arab ever recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Israel's Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem.

Helmy was born in 1901 in Khartoum, in what was then Egypt and is now Sudan, to an Egyptian father and a German mother. He moved to Berlin, Germany in 1922 - eleven years before the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party - to study medicine. Helmy worked as a urologist until 1938, when Germany passed the Nuremberg Laws banned those from public life who were not considered Aryan.

When the Nazis began deporting Jews from Berlin, Dr. Helmy hid 21-year-old Anna Boros, a family friend, at a cabin on the outskirts of the city, and provided her relatives with medical care. After Boros' relatives admitted to Nazi interrogators that he was hiding her, he arranged for her to hide at an acquaintance's house before authorities could inspect the cabin. The four family members survived the war and later immigrated to the United States.

"The Gestapo knew that Dr. Helmy was our family physician, and they knew that he owned a cottage.  He managed to evade all their interrogations," Boros wrote after the war. "Dr Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart, and I will be grateful to him for eternity."

Following the war, Helmy married his fiancee and the couple remained in Germany. According to relatives, Helmy and his wife did not have children out of fear of war because they did not want them to see any horrors. Helmy died in 1982.

In March 2013, Helmy was posthumously honored as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem during its annual session to update the list of Righteous Among the Nations, those non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. According to officials at Yad Vashem, Helmy is the first Arab recipient of the honor.

Unfortunately, Helmy's closest living relatives - Mervat Hassan and her husband, Helmy's great-nephew - refused to accept the award. "If any other country offered to honor Helmy, we would have been happy with it," said Hassan. "But not from Israel."

Yad Vashem said it was disappointed at the rejection: "We regret that political sentiment seems to have overcome the human aspect, and we hope that one day the latter will prevail ... In a world of total moral collapse, there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. Bystanders were the rule; rescuers were the exception. Helmy was one of them."

Sources: Haaretz (October 20, 2013); Daily Mail (October 21, 2013)