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September 25, 2016 / 22 Elul, 5776
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Relatives of Egyptian Righteous Gentile Refusing Yad Vashem Award

Muhammad Helmy, an Egyptian doctor who lived in Berlin during the war rescued a Jewish family, but his own family ignores his Yad Vashem praise.
In 1969, Dr. doctor Mohamed Helmy and his wife (right) hosted the woman he saved, Anna Boros-Gutman and her daughter in Berlin.

In 1969, Dr. doctor Mohamed Helmy and his wife (right) hosted the woman he saved, Anna Boros-Gutman and her daughter in Berlin.
Photo Credit: Yad Vashem

The relative of the first Arab to have been recognized as a Righteous Gentile says that his family is not interested in receiving the award in his name posthumously, blaming the murky relationship between Egypt and Israel.

The Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy was honored posthumously last month by Israel’s Holocaust Memorial for hiding Jews in Berlin during the Nazis’ genocide. In cases like these, when the recipient is already departed, the museum attempts to locate their living relatives, so they can be honored in a special ceremony. But a family member tracked down by The Associated Press last week in Cairo said her relatives wouldn’t accept the award, one of Israel’s most prestigious.

“If any other country offered to honor Helmy, we would have been happy with it,” Mervat Hassan, the wife of Helmy’s great-nephew, 66, dressed in a veil, told The Associated.

Or, in other words, why didn’t uncle know better than to go crazy and save those Jews?

I know it must be very scary for the poor woman to realize that she and her family could be penalized by their neighbors, if not by someone in authority, for the bravery of their uncle. So I don’t blame her, but, still, this looks and sounds so pathetic. One wonders what would be the chances of a Jew in today’s Cairo to find shelter with the local gentiles.

A German historian has assisted the Associated Press in obtaining Helmy’s wife’s death certificate—she passed away in Cairo, in 1998. The documentation has revealed that three of the Helmys’ relatives are living in Cairo.

Mervat Hassan said the family didn’t want an award from Israel, but she quickly added: “I respect Judaism as a religion and I respect Jews. Islam recognizes Judaism as a heavenly religion.”

It’s down here, on the planet, that they seem to have most of the trouble with us, most notably our embarrassing tendency not to agree to get killed by the trainloads, a fine Jewish tradition that we no longer practice.

“Helmy was not picking a certain nationality, race or religion to help,” Hassan insisted. “He treated patients regardless of who they were.”

Possibly, except for the facts as they were recorded by those pesky, grateful Jews at Yad Vashem:

When the Nazis began deporting Jews, 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 immigrated to the U.S.

He not only saved four Jewish lives, but very much risked his own.

Yad Vashem has the names of other relatives of Helmy that appeared in his will as his heirs, and forwarded this information to the Egyptian ambassador in Israel. Hopefully, when the authorities in Egypt will find them they won’t punish them for the “sins” of their brave uncle.

Yori Yanover

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

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