Yad Vashem on Monday posthumously honored an Egyptian doctor who risked his life to rescue Jews during World War II, the first Arab to receive the prestigious recognition of “Righteous Among the Nations.”
The Holocaust memorial learned of Mohamed Helmy about a year ago when a German researcher discovered letters in Berlin’s city archives written by Jews shortly after the war praising the doctor for saving them during the Holocaust, museum chairman Avner Shalev said.
Yad Vashem did more research and pieced together his story. It found that Helmy, who moved to Berlin in 1922 to study medicine, hid a young Jewish woman in his cabin, arranged a hiding spot for her grandmother and provided medical care to her relatives during the war.
He was assisted by a German acquaintance, Frieda Szturmann, who was also recognized posthumously with the honor.
“Despite the differences in religion and culture, this man fulfilled human values of the highest order,” said Shalev. “He knew he was in danger.”
Shalev said a few dozen Muslims have been recognized, but no Arabs had previously received the honor because Nazi Germany occupied North Africa only briefly and locals helping Jews faced little physical threat during that time.
Yad Vashem is searching for living relatives of Helmy to present the award, and said it has sent queries to the Egyptian Embassy in Israel and the Berlin mayor’s office to help with the search.
Helmy, who was born in Khartoum in what is now Sudan, opened a private practice when Germany forbade him from working in the public health system because he was not considered Aryan, Yad Vashem said.
When the Nazis began deporting Jews from Berlin, he supplied a hiding place, a cabin, for a family friend, 21-year-old Anna Boros, and provided medical care for her relatives. After Boros’ relatives admitted to Nazi interrogators that he had supplied Boros with a hiding place, Helmy arranged for her to hide at the home of an acquaintance before authorities could inspect the cabin, according to Yad Vashem.
The four family members survived the war and immigrated to the U.S. Helmy died in 1982.