Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust?s Long Reach into Arab Lands, by Robert Satloff. New York: Public Affairs, 2006. 204 pages. Notes to 227. Bibl. to p. 239. Index to p. 251. $26.
Reviewed by Joseph V. Montville
On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Robert Satloff was walking in the middle of Manhattan?s Fifth Avenue, which was devoid of traffic in a city stunned by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers that morning. The question came into his mind: ?Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?? He judged, as did this writer after the second tower was hit, that Arabs were behind the deed. He wanted to teach Arabs about the Holocaust and the depths of its meaning for Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Satloff decided to answer his question, and this book is the result.
What establishes the nobility of Among the Righteous is the conviction of its author, a historian, an Arabist, and an American Jew, that there is much more to Arab and Muslim humanity than the destructive, suicidal rage that the 9/11 hijackers displayed that momentous day. Wwhile he had never heard of? ?righteous? Arabs people who took great risks to protect Jews from the Nazis and their underlings Satloff felt in his bones that he could find some. He did not believe that the apparent absence of knowledge or discussion about the Holocaust among Arabs was the complete picture.
The author thought that if he could prove that Arabs had saved Jewish lives during Wworld Wwar II, they might be induced to face the Holocaust squarely and understand its power in the final thrust to establish the Jewish state in Palestine. He hoped that the shared pro-social values of Islam and Judaism could induce Arab cooperation in his research and generate pride in Arab heroes. He cites Muslim and Jewish sacred literature to make his point. ??Wwhoever saves one life saves the entire world,? says the Qur?an, an echo of the Talmud?s injunction ?If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world?? (p. 6). In the process of searching for ?righteous? Arabs in North Africa, Israel, and Europe, Satloff has filled an important gap in the history of II, and he also has reflected the best traditions of Jewish humanism. It is not insignificant that Satloff is also executive director of the Wwashington Institute for Near East Policy, which the Jewish weekly, Forward, calls ?a think tank known for its pro-Israel views and for its predominantly Jewish board.?1 3?
The narrative concentrates on the North African states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya under French (the first three) and Italian and therefore fascist colonial rule during the Vichy and Mussolini regimes. Half a million Jews lived in these countries, and the Nazi policy of degradation and ultimately destruction was meant to apply also to these trans-Mediterranean people. There were also 30,000 Libyan Jews who faced danger and abuse.
Among the Righteous is extremely well researched. The author visited sites of several slave-labor camps in the North African desert, and he interviewed hundreds of people. The book reads like a detective novel, and it keeps the reader?s attention throughout. There is no whitewash of Arab participation in the anti-Jewish campaign in North Africa. ?At every stage of the Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist persecution of Jews in Arab lands, and in every place that it occurred, Arabs played a supporting role? (p. 73). Some working class Arabs jeered at urban middle class Jews when they were marched off in labor brigades. Others took jobs as guards, watchmen, and overseers in the more than 100 recognized labor camps from Morocco through Libya. ?Wwherever torture occurred, Arabs played a role? (p. 80). Indeed, as if anticipating criticism for presenting a kindly face of Arabs, Satloff waits until Chapter 5, ?The Arabs Wwatched Over the Jews,? to report his discoveries of those who worked to protect their Jewish friends and neighbors. On page 99, the author states:
At every stage of the Nazi, Vichy, and Fascist persecution of Jews in Arab lands, and in every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. …