“The story of Jewish communities [lost in the Holocaust] in Arab lands is largely forgotten.”
It may seem strange that a man’s search for Arab heroes of the Holocaust begins with the horror of 9/11, but Robert Satloff watched the towers burn from a New York City office, and the images morphed into the smokestacks at Auschwitz. He was inspired to address Holocaust denial and ignorance.
On the other end of the spectrum, when he moved to Morocco (his wife was transferred there) he found Holocaust glorification—extremists who acknowledge the Holocaust and claim it was a good thing. In the middle are the “Holocaust relativists.”
Satloff decided he wanted to find one Arab who had helped one Jew during a time when there were more than 100 concentration camps (established by the French Vichy, Germans, and Fascist Italians) in North Africa. These camps were in Arab lands: Morocco and Algeria (French Vichy), Libya (Italian Fascists), and Tunisia (German Nazis). Among the Righteous – Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab Lands tells a story that has been largely ignored; most histories of the Holocaust concentrate on the experiences of European Jews.
“Finding an Arab who had saved a Jew turned into the most complex research project of Satloff’s life.” It involved an army of researchers, and visits to eleven countries on four continents. Among the Righteous documents Satloff’s quest. Arab witnesses to concentration camp atrocities, Jewish survivors, and the families of Arabs and interned Jews were interviewed, and we see them discussing their memories and family stories.
Who are “the Righteous”? They are the non-Jews who risked everything to help hide Jews from the Nazis and the Vichy, people like Oskar Schindler. They also include people like Moroccan Si Ali Sakkat, who offered a safe haven to sixty Jews who had escaped from forced labor camps in Morocco. Ali Sakkat is just one of many Arabs who came to the assistance of their Jewish friends and neighbors, and Satloff discovered some through his interviews with Jews who had been hidden by Arabs.
Among the Righteous challenges some of our beliefs about Arab-Jew relations, and introduces viewers to history with which they may have little familiarity. Many people have only Casablanca as a reference to that aspect of World War II, but Casablanca turns out to be a good place to start, since it twice refers to concentration camps in Morocco.
There were 500,000 Jews in North Africa when the war began; now there is less than 1% of that number. What was experienced and is remembered is dramatically captured in Among the Righteous, a documentary well worth the viewing, considering modern conditions in that part of our world.
Watch Among the Righteous and read more stories from the documentary at PBS.org.