CAIRO: A member of the family of the first Arab honored by Israel for risking his life to save Jews during the Holocaust says the family isn’t interested in the recognition.
The Egyptian doctor, Mohammad Helmy, was honored posthumously last month by Israel’s Holocaust memorial for hiding Jews in Berlin during the Nazis’ genocide, but a family member tracked down by AP this week in Cairo said her relatives wouldn’t accept the award.
Helmy was an Egyptian doctor who lived in Berlin and hid several Jews during the Holocaust. Last month, he was honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as “Righteous Among the Nations” – the highest honor given to a non-Jew for risking great personal dangers to rescue Jews from the Nazis’ gas chambers.
“If any other country offered to honor Helmy, we would have been happy with it,” Mervat Hasan, the wife of Helmy’s great-nephew, said in an interview at her home in Cairo this week.
Hasan said the family wasn’t interested in the award from Israel because relations between Egypt and Israel remained hostile. But, she added, “I respect Judaism as a religion and I respect Jews. Islam recognizes Judaism as a heavenly religion.”
The family’s reluctance to accept the prize highlights the lingering hostility between some Egyptians and Israelis, despite a peace treaty signed by the two countries in 1979.
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 went to Berlin in 1922 to study medicine and worked as a urologist until 1938, when Germany banned him from the public health system because he was not Aryan.
When the Nazis began deporting Jews, he 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 officials could inspect the cabin.
“Helmy was not picking a certain nationality, race or religion to help. He treated patients regardless of who they were,” Hasan said.
The museum criticized the family’s decision Sunday in a written statement: “We regret that political sentiment seems to have overcome the human aspect and hope one day that the latter will prevail.”