Friday, March 19, 2010

French Muslims Who Rescued Jews in World War Two

History is often used not only to preserve the past but to shape the future. There are a lot of Muslim clergy who dress in "authentic" looking clothing and push hatred of Jews, Christians and non Muslims. It wasn't always that way.

Just as there has been the Inquisition in Christianity as well as religious tolerance, there has been times and places when Muslims extended a hand of friendship to Jews. One such place was the Paris Mosque, which was built by the French government in the 1920's as an expression of gratitude to Algerian soldiers for defending France in World War One.

When France was occupied by Germany in World War Two, the Mosque sheltered Jews, many of them children. The mosque was a full service community center, with recreation areas and a restaurant. The effort was organised. It was not scattered acts of compassion. One leaflet distributed to Algerian workers read as follows.

"Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested. The old, the women, and the children. In exile like ourselves, workers like ourselves. They are our brothers. Their children are like our own children. The one who encounters one of his children must give that child shelter and protection for as long as misfortune - or sorrow - lasts. Oh, man of my country, your heart is generous."

The operation did not simply involve allowing Jews to stay but also seeking them out. It involved paying bribes and procuring false papers. It was dangerous work with the threat of a death sentence looming over those who participated in the saintly but then thankless task.

There have been books written about this little discussed chapter in Jewish Muslim relations.

"The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust" by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix presents this story in the form of a children's book.

I found out about this heart warming chapter in World War Two history from an anonymous reader who posted a comment on my Magdeburger Joe blog to an article that dealt with Jews in Arab countries. He wrote as follows.

"An unknown fact : The Mosque of Paris saved during the second world war thousand of jews by delivering them false certificates of birth and cards for food (cartes d'alimentation)
I have muslim background though atheist and i feel sorry that my country lost all his jewish cutural background. Remains happily the andalousian music."

I immediately googled "Paris Mosque saves Jews". The search vindicated my reader's claim. There were indeed unsung heroes of rescue during World War Two who were Muslim.

At a time when history is being falsified and religion is being used to incite hatred, it is worth noting that it was not always so. There is a lot of tension between Muslims and non Muslims in France and elsewhere. It would be good if stories like that of the Paris Mosque were taught to a new generation. To do so would be using an honest rendering of the past to bring healing to the future. It's the right thing to do. Sphere: Related Content

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