Book Review: Among The Righteous

Posted: 10/22/2006 7:33:00 PM
Author: Reviewd by Eric Fettmann
Source: This book review originally appeared in the New York Post of October 22, 2006

by Robert Satloff
Public Affairs, 239 PAGES, $26
(Reviewed by Eric Fettmann)

For over half a century, the Nazi Holocaust of the Jewish people has been thought of almost exclusively as a European tragedy. But though historians have long recognized that other Jewish communities peripheral to Eastern and Western Europe were decimated - 90 percent of Mediterranean Greece's Jews were killed, for example - few, if any, have examined the fate of the half-million Jews in Arab lands during World War II.

Now Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has done just that - and his book will force a rewriting of the history of the Holocaust. His conclusion: The Holocaust is an Arab story as well as a European one.

This is not the book Satloff hoped to write. He wanted to find proof of Arab heroism during the Holocaust, a Muslim Raoul Wallenberg who saved Jews from Hitler's ovens. This, he believed, would stem the tide of Holocaust denial in the Arab world - most Arabs associate the events of the war with the subsequent creation of the state of Israel.

"If I could make Arabs see the Holocaust as a source of pride, worthy of remembering, not just something to avoid or deny," writes Satloff, perhaps it could bring Arabs and Jews closer together.

But only at the very end of his research did he finally uncover stories of Arabs who saved Jews - and then, only in isolated circumstances. Astonishingly, Arab governments pointedly refused to cooperate in providing information that might substantiate these accounts.

Instead, Satloff found something else. There were no death camps, but there were brutal slave labor and concentration camps in such Arab North African countries as Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, over 100 in all, most solely for Jewish prisoners. In these same countries, and others, such as Libya, there was torture, execution - perpetrated by Arab guards and overseers - and a full complement of laws that stripped Jews of their homes, property and livelihood.

He writes, "At every stage of the Nazi, Vichy [French] and [Italian] Fascist persecutions of Jews in Arab lands, and in every place that it occurred, Arabs played a supporting role. At times, Arabs were essential to the process. At other times, the Arab role was passive, yet still critical."

Yes, Arabs in these occupied North African countries suffered themselves, Satloff concedes. Still, they showed "an indifference to the fate of the Jews that was hardly benign."

And "without this measure of Arab support - and, certainly, without this level of Arab acquiescence - the extent of Jewish suffering in Arabs lands would have been much less."

Because so little was known of their role as Holocaust collaborators, Satloff argued in a recent Washington Post op-ed, Arabs "appear to have won a free pass when it comes to denying or minimizing the Holocaust." That, he argues, must change.

It won't be easy. After all, Mahmoud Abbas, the "moderate" president of the Palestinian Authority, earned his doctorate in 1982 with a dissertation suggesting that Zionists vastly inflated the number of Holocaust victims in order to serve their political interests.