Thousands of people have been honored for saving Jews during the Holocaust—but not a single Arab. Did any Arabs save Jews during the Holocaust? That’s the question author and head of a Washington Institute Robert Satloff had in mind when he set out to discover the lost, true stories of survival, courage and betrayal in Arab lands during World War II. Seeking a response to that query, Satloff set off post 9/11 to find an Arab hero whose story would change the way Arabs view Jews, themselves and their own history. He found not only the Arab heroes whom he sought, but a vast, lost history of what happened to the half-million Jews of the Arab lands of North Africa under Nazi, Vichy and Fascist rule.
The history of the Holocaust in Europe is well-documented, but the history of what happened to the Jewish people of North Africa has been mostly forgotten, even in the very towns and cities where it occurred. The truth is remarkable: not only did Jews in Arab lands suffer many of same elements of persecution as Jews in Europe — arrests, deportations, confiscations and forced labor — but there were also hopeful stories of “righteous” Arabs reaching out to protect them.
The story of the Holocaust’s long reach into the Arab world is difficult to uncover, covered up by desert sands and desert politics. We follow Satloff over four years, through eleven countries, from the barren wasteland of the Sahara, where thousands of Jews were imprisoned in labor camps; through the archways of the Mosque in Paris, which may once have hidden 1700 Jews; to the living rooms of octogenarians in London, Paris and Tunis. In the story characters are rich and handsome, brave and cowardly; there are heroes and villains. The most surprising story of all is why, more than sixty years after the end of the war, so few people— Arab and Jew—want this story told.
A MacNeil/Lehrer and Robert Satloff Production with the cooperation of Medienkontor Movie GmbH and Westdeutscher Rundfunk/ARTE