Mohamed Helmy: The Muslim Dr who Saved Jews from the Nazi Holocaust

Before World War II, the Muslim community in Berlin was highly educated and comprised mainly of Syrians and Egyptians who came to attend teh university of Berlin. The Muslim community had very good relations with the Berlin’s Jews. There are records of well known Jews like Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Martin Buber and Hermann Hesse attending events at the Berlin Mosque.

Mohamed Helmy was one of those Muslims living in Berlin when World War II broke. Last month, he was honored posthumously by the Israeli Holocaust memorial ‘Yad Vashem’ and awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” award which is the highest honor granted to non-Jews for saving the lives of Jews from the Nazi Holocaust.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Helmy is the first Arab to be honored by Israel for risking his life to protect Jews during the Holocaust. The Israeli museum usually offers honor shields to a relative of the honored hero at a ceremony, but the Yad Vashem Museum was unable to find surviving relatives of the doctor who died in Berlin in 1982.

Dr Helmy was born to an Egyptian father and a German mother in 1901 in Khartoum, when the city was part of Egypt, before turning to Sudan. He traveled to Berlin in 1922 to study medicine. He practiced Urology until the year 1938. According to Martina Voet, the German historian who studied the life of Helmy, that year the German government prevented him from practicing medicine because he was not Aryan.

According to the Israeli Yad Vashem Center, when the Nazis started deporting the Jews, Dr Helmy hid 21-year-old Anna Boros, a family friend, in a rustic hut on the outskirts of the city. He gave her relatives medical assistance, but Nazi interrogators were able to get the relatives of the young woman to confess that Helmy was hiding her. Fortunately Helmy had already moved her to a safe place in one of his relatives’ home before the Nazis arrived at her first hiding place. The Jewish family of four survived the Holocaust and immigrated to the United States.

Anna Boros
Anna Boros, 1945.

After the war, Hilmi returned to practice medicine again in berlin, and got married. A relative of Helmy recalls: “They did not want to have children because they did not want them to witness the horrors of war.”