|Date(s):||November 1942 to May 1943|
|Tag(s):||Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, Tunisia, historical memory, Africa|
|Course:||“Historian's Craft,” University of Alabama at Birmingham|
On November 23, 1942, German soldiers arrested prominent Jewish leaders across Tunisia. When Moises Burgel, the President of the Tunisian Jewish community, was arrested, it marked the beginning of the Holocaust in North Africa. By the end of November, Nazi Germany had occupied all of Tunisia and enacted anti-Semitic laws in addition to the Vichy laws already in place. According to the sources found in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archive, Tunisian Jews were required to wear the yellow Star of David and pay fines. In addition, some Jews had property confiscated and were sent to forced labor camps. The Jewish men of Mahdia were no different. The men of Mahdia were forced into labor camps and the women, children, and elderly were left alone without the protection of their male family members. Luckily, Khaled Abdul-Wahab, a wealthy and influential Tunisian Arab-Muslim man offered protection to a Jewish woman named Eva Wiesel and her family. According to the testimony of Eva Wiesel, Abdul-Wahab took the family to his farm, about twenty miles from the Nazi-occupied town. German troops arrived in the area not long after Wiesel’s family, making it increasingly unsafe for the women hiding in the stables of Abdul-Wahab’s farm. The family’s host advised them to remove their golden stars and keep a low profile in order to avoid the suspicions of the patrolling soldiers. Eager to appease the newly arrived officers, Abdul-Wahab organized a feast in order to avert suspicions away from his farm.
Sometime during the night, a few German officers broke away from the party. The officers made their way to the courtyard and began banging on the doors of the stable, threatening the women hiding inside. Wiesel’s grandmother began yelling for the rest of the family to hide the younger girls from the threatening soldiers outside. Before long, Abdul-Wahab rushed outside to the stables, engaging in a heated conversation with the officers. Wiesel is unsure how Abdul-Wahab convinced the officers to leave, although she believes that he may have bribed them. Throughout the rest of the German occupation of Tunisia, the soldiers never bothered Wiesel’s family again or returned to the farm. Wiesel attributes this to the protection of Khaled Abdul-Wahab.
Despite saving Wiesel’s family and disregarding the anti-Semitic laws in place, Abdul-Wahab was denied the honor of “Righteous Among Nations” at the Israeli Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. Wiesel’s narrative and her quest to commemorate her rescuer is a prime example of the complexities of war memory, particularly that of survivors of the Holocaust. Historian T.G. Ashplant writes that victims of social injustices, such as survivors of the Holocaust demand public recognition for their experiences, often seeking monetary compensation for the injustices. However, Eva Wiesel’s quest for recognition is not for herself, rather for her “savior” during the Holocaust. Wiesel’s quest to have Abdul-Wahab commemorated for his actions during the Holocaust does not fit the majority of templates for commemoration. Although her rescuer was denied for recognition at Yad Vashem, Wiesel promises to keep his memory alive. Khaled Abdul-Wahab was not obligated to Wiesel’s family, nor did he have the responsibility to protect them, yet he saved her family and many others from the Germans in Tunisia. Eva Wiesel’s narrative is important when trying to understand the complexities of war memory and how it relates to commemorating “righteous among nations” at Yad Vashem.