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Egyptian family rejects Israel recognition

21 October 2013, 06:54

Cairo - A member of the family of the first Arab honoured by Israel for risking his life to save Jews during the Holocaust says the family isn't interested in the recognition.

The Egyptian doctor, Mohamed Helmy, was honoured posthumously last month by Israel's Holocaust memorial for hiding Jews in Berlin during the Nazis' genocide, but a family member tracked down by The Associated Press this week in Cairo said her relatives wouldn't accept the award, one of Israel's most prestigious.

"If any other country offered to honour Helmy, we would have been happy with it," Mervat Hassan, the wife of Helmy's great-nephew, told the AP during an interview at her home in Cairo this week.

Mohamed Helmy was an Egyptian doctor who lived in Berlin and hid several Jews during the Holocaust.

Last month, he was honoured by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as "Righteous Among the Nations" - the highest honour given to a non-Jew for risking great personal dangers to rescue Jews from the Nazis' gas chambers.

On Sunday, the museum criticised the family's decision. "We regret that political sentiment seems to have overcome the human aspect and hope one day that the latter will prevail," Yad Vashem said in a written statement.

Typically, the museum tries to track down living family members to present the award in a ceremony, but in the case of Helmy, who died in 1982 in Berlin, Yad Vashem said it had not been able to find any living relatives.

With the help of a German historian, the AP obtained the certificate of inheritance of Helmy's wife Emmi, who died in 1998. The document contained the names of three relatives in Cairo, and when contacted by the AP, Hassan agreed to share her memories of Helmy.

Hassan said the family wasn't interested in the award from Israel because relations between Egypt and Israel remain hostile, despite a peace treaty signed more than three decades ago.

But, she cautioned, "I respect Judaism as a religion and I respect Jews. Islam recognises Judaism as a heavenly religion."

The family's reluctance to accept the prize highlights the lingering hostility toward Israel felt by many Egyptians, even after the two countries signed a historic peace treaty in 1979.

While security ties between the nations are tight, political relations have always remained cool and many ordinary Egyptians remain hostile to the Jewish state.

Holocaust denial is also common throughout the Arab world, where recognition of the Holocaust is often seen as undercutting Palestinian suffering.

"Helmy was not picking a certain nationality, race or religion to help. He treated patients regardless of who they were," she said.

- AP


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