Noor Inayat Khan – ‘The Spy Princess.’
Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan (2 January 1914 – 13 September 1944) was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Muslim ruler of Mysore. Khan’s father was a musician and Sufi teacher. She lived a remarkable life of self sacrifice for the cause of freedom during the Second World War.
As a wartime British secret agent of Indian descent she was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) being fluent in English and French.
Although she was eventually captured, believed to have been betrayed, Noor revealed nothing. It is said that her resilience and tenacity and endurance had an effect even on the hardened prison chiefs of the Gestapo. After enduring 9 months of tortuous imprisonment Noor was transferred with 3 other SEO to the Dachau concentration camp where she was executed with a bullet to the back of her head (just days before Dachau was liberated by the Americans)
It is reported her last words before being shot were ‘liberty’ Another report by a witness says a guard tried to force her to say “Heil Hitler” she refused saying “One day you will see the truth”.
She was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian decoration in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations. A statue honouring her, can be found in London, Princess Anne was at the ceremony honouring her contribution as a war heroine.
Lest They Be Forgotten…
More than 3.5million soldiers from the Asian subcontinent fought for Britain in the two World Wars, with tens of thousands killed in action.
The 2.5million men and women who came over to do their bit in World War II became the biggest volunteer force in history. This included of course Noor Inayat Khan.
‘We need to remind not only the Muslim community but also the general public that the Muslim contribution to the defence of this nation runs deep,’ said secretary general Farooq Murad of the Muslim Council of Britain.
During World War I, as many as 400,000 Muslims made up one-third of the Indian Army of 1.3 million, along with 100,000 Sikhs, and up to 800,000 Hindu soldiers. Yet when asked to estimate how many Muslims fought on the British side in 1914, only 2% of those surveyed by ‘British Future’ correctly placed the number at between 250,000 and 500,000.
Si Kaddour Benghabrit and the Great Mosque of Paris that saved Jews during the Holocaust (including a famous singer)
– A tract read to immigrant Algerian workers in Paris, asking them to help shelter Jewish children:
“Their children are like our children.”
“Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested. The old, the women, and the children. In exile like ourselves, workers like ourselves. They are our brothers. Their children are like our own children. The one who encounters one of his children must give that child shelter and protection for as long as misfortune – or sorrow – lasts. Oh, man of my country, your heart is generous.”
There is in the center of Paris, a handsome mosque with a tall slender minaret and lovely gardens. It was built in the 1920s, as an expression of gratitude from France for the over half-million Muslims from its African possessions who fought alongside the French in the 1914-1918 war. About 100,000 of them died in the trenches.
Salim Halali, a Jewish singer, was a huge star in France and Morocco in the mid-20th century. He became known far and wide as the best “Oriental” singer in Europe.
The Great Mosque of Paris, headed by Si Kaddour Benghabrit, provided sanctuary and refuge to Jews, Halali among them, during the Holocaust. When Hitler’s troops marched in, Halali’s salvation arose from this most unexpected quarter. Benghabrit was a brilliant diplomat and a man with three nationalities – Algerian, Moroccan, and French – who moved with ease in all three worlds, and whose Islam was tolerant and inclusive.
More than 1,700 people are thought to have found short-term shelter in apartments on or near the grounds of the mosque. Benghabrit set up an alert system that allowed fugitives to disappear swiftly in case of a raid – if necessary to the prayer room’s women’s section, where men were normally not admitted. He wrote numerous false birth certificates making Jewish children into Muslims. Access to Paris’s sewers directly beneath the mosque’s grounds provided an escape path, as did the mosque’s proximity to the city’s central wine market on the Seine, where barges laden with wine barrels came and went. One woman recalled being taken out of Paris on a barge; a Kabyl at the helm took fugitives concealed in his cargo to the south of France, where they could be smuggled to Algeria or Spain.
Sometimes, while he would be talking calmly to Nazi officers, Jewish refugees would be literally under their feet!
The French League against Racism and Antisemitism has asked Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute to recognize Benghabrit as one of “The Righteous among the Nations,” a title honoring non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Benghabrit would be the first Muslim to earn this distinction.
Halali’s persona was back at center stage in a new French movie. The film, “Les hommes libres,” screened at the French film festival three years ago. “The film pays homage to the people of our history who have been invisible. It shows another reality, that Muslims and Jews existed in peace. We have to remember that − with pride,” the film’s director, Ismael Ferroukhi, said in an interview with the New York Times.
Abdol -Hossein Sardari – the ‘Muslim Schindler’ who saved Iranian Jews in wartime Paris.
According to a book, Abdol – Hossein Sardari, a junior Iranian diplomat, saved the lives of thousands of Iranian Jews in wartime Paris. However he only recently received posthumous recognition for his deeds.
The trained lawyer exploited the absurd rationale of Nazi racial purity laws and his other trump card was a new – style Iranian passport, making it much easier to travel across Europe. When Britain and Russia invaded Iran, in 1941, he was ordered by Tehran to return home as soon as possible after it signed a treaty with the allies. But he stayed on regardless, using inheritance money to keep his office going having been stripped off his diplomatic immunity and pay.
In 1942, the senior Nazi in charge of Jewish affairs declared of Mr Sardari’s argument “the usual Jewish tricks and attempts at camouflage.” Once again, Mr Sardari soldiered on, helping families escape from Paris with passports and travel documents, just as tens of thousands of Jews were being deported from France to death camps.
Eliane Senahi Cohanim, who was seven years old when she fled France with her family, told the BBC of how Sardari helped her during the war: “I remember everywhere, when we were running away, they would ask for our passports, and I remember my father would hand them the passports and they would look at them.
“And then they would look at us. It was scary. It was very, very scary … I remember my father always telling that it was thanks to Mr Sardari that we could come out.”
It is estimated that Sardari issued between 500 and 1,000 blank passports, and that if each was issued for two or three people, he saved over 2,000 people.
Mr Sardari neither sought or received recognition for his efforts and died lonely in a bedsit in Croydon, London in 1981. He had lost his ambassador’s pension and Tehran properties in the Iranian revolution.
He once said, when asked about his wartime role, “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian Consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.” Sardari, the humanitarian did not distinguish between Muslims and Jews.
“Here you have a Muslim Iranian who goes out of his way, risks his life, certainly risks his career and property and everything else, to save fellow Iranians. There is no distinction ‘I am a Muslim, he is Jew’ or whatever.” said author Fariborz Mokhtari, who wrote the book ‘The Lion’s Shadow’ to honour him.
Khaled Abdul-Wahab 1911–199: hid Jewish families at his farm during the war
Tunisian Khaled Abdul-Wahab wined and dined with German officers to find out about their intentions in an attempt to prevent Nazi atrocities taking place in his home country. He discovered that they were planning to rape a member of the Jewish Boukhris family. He spent the night taking Jewish families to his farm about 20 miles west of Mahdia.
After they arrived at the farm, German troops set up a camp outside Khaled’s compound. However, he managed to keep their presence a secret for the rest of the occupation. In April 1943, all the Jewish families being hidden by Khaled were able to return safely to their homes.
In an interview with the Jewish Post, his daughter Fazia Abdul-Wahab said her father never spoke of his actions during the war: “Khaled Abdul-Wahab was my father, though he never spoke about his heroism with us.
“Always modest, all my father ever told me when I once asked about the war years was that some Jewish families stayed on our farm.”
Families save each other from genocide — 50 years apart.
A Muslim family comes to the aid of a Jewish family during World War II. Fifty years later, during the Bosnian War, the favour is returned. An amazing story of compassion and solidarity in the fight against evil # Humanity
During the Second World War, the Germans invaded Yugoslavia. After they seized Sarajevo in 1941, the Gestapo opened an office across the street from the home of Pecanac’s father, Mustafa Hardaga, a local furniture salesman.
The Nazi occupation was vicious. The city’s old synagogue was looted, 400-year-old Torah scrolls were burned. At night, the Hardagas could hear the screams of prisoners being tortured in Gestapo jail cells.
Amid the brutality, Hardaga and his wife Zejneba agreed to take in Hardaga’s friend and business partner Yosef Kabiljo, whose own home had been destroyed during a Nazi bombing raid. Kabiljo, his wife and daughter were Jewish. They hid behind clothes in the back of a walk-in closet when the Gestapo came to the Hardaga home to check documents.
“We were only 10 metres away from the Germans and hiding the Kabiljo s right under their noses,” said Salih Hardaga, Sara’s brother, who was born a year before the Germans invaded Yugoslavia.
The Hardagas were conservative Muslims, with the women covering their faces with a veil in the presence of strangers.
“Never before had a strange man stayed with them,” Yosef Kabiljo testified later to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority. “They welcomed us with the words: ‘Josef, you are our brother, and your children are like our children. Feel at home and whatever we own is yours.’”
The Hardaga women never again wore veils in front of Kabiljo.
“When I was growing up, my mother Zejneba always said, ‘You can’t control how rich you will be, or how smart or successful you will be,’” Pecanac said. “But she said you can control how good you will be.”
The Kabiljos stayed with the Hardagas until Josef Kabiljo was able to move his wife and children to Mostar, a Bosnian city that was under Italian rule.
Kabiljo stayed behind to liquidate his business but he could not escape detection forever. He was eventually imprisoned and forced into slave labour. But Zejneba Hardaga discovered where Kabiljo was working and brought him food. When Kabiljo escaped, he again returned to his hiding place in the Hardaga home.
Their saviours paid a steep price for helping Jews. Pecanac’s grandfather, Ahmed Sadik, was executed by the Nazis because he helped to forge documents with Christian names for Jewish families like the Kabiljos.
A message from Israel
Fast forward half a century.
In 1992, shattered Bosnia was on fire. The phone lines to Sarajevo were down, leaving friends and family worried about their loved ones. Salih Hardaga, who had moved to Mexico in 1974, watched TV news programs, hoping for a glimpse of his sister or mother in Sarajevo.
At the height of the Bosnian War, Sara Pecanac and her family lived for weeks at a time on soup made with grass foraged from a nearby park.
Serbian troops were surrounding Sarajevo. Snipers targeted people leaving their houses.
“We watched people dying in the street outside our home, shot to death, and watched houses burn,” Pecanac said. “You just wondered if it would be you or your home the next night.”
Bosnia was a mix of Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats. Following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1992, racial and religious divisions that had been suppressed for decades under communism finally boiled over.
Slobodan Milosevic whipped up nationalistic sentiments for a “greater Serbia,” a deadly call to action that culminated in the worst atrocities in Europe since the Second World War. As many as three million people were forced to flee and more than 100,000 were killed.
Pecanac’s Muslim family — her daughter Sacha, husband Branimir and her mother Zejneba Hardaga — often hid from the long civil war in their basement.
“My daughter was 9 years old at the time,” Pecanac said in an interview. “You can’t know what it’s like to not know when you might be able to give your child food or water next.”
Distraught, desperate and isolated from the outside world, they had all but lost hope when they received a message from an Israeli journalist covering the war.
A Jewish family from Jerusalem was trying to find out if Pecanac and her mother were still alive. Fifty years earlier, during the Holocaust, Zejneba had helped them. That act of kindness was about to be repaid.
In Jerusalem, too, the Kabiljos tuned in to the evening newscasts, unsure whether the Hardagas were still alive. While Mustafa Hardaga had died during the 1960s, the Kabiljos had stayed in touch with Zejneba and Pecanac, who was born in 1957.
They contacted an Israeli journalist who was heading to cover the war. The journalist passed on a message to a local community organization in Sarajevo that the Kabiljo family was searching for Zejneba.
A message was sent back to Israel that Zejneba, then 76, and her youngest daughter Sara were still in Sarajevo.
“There was no talk about leaving Sarajevo because there was no time,” Pecanac said. “One day things were OK. The next, soldiers were surrounding the city, the city was split into sections, and there were UN troops and snipers and bombings.
“It happened this fast,” Pecanac said, snapping her fingers.
Pecanac was stunned to hear the Kabiljos were trying to help.
She had heard the full family story only in 1984, when the Kabiljo family asked Yad Vashem to recognize the Hardagas and Ahmed Sadik as Righteous Among the Nations, an honour given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. “My dad had died and my mother didn’t talk about it very much,” Pecanac said of the family’s heroism.
After learning that Zejneba was still alive, the Kabiljos again contacted Yad Vashem and officials agreed to help organize a rescue.
In early 1994, Pecanac, Branimir, Sacha and Zejneba joined 300 other refugees on a convoy of six buses that streaked through the shattered streets of Sarajevo.
“I remember we passed 34 checkpoints, and all the soldiers at the checkpoints wanted were U.S. dollars,” Pecanac said. “But without the help of the Kabiljos, we would not have been on the bus. When Yad Vashem wrote a letter to the president of Bosnia, asking that we be allowed to leave, he said no. It only happened after the Kabiljos managed to get the case all the way to (Israeli Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin.”
The Hardaga family was given its choice of destinations. Pecanac and her mother picked Jerusalem.
The rescue was extraordinary — one family saving another from genocide, only to see the favour returned half a century later.
“Imagine that you are in such a state and need help and you get it from the same family your family saved 50 years earlier,” said Pecanac, who converted to Judaism and now works for Yad Vashem. “It is an amazing story.”
A few months after Zejneba and her family arrived in Jerusalem, they were asked to meet Rabin.
“We went in and talked for a bit and my mother turned to Rabin and said, ‘Can I offer you some advice?’” Pecanac said. “The whole place went quiet. Who was this old woman to give advice to the prime minister of Israel?
“He said OK, and she said, ‘Please, try to make peace in the Middle East. Don’t let Jerusalem become Sarajevo.’”
Abdul Karim – Queen Victoria’s confidant
Although Abdul Karim started off as a servant, within a year, despite facing hostilities from others in the palace, the young Muslim was established as a powerful figure in court, becoming the queen’s teacher – or munshi – and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs.
Mr Karim was to have an important influence on Queen Victoria’s life – like Mr Brown, her previous servant, becoming one of her closest confidants – but unlike him, was promoted well beyond servant status.
“In letters to him over the years between his arrival in the UK and her death in 1901, the queen signed letters to him as ‘your loving mother’ and ‘your closest friend’,” author Shrabani Basu told the BBC.
“On some occasions, she even signed off her letters with a flurry of kisses – a highly unusual thing to do at that time.”
After Victoria’s death he burned papers and never wrote nor told stories that would embarrass her memory.