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Tomorrow in Berlin: Ceremony Posthumously Honoring Righteous Among the Nations Dr. Mohamed Helmy in the Presence of the Egyptian Physician's Family

Dr. Mohamed Helmy was honored as Righteous Among the Nations in 2013 and only now family members were located and agreed to accept the Medal and Certificate from Israel's Ambassador to Israel

25 October 2017

Tomorrow afternoon, Thursday, 26 October 2017, the Academy for Germany's Foreign Ministry will host a ceremony posthumously honoring Egyptian physician Dr. Mohamed Helmy as Righteous Among the Nations. Israel's Ambassador to Germany H.E. Jeremy Issacharoff will present the medal and certificate of honor to Dr. Nasser Kotby, nephew of Dr. Helmy, on behalf of Yad Vashem, the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Dr. Mohamed Helmy, the first Arab awarded this highest distinction, was recognized by Yad Vashem in March 2013 along with Frieda Szturmann, and their names are engraved on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

As part of the television documentary film on Dr. Helmy by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN), filmmaker and director Talya Finkel met with Dr. Helmy's nephew, Dr. Nasser Kotby. Dr. Kotby agreed to travel to Germany to receive the award from the Israeli Ambassador to Germany.

Director of the Righteous Among the Nations Department at Yad Vashem Irena Steinfeldt remarked:

"Despite being targeted by the Nazi regime and notwithstanding the great danger, Dr. Helmy risked his life to help his Jewish friends. At a time when Jews were persecuted and murdered only because they were Jews, when indifference and hatred prevailed, he saw the persecuted as human beings, and felt it was his duty to stand up and act. This story is a unique case of a Muslim Egyptian immigrant in Germany who courageously set out to save people of a different religion and a different nationality. Dr. Helmy’s humanity shows that every person, however marginalized by society, can make a difference. Today we have the opportunity to show our gratitude for these selfless acts of 70 years ago and honor Dr. Mohamed Helmy; this is extremely meaningful and moving."

The event will be conducted English.

The story of Dr. Helmy is also available on Yad Vashem's Arabic website in that language

The event is open to the press. To register for the ceremony, please contact: Adi Farjon, Spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Berlin via telephone +49-171-3089045115 or email: spokesperson@berlin.mfa.gov.il .

The Rescue Story:

Dr. Mohamed Helmy was born in Khartoum in 1901 to Egyptian parents. In 1922, he traveled to Germany to study medicine, and settled in Berlin. After completing his studies, he went to work at the Robert Koch Hospital in Berlin (later called the Moabit Hospital), where he rose to the role of Head of the Urology Department. Dr. Helmy became witness to the dismissal of Jewish doctors from the hospital in 1933. (A study conducted by the Robert Koch Institute in 2009 showed that the Institute was heavily involved in Nazi medical policy). According to Nazi racial theory, Dr. Helmy was defined as a Hamit or Hamitic (the descendants of Ham, son of Noah) – a term adopted from 19th century racial science, referring to the natives of North Africa, the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia, including Ancient Egyptians. Not classified as "Aryan," Dr. Helmy was also discriminated against; he was fired from the hospital in 1938, and forbidden to marry his German fiancée, Annie Ernst. Moreover, in 1939 and again in 1940 he was arrested together with other Egyptian nationals, but released a year later due to health problems. 

Despite being targeted by the regime, Dr. Helmy spoke out against Nazi policies, and notwithstanding the great danger, risked his life to help his Jewish friends. When the deportations of the Jews from Berlin began, and 21-year old Anna Boros (later Gutman), a family friend, was in need of a hiding place, Dr. Helmy brought her to a cabin he owned in the Berlin neighborhood of Buch, which became her safe haven until the end of the war. At times of danger when he was under police investigation, Dr. Helmy would arrange for her to hide elsewhere. “A good friend of our family, Dr. Helmy… hid me in his cabin in Berlin-Buch from 10 March until the end of the war. As of 1942, I no longer had any contact with the outside world. The Gestapo knew that Dr. Helmy was our family physician, and they knew about his cabin,” Anna Gutman wrote after the war. “He managed to evade all their interrogations. In such cases, he would bring me to friends where I would stay for several days, introducing me as his cousin from Dresden. When the danger would pass, I would return to his cabin…. Dr. Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart, and I will be grateful to him for all eternity.” 

Dr. Helmy also helped Anna’s mother Julie, stepfather Gerog Wehr, and grandmother Cecilie Rudnik. He provided for them and attended to their medical needs. He arranged for Rudnik to be hidden in the home of Frieda Szturmann. For over a year, Szturmann hid and protected the elderly lady and shared her food rations with her. When Szturmann's neighbors became suspicious, Rudnik was moved to the apartment of Szturmann's sister, who had moved away but kept her Berlin home. Under the pretext of looking after her sister's empty apartment, Szturmann would come once a week and bring food for Rudnik. Being alone all the time became very difficult for the Rudnik, and eventually a new hideout was found for her. Szturmann continued to visit and provide her with food. 

A moment of great danger occurred when the Wehrs were caught in 1944, and during their interrogation revealed that Dr. Helmy was helping them and that he was hiding Anna. Dr. Helmy immediately brought Anna to Frieda Szturmann’s home, and it was only thanks to his resourcefulness that he managed to evade punishment by showing the police a letter Anna had allegedly written to him, saying she was staying with her aunt in Dessau.

Thanks to the help and courage of Dr. Helmy and Frieda Szturmann, the four Jewish family members survived the Holocaust. After the war, they immigrated to the United States, but never forgot their rescuers, and in the 1950s and early 1960s wrote letters on their behalf to the Berlin Senate so that they would be honored as rescuers of Jews. 

Dr. Helmy remained in Berlin and eventually married Annie Ernst. He died in 1982. Frieda Szturmann passed away in 1962. 

After the Department of the Righteous gathered all available documentation from the German archives, on 12 March 2013 the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous decided to honor Dr. Mohamed Helmy and Frieda Szturmann as Righteous Among the Nations – Dr. Helmy was the first Arab rescuer to be awarded the esteemed title.

The rescue case was based on archival documents of the 1960s, and there was no information about Szturmann's or Helmy's next of kin. Anna Boros had immigrated to the United States after the war, but efforts to find her family remained fruitless.  Yad Vashem turned to the Egyptian embassy for help in finding members of Dr. Helmy's family. In the meantime, his medal and certificate of honor were put on display in the exhibition "I Am My Brother's Keeper" in Yad Vashem's Exhibitions Pavilion on the Mount of Remembrance.

Following reports in the media about the honoring of Dr. Helmy, an Israeli relative of Anna Boros-Gutman contacted Yad Vashem and connected staff to Anna's daughter, Carla. " I often thought about asking Yad Vashem to add Dr. Helmy's name to the list of the Righteous, but never bothered because I knew he and his wife had passed away and they never had any children. I didn't realize how important it is to make this information public, " she wrote to Yad Vashem. "If it weren't for Dr. Helmy, I would not be here today, and nor would my two brothers, Charlie and Fred. In addition, between the three of us, we have seven children who wouldn't be here either." Carla enclosed a photo showing her and her mother visiting Dr. Helmy and his wife in Berlin in 1969, as well as a number of documents that she had found among her mother's belongings. The two documents, in German and Arabic, revealed that Dr. Helmy used every possible means to protect his protégée: he even obtained a certificate for her from the Central Islamic Institute in Berlin, headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, attesting to her alleged conversion to Islam, and a marriage certificate (in Arabic), falsely stating that she had married a fellow Egyptian in a ceremony held in Dr. Helmy's home. 

During the 1950s and early '60s, Boros wrote a letter to the German Senate detailing the story of both her rescuers. This letter was found in a German archive in Berlin and given to Yad Vashem's Righteous Among the Nations Department. It formed the basis for the recognition of Helmy and Szturmann by the Committee for the Designation of Righteous Among the Nations in 2013.

To date, Yad Vashem has recognized over 26,500 Righteous Among the Nations – approximately 70 of which were Muslims – who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations program >>>