30 September 2013
Yad Vashem recently recognized Dr. Mohamed Helmy and Frieda Szturmann as Righteous Among the Nations. Dr. Helmy, an Egyptian physician living in Berlin and Szturmann, a local German woman, worked together in the heart of Nazi Germany to help save a Jewish family during the height of the Holocaust. Dr. Helmy is the first Egyptian to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem is currently searching for the rescuers’ next of kin to posthumously honor their relatives in a ceremony and present them with the certificate and medal of the Righteous. Until the next of kin is identified, Dr. Helmy’s certificate and medal will be on display in the I am My Brother’s Keeper: 50 Years of Honoring Righteous Among the Nations Exhibition at Yad Vashem.
The Rescue Story
Dr. Mohamed Helmy was born in Khartoum in 1901 to Egyptian parents. In 1922, Helmy went to Germany to study medicine and settled in Berlin. After he completed his studies, he went to work at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, but was dismissed in 1937. (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 and used to define the natives of North Africa, including ancient Egyptians, the Horn of Africa, and South Arabia. Not being of the Aryan race, Dr. Helmy was discriminated against and forbidden to work in the public health system as well as unable to marry his German fiancée. Moreover, in 1939 he was arrested together with other Egyptian nationals, but released a year later because of health problems.
Despite being targeted by the regime, Helmy spoke out against Nazi policies, and notwithstanding the great danger, risked his life by helping his Jewish friends. When the deportations of the Jews from Berlin began, 21-year old Anna Boros (Gutman after the war), a family friend, was in need of a hiding place. 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 increased danger when he was under police investigation, 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 that he owned a cabin in Berlin-Buch,” 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 eternity.”
Helmy also helped Anna Gutman’s mother Julie, stepfather Georg Wehr, and her grandmother Cecilie Rudnik. Providing for them and attending to their medical needs, he arranged for Cecilie Rudnik to be hidden in the home of Frieda Szturmann. For over a year Szturmann hid and protected the elderly lady and shared her own food rations with her.
One particular moment of great danger occurred when the Wehrs were caught in 1944, and during their brutal interrogation revealed that Helmy was helping them and that he was hiding Anna. Helmy immediately brought Anna to Frieda Szturmann’s home, and it was only thanks to his resourcefulness that he managed to evade punishment.
Thanks to the help and courage of Dr. Helmy and Frieda Szturmann the four family members survived the Holocaust. After the war they immigrated to the United States, but did not forgot their rescuers, and in the 1950’s and early 1960’s wrote letters on their behalf to the Berlin Senate. These letters were uncovered in the Berlin archives, and were recently submitted to Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations Department.
Dr. Helmy remained in Berlin and was finally able to marry his fiancée. He died in 1982. Frieda Szturmann passed away in 1962.
More information about the Righteous Among the Nations is available here.