Dr. Mohamed Helmy (1901–82) is the first Arab and Egyptian to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations, though his next of kin have disgracefully refused to accept the award because it comes from Israel. After this refusal in October 2013, Yad Vashem began looking for other descendants, people who wouldn’t be swayed by ideological prejudices. Dr. Helmy gave no heed to the religion or nationality of the four people he saved, and was discriminated against himself because he was an Arab in Germany; his descendants ought to have learnt from his example.
Dr. Helmy was born in Khartoum, Sudan, when it was still part of Egypt, to an Egyptian father and German mother, and moved to Berlin in 1922 to study medicine. After getting his M.D., he began working at the Robert Koch Hospital in Berlin and became head of the urology department.
Entrance to the former Robert Koch Hospital, later renamed the Moabit Hospital, Copyright Lecartia
Under Nazi racial theory, he was considered a Hamit, a 19th century eugenics term applied to people from North Africa. Hence, he faced a lot of discrimination, and was eventually fired in 1938. Five years earlier, he’d witnessed the systematic firing of Jewish doctors at the hospital. In addition to losing his job, Dr. Helmy was also forbidden from marrying his German fiancée, Emmi Ernst, under the anti-miscegenation laws. In 1939, he was arrested along with other Egyptian nationals, though released after only a year due to health problems.
Dr. Helmy wasn’t afraid to speak out against Nazi policies, and thought nothing of risking his life to save family friend Anna Boros after the deportations from Berlin began. He brought her to his cabin in the Berlin neighbourhood of Buch, where she hid until the liberation. However, the Gestapo knew Dr. Helmy had this cabin in Buch, and that he was the Boros family’s doctor. As a result, several times, Dr. Helmy was under police investigation, and arranged for her to stay with friends, introducing her as his cousin from Dresden.
Dr. Helmy, 1969, during a visit with Anna Boros Gutman (second from left); Photo courtesy of www.yadvashem.org; Use consistent with fair use doctrine
Dr. Helmy also saved Anna’s mother Julie; her grandmother, Cecilie Rudnik; and her stepfather, Georg Wehr. He provided them with everything they needed and attended to them as a physician. Frau Rudnik was hidden in Frieda Szturmann’s home for over a year, and Frieda protected her, saw to her every need, and shared her own food.
These three members of Anna’s extended family were caught in 1944, and during their interrogation, they confessed Dr. Helmy had helped them and was hiding Anna. Dr. Helmy immediately took Anna to Frieda’s home, and showed the Gestapo an alleged letter from Anna, claiming she was staying with an aunt in Dresden.
Dr. Helmy also protected Anna by getting a certificate from the Central Islamic Institute in Berlin, headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, claiming she’d converted to Islam. Additionally, he got a marriage certificate, written in Arabic, claiming she’d married an Egyptian national in a ceremony conducted in his own apartment.
After the war, Dr. Helmy was finally able to marry his fiancée and remained in Berlin. On 18 March 2013, he and Frieda were honoured as Righteous Among the Nations.