First Egyptian Righteous Among the Nations honored

An Egyptian physician, working with a local woman in the heart of Nazi Germany, saved a Jewish family and escaped mortal danger

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Illustrative: Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem. (Courtesy)

An Egyptian physician was honored Monday by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as the first Righteous Among the Nations from his country, for saving a Jewish family in the heart of Nazi Germany.

The Berlin-trained Dr. Mohamed Helmy is credited with saving 21-year-old Anna Boros Gutman and her family, whom he helped starting in 1942.

During a wave of Jewish deportation in the city, Helmy hid Gutman in a cabin he owned in Berlin-Buch, where she stayed until almost the end of World War II. Her parents and grandmother were hidden separately.

After the war, Gutman wrote, “The Gestapo knew that Dr. Helmy was our family physician, and they knew that he owned a cabin in Berlin-Buch. He managed to evade all their interrogations… 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.”

In saving Gutman’s family, Helmy worked with a local woman, Frieda Szturmann, who is also honored as a Righteous Among the Nations. Mother Julie, stepfather Georg Wehr, and grandmother Cecilie Rudnik were all provided for and medically treated by Helmy, while Szturmann hid, fed and protected Rudnik for over a year.

When the Wehrs were caught in 1944 and revealed during interrogation who was hiding Anna, Helmy managed to evade punishment and also brought her to Szturmann’s home for hiding.

Born in 1901 in Khartoum to Egyptian parents, from 1922 Helmy studied medicine in Germany, eventually settling in Berlin where he worked at the Robert Koch Institute. He was dismissed in 1937, likely due to the institute’s involvement in Nazi medical policy.

Dr. Mohamed Helmy's certificate, on display at Yad Vashem. (photo credit: courtesy)
Dr. Mohamed Helmy’s certificate, on display at Yad Vashem. (photo credit: courtesy)

In Nazi racial classification, Helmy was defined as a “Hamit” or “Hamitic” (the descendants of Ham, son of Noah), a term used to define natives of North Africa. Like the Jews, Helmy was forbidden from working in public medicine, as well as from marrying his German fiancée — whom he wed after WWII. He died in Berlin in 1982.

Helmy was arrested in 1939, released in 1940, and continued to put himself in mortal danger by helping his Jewish friends. “Dr. Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart and I will be grateful to him for eternity,” wrote Gutman.

Until Yad Vashem locates the rescuers’ next of kin to posthumously honor their relatives in a ceremony, their certificates and medals will be on display in the “I Am My Brother’s Keeper: 50 Years of Honoring Righteous Among the Nations Exhibition” at Yad Vashem.

Also housed at Yad Vashem are letters the four surviving Jewish family members wrote to the Berlin Senate in the 1950s and 1960s, which were recently found in the Berlin archives.

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