What Republican Senators Can Learn from a Courageous Egyptian Doctor Who Risked His Life to Save Jews

Republican senators — allow me to tell you a story about courage. The kind of courage it takes to stand on the edge of a cliff and trust that when you take your next step, launching yourself into free-fall yet propelled by moral courage —you will survive. Certainly, you will be bruised; or even battered from the hail and winds you will battle along the way — but you will be alive; having landed with your spine unbroken on the right side of history.

I want you to know a true story about Dr. Mohammed Helmy — an Arab Muslim from Egypt who was a physician in Berlin when the Nazi party rose to power — so that you might see the ripple effects of standing up to corruption and power. Here is what happened…

As Hitler’s Third Reich imposed more and more harsh restrictions on Jews and others whom he deemed inferior to the Aryan race, Dr. Helmy began to make known to his colleagues and friends his overwhelming loathing for the hate that was rising around him and the dictatorial regime that was perpetrating innumerable inhumane atrocities.

Dr. Mohammed Helmy and Anna Boros Gutman

Dr. Helmy — who was a medical director at the Robert Koch Hospital in Berlin — knew that speaking out against Hitler and all those who walked in lockstep with his ideology to rid Germany and all of Eastern Europe of Jews, homosexuals, Roma, dissidents and others would likely result in the loss of his job. If that occurred, he would have no way to support himself and soon, his fiancé, whom he was barred from marrying under Hitler because he was a ”Hamite” and she was an Aryan.

But Dr. Helmy could not stay silent as many of his colleagues, friends, and neighbors were espousing the glory of the new Germany to come — without Jews or other “undesirables” who might taint the master race. His vociferous dissent eventually caused him to be fired from his job at the hospital, and he was arrested and then released by the Nazis three times over the course of two years.

Dr. Mohammed Helmy became the first Arab ever awarded Israel’s Holocaust Memoral Museeum’s most sacred honor—”Righteous Among the Nations” for saving Jews (Anna and her family) during the Holocaust.

Still, he refused to be a bystander and helplessly watch as the world around him went mad. He knew he could not save everyone imperiled by the hateful edicts of the reich; but he knew he could help some. Dr. Helmy opened a private practice after being dismissed from the hospital, and saw many Jewish patients. When the Nazis called for the deportation of a 19-year-old Jewish girl and her family, Dr. Helmy acted. He enlisted the aid of a brave woman he knew who was willing to hide Jews. He quickly sent the young girl’s parents and grandmother to Frieda Szturmann’s home and then devised a plan to save the girl, Anna.

A young Dr. Mohammed Helmy

Dr. Helmy “converted” Anna to Islam, gave her a new name, “Nadia”, and had forged identification papers created for her. He hid her, for the most part, in a tiny garden shed behind a cabin his fiancé Emmy owned in a suburb of Berlin, and moved her from place to place when the Nazis seemed to be closing in on her. Several times, he had Anna pose as his nurse-assistant and took her with him when he was forced to treat members of the SS as a condition of his release from jail. Indeed, they both walked into the mouth of the lion.

Anna and her family survived the war thanks to Dr. Helmy’s moral courage. If he had not risked his own life to oppose moral corruption and speak truth to power, Anna and her family would have been deported to the death camps, and that would have been the end of their life stories. But it wasn’t.

After the war, Anna and her family emigrated to America. There, she gave birth to three children, the first of whom was Fred—my husband. Fred grew up to become a pulmonologist in the Dayton, Ohio area and has patients who come to Dayton from all over the world so that Fred can help them breathe easily again. Many of Fred’s patients know his mother’s story, and tell him how thankful they are that Dr. Helmy saved Anna…because, they say, Fred in turn saved their lives.

Dr. Fred Wagshul at Berlin’s Holocaust memorial

It is difficult to stand on the edge of a cliff and take a step into total uncertainty, knowing that your livelihood and your status as an elected official is at great risk. I understand that. But you know what the American president — a self-proclaimed aspiring “president-for-life” — has done. The facts are indisputable. That his offenses are impeachable is clear. But thus far, you have retreated from the precipice, unwilling to summon your own moral courage to do what is right for this country when you know what the right thing to do is.

It is not an exaggeration to say that if this president is acquitted, the death knoll for democracy will sound and a demagogue will be in power and REMAIN in power. A demagogue who has expressed his revulsion for LatinX, Muslims, Jews, people who come from “sh%$hole” countries, and more. A demagogue who is a white nationalist. A demagogue whose first priority is himself and only himself.

I know you know this. The words you proclaim publicly belie the conscience that is screaming to be revealed in your heart. History has shown us what happens when absolute power is given to one man.

So, senators, what will you do in this moment? I know what Dr. Helmy would have done. So do you.

Dr. Mohammed Helmy is the first Arab Muslim to be named to Israel’s “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem — the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.

(L-R) Joyce Kamen and husband Dr. Fred Wagshul, Dr. Nasser Kotbe (Great Nephew of Dr. Mohammed Helmy), Carla Greenspan (Fred’s sister) Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff and Barry Greenspan, husband of Carla. Photo taken in 2017 at the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin at a ceremony bestowing the “Righteous Among the Nations” award posthumously by Israel to Dr. Mohammed Helmy.
Dr. Kotbe receiving the award from Israeli Ambassador Issacharoff
The medal given to the family of Dr. Helmy by Yad Vashem

Cincinnati, Ohio-based writer, visual storyteller, PR Specialist and Telly and Emmy Award winning video and documentary producer.

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