Even in the darkest times, there are heroes—though sometimes they may be the people we least expect.
That’s the message a global nonprofit group hopes to spread Friday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when it displays a small exhibit in a New York synagogue highlighting the little-known stories of Muslims who risked their lives to rescue Jewish people from persecution during World War II. Though the two religious groups are often presented in opposition, this exhibit is a reminder that they have also shared an important history of cooperation and mutual assistance.
The tales include those of Khaled Abdul Wahab, who sheltered about two dozen Jews in Tunisia, and Abdol Hossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat who is credited with helping thousands of Jews escape Nazi soldiers by issuing them passports
The group also recognizes the Pilkus, a Muslim family in Albania who harbored young Johanna Neumann and her mother in their home during the German occupation and convinced others that the two were family members visiting from Germany. “They put their lives on the line to save us,” Neumann, now 86, told TIME on Friday. “If it had come out that we were Jews, the whole family would have been killed.”
“What these people did, many European nations didn’t do,” she added. “They all stuck together and were determined to save Jews.”
The collection of 15 stories shows how people organically came to protect one another, even in extreme environments of war and conflict, organizers said. “Those stories are very powerful together because they show a different side to humanity. It shows that we can have hope even at a time like the Holocaust,” said Mehnaz Afridi, a Manhattan College professor who specializes in Islam and the Holocaust.