A seldom-told story of bravery during the Holocaust was the decision of the rector of the Grand Mosquée de Paris to protect Jews. Si Kaddour Benghabrit provided refuge and certificates of Muslim identity to a small number of Jews to allow them to evade arrest and deportation. The Sephardic Jews of North Africa spoke Arabic and shared many of the same dietary traditions and everyday habits as the Arabs. Their names were often similar.
The huge mosque is a place of worship, but also a social place where people could meet. Benghabrit gave tours of the mosque to German officers and their wives even as he simultaneously used it to help Jews. Underneath, the mosque is honeycombed with tunnels. The cover that he created for Jews was so detailed that Benghabrit even had appropriate last names engraved on tombstones in the Muslim cemetery. No one knows for sure how many were helped because, for obvious reasons, records were sketchy. The occupying Germans suspected that the mosque was being used to hide Jews and the imam was threatened to stop any clandestine actions.
Benghabrit’s and the imam’s bravery during the holocaust makes me think of the expression la chance sourit aux audacieux (lah shahnse soo-ree oze owe-dass-yuh), which means “chance smiles on the bold,” or as we say, “fortune favors the bold.” I hope I’d have this kind of courage.