Book Review By: Daniella Lurion, Director of the Tour for Humanity
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews during the Holocaust
By Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews during the Holocaust depicts a little-known story of Paris’ Muslim community during the Nazi occupation of the French capital. While this story is in picture book format, do not be fooled into thinking it’s for primary students. To be sure, the text is age-appropriate for junior and intermediate grades, but the lessons learned here are universal, suitable for all ages.
Built in 1926, the Grand Mosque in Paris became the center of the city’s thriving Muslim community. Aside from spiritual respite, the mosque served as a place to learn, gather, play and eat. When France fell to the Nazis in June 1940, the mosque began serving a larger purpose. For five years, its rector, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, helped to shelter Jewish children in the upstairs apartments and provide safe passage for Jewish families escaping Nazi occupied France.
One anecdote illustrates the simple, yet powerful ways in which one could save lives. The authors explain that the rector was able to delay Nazi searches of the mosque by “demanding that the soldiers and police remove their boots. Before going into the prayer room of any mosque, it is customary to remove all footwear. Taking off heavy military boots took time, giving everyone inside the opportunity to get out of sight.”
All the people in the book, risked their lives to help others in spite of the dangerous circumstances. The themes and lessons in the book remind us that even with our differences, we each have the power to help others and stand up for what is right.