Saturday, March 24, 2012

FILM: The Great Mosque of Paris that saved Jews during the Holocaust-HAARETZ

 The Great Mosque of Paris that saved Jews during the Holocaust

Focusing on the tale of Algerian-born Jewish singer Salim Halali, a new French film looks at the little-known, and hard to confirm, efforts of the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris to save Jews during World War II.

By Ofer Aderet

Salim Halali was a huge star in France and Morocco in the mid-20th century. The Jewish singer, who was born in 1920 into a poor family in Algeria, came to France when he was 14. Within a few years he became known far and wide as the best “Oriental” singer in Europe.
Now, seven years after his death,
Benghabrit (right) at the Elysee Palace in 1935 Benghabrit (right) at the Elysee Palace in 1935
Photo by: Getty Images
Halali’s persona is back at center stage in a new French movie. The film, “Les hommes libres,” is being screened at the French film festival that is taking place at Cinematheques across Israel until April 5th.
The plot of the film centers on a heroic rescue tale, the details of which have yet to be studied fully by scholars, having to do with the Great Mosque of Paris having provided sanctuary and refuge to Jews, Halali among them, during the Holocaust. The film has sparked a renewed public debate over whether the honorific “Righteous Among the Nations” should be accorded to the mosque’s rector, who is depicted as one who placed Halali and other Jews under his protection.
French actor in the film 'Les hommes libres' French actor Michael Lonsdale (left) depicting Benghabrit, as he greets a German Nazi officer, in the film 'Les hommes libres.'

“The film pays homage to the people of our history who have been invisible. It shows another reality, that Muslims and Jews existed in peace. We have to remember that − with pride,” the film’s director, Ismael Ferroukhi, said in an interview with the New York Times.
The mosque at the center of the film is housed in an impressive fortress-like building with a striking green roof, which occupies an entire street on Paris’ Left Bank. The French government built it in 1926 in honor of the Muslim soldiers who were killed fighting for the country in World War I, and to bolster the bond between the state and its Arab immigrants − and through them with their countries of origin.

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