Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holoca

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holoca

Karen Gray Ruelle, Deborah Durland DeSaix
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 to 11
Holiday House, 2009   ISBN: 978-0823421596

In 1940, after the Nazi’s invaded France, life for people in Paris changed dramatically. Everyone had to stand in line to get food and other supplies, and the citizens of the great city lived in fear, not knowing what lay in their future. The citizens who suffered the most were the Jews. Hated by the Nazis, the Jews were persecuted not just by the Germans but also by French collaborators. Police officers working for the French Vichy government helped to round up Jews and imprisoned them in internment camps where the living conditions were appalling. Then, in 1941, the Nazis and their supporters started to send the Jews to concentration camps.

Though some French citizens supported the persecution of the Jews or turned a blind eye to what was going on, many did not. They did what they could, at great risk to themselves, to hide and protect Jewish men, women, and children. It was very hard to find hiding places for the Jewish people in Paris, where the Nazis and the police were everywhere. One place that did offer sanctuary was the Grand Mosque, “the center of the Islamic community in France.”

Si Kaddour Benghabrit was an intellectual Algerian-born diplomat, and he was the rector at the Grand Mosque during the war. The Nazis and the Vichy government suspected that the rector and his staff were helping Jews, and the Muslims knew that they were in grave danger. However, this knowledge did not stop them from doing what they could to help.

Many of the people who worked at the mosque lived with the families in apartments within in the mosque. The families often hid North African Jewish children “in among their own,” pretending that the children belonged to them. One group of Muslims, the Kabyles, were very active in the French Resistance. They set up a secret network that smuggled people out of Paris to safety, and over time they smuggled more and more Jews out of France. The mosque played an important role in one of the routes that the Kabyles used. Jews was smuggled into the mosque, and then a few days later they were guided through an underground tunnel system to the river Seine, where they were hidden on barges there were transporting wine barrels.

Despite the fact that there are very few written accounts describing what the Paris Muslims did during World War II, the authors of this book have managed to find remarkable stories about the role Muslims played during this terrible time in France’s history. They have pieced together fragments of history to give readers a picture of the past, one that is uplifting and powerful.