Today, Silvan Shalom is a member of Israel's political elite, as the country's vice prime minister. But before he arrived in Israel in the late 1950s as a tiny infant, his family lived in a town in Southern Tunisia called Gabes, where an Arab neighbor had saved the family during the German-Italian occupation.
Silvan's grandfather was then president of the Jewish community of Gabes, a role members of his family had held for generations. This was a dangerous position to hold in the early 1940s. When the Germans arrived in the capital city Tunis, one of their first acts was to arrest the leader of the local Jewish community. And very soon after the Germans and their Italian allies came to Gabes, a unit was sent to find Silvan's grandfather.
But by the time that happened, the men of the house had already gotten word that soliders were coming for them and they escaped, leaving Silvan's grandmother and her two daughters (Silvan's mother and aunt) in the house. When the soldiers arrived and tried to get through the main gate of the large family home, Silvan's grandmother courageously managed to bar the door. It was an act that would almost surely invite severe retribution from the troops outside.
Just at that moment, an Arab neighbor in the crowd outside Silvan's home called to the Germans and Italians.
"Leave her alone," he said. "She's not allowed to open the door for foreigners." He explained to the attackers that Silvan's grandmother barred the gate out of traditional female modesty, not as an act of insubordination toward the soldiers.
It was a lie; Silvan's family was very open, modern and liberal. But the Arab was quick on his feet and very convincing. The soldiers accepted the explanation and yelled through the gate that they would return later when the men of the house were home. That brief respite allowed the women of the house to make their own escape.
No one in Silvan's family recalls the name of the man whose cleverness saved the women, but they remember him gratefully nonetheless.
"I think absolutely he's a Righteous Among the Nations," said Silvan. "If I would find that Arab Muslim man that rescued my family, I would kiss him, embrace him, hug him, thank him for doing so."
-- Robert Satloff