Abdallah Chatila is a most unusual, and noble, man.
A Swiss Lebanese Christian businessman based in Geneva, and one of Switzerland’s wealthiest people, Chatila extended a hand of friendship to Jews recently when he donated an assortment of Nazi memorabilia, some of which belonged to Adolf Hitler, to a Jewish organization.
“I wanted to make sure that these pieces wouldn’t fall into bad hands, to the wrong side of the story, so I decided to buy them,” explained Chatila, who made his fortune in real estate and diamonds. “I have no direct interest whatsoever, I just thought it was the right thing to do.”
“I felt I had no choice but to actually try to help the cause,” added Chatila, who moved from Lebanon to Europe with his family at the age of two. In a reference to Hitler, Chatila described him as “the personification of evil. Evil for everyone. Not evil for the Jews. Not evil for the Christians. Evil for humanity.”
Chatila’s gesture of solidarity and empathy is astonishing in and of itself, but all the more striking when his ethnicity is factored into the equation.
He’s an Arab, and in this day and age, Arabs are usually wary of or hostile to Jews, Israel and certainly ambivalent or skeptical about the Holocaust, which some Arab spokesman claim Israel has milked to its advantage.
I have no idea what connections, if any, Chatila has with Jews. Chatila, however, does not conform to common Jewish perceptions of Arabs. He seems to be a refreshing independent thinker who charts his own course rather than a dull conformist who runs with the pack.
Chatila paid $660,000 for ten items he purchased, including Hitler’s top hat, cigar box and typewriter, as well as an edition of his autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf. He reportedly bought these items after reading that Jewish groups objected to the auction, which was organized by a German company, Hermann Historica.
Originally, Chatila intended to destroy his purchases, but instead donated them to the Israeli fund-raising organization Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal. It, in turn, passed them on to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and education center in Jerusalem.
When Israeli President Reuven Rivlin heard about his gesture, he invited him to Jerusalem. Heaping praise on Chatila, Rivlin said, “Your donation is of great importance at this time, when people are trying to deny historical truth. These artifacts, which you are generously donating to Yad Vashem, will help convey the legacy of the Holocaust to the next generation, who will not meet survivors. What you did was seemingly so simple, but this act of grace shows the whole world how to fight the glorification of hatred and incitement against other people. It was a truly human act.”
Chatila, having met Holocaust survivors, told Rivlin, “I feel a shiver when I understand how important this is for the Jewish people, but I think there is a wider message for the whole world, that ‘never again’ is not a meaningless slogan. Through acts such as this, we can ensure that these things never happen again.”
These are inspirational words that apply to a real mensch.