Who is Dr Mod Helmy? The WWII hero in today's Google Doodle

Who is Dr Mod Helmy? The WWII hero in today's Google Doodle

Dr Mod Helmy is celebrated for his bravery and generosity

Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Google Doodle is a reminder that some human beings are truly extraordinary.

The design, which you’ll see if you head to the search engine’s homepage, is a celebration of Dr Mohamed “Mod” Helmy – a man who risked his life to save Jewish people during the Second World War.

Dr Helmy was born in Khartoum, Sudan, on 25 July, 1901, to an Egyptian father and a German mother.

At the age of 21, he moved to Germany to study medicine, swiftly proving his skills as a talented physician and becoming head of urology at Berlin’s Robert Koch Hospital (now known as Krankenhaus Moabit).

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However, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 was to turn his happy life upside down.

Dr Helmy was forced to watch, powerless, as his Jewish colleagues were all fired from the hospital. And whilst he was initially kept on, he was soon subjected to discrimination and persecution for being a North African, and lost his job, too.

He was also banned from marrying his German fiancée Annie Ernst (although, we’re pleased to say, he was able to do so some years later).

In 1939 and again in 1940, the doctor was arrested along with other Egyptian nationals. And although the Nazis released him when he became gravely ill, he was under strict instruction to report to the police twice a day as proof he was unfit for internment.

Despite being targeted by the regime himself, Dr Helmy continued to speak out against Nazi policies and, after being demoted to the role of doctor’s assistant, he made the most of his limited position by writing sick notes to help innocent people escape hard labour.

He also repeatedly risked his life to help his Jewish friends.

Berlin-based artist Noa Snir created the Doodle to mark what would have been Dr Helmy's 122nd birthdayNoa Snir/Google

When Berlin’s deportation of the Jews began and his family friend Anna Boros was in need of a hiding place, Dr Helmy brought her to a cabin he owned in the neighbourhood of Buch.

This became her safe haven until the end of the war, as Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Center, notes in its biography of the doctor.

At times of danger, when he was under police investigation, Dr Helmy would arrange for Boros to hide elsewhere.

“A good friend of our family, Dr Helmy…hid me in his cabin in Berlin-Buch from 10 March until the end of the war,” she wrote after the war.

“As of 1942 I no longer had any contact [with] the outside world. The Gestapo knew that Dr Helmy was our family physician, and they knew that he owned a cabin in Berlin-Buch.

“He managed to evade all their interrogations. In such cases he would bring me to friends where I would stay for several days, introducing me as his cousin from Dresden. When the danger would pass, I would return to his cabin.

“Dr Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart and I will be grateful to him for eternity”.

Anna Boros (now Gutman) second from left, during a visit to Berlin with her daughter to visit Dr. Helmy and his wife in 1969Yad Vashem

Dr Helmy also helped protect Boros’ mother, Julianna, her stepfather, Georg Wehr, and her grandmother, Cecilie Rudnik. Thanks to his courage and resourcefulness, all four of them survived the Holocaust.

He remained in Berlin until his death in 1982.

In 2013, Yad Vashem posthumously bestowed its Righteous Among the Nations award on Dr Helmy. He was the first Arab rescuer to be awarded the prestigious title.

The Google Doodle artwork was created by Berlin-based artist Noa Snir to honour his Egyptian and German background and capture his open-hearted nature.

Speaking about her work on the project, Snir told a Google Q&A: ": I found the story of Mod Helmy very moving. I come from a Jewish background, and the thought of individuals outside of the Jewish community risking their lives to help others during WW2 is something that personally gives me hope about humanity.

"I think Helmy's case is an especially interesting one as he himself suffered persecution due to his background and ethnicity, and that still didn't stop him from helping as many people as he could. It's unfathomable to me, this type of courage and integrity."

She added that she hoped people would view her Doodle and reflect on the fact that "even in one of the darkest moments in world history, there were truly remarkable people who made acts of extreme courage and solidarity".

"I think we should all aspire to be the Mod Helmy's of the world, or ask ourselves how we can take example from him in whatever small way we can," she said.

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