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Who was Dr Mohammed Helmy? Why a Google Doodle is celebrating the Egyptian-German Doctor

Google is celebrating the 122nd birthday of humanitarian Dr Mohammed Helmy with today’s Google Doodle.

The Egyptian-German medical doctor is noted for risking his life to rescue Jewish people during the Holocaust, while he was also being persecuted by Nazis.

A decade ago, the Yad Vashem (Israel’s official Holocaust victim memorial) recognised Dr Helmy with the honorific, Righteous Among the Nations, which is given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. He was the first Muslim Arab to be recognised with the honorific.

Who was Dr Mohammed Helmy?

Dr Helmy was born on 25 July, 1901, in Khartoum, Sudan (present day Sudan, at the time this area was controlled by Egypt and the UK). His father was Egyptian and his mother German.

In 1922, he moved to Germany to study medicine – going on to specialise, and later become the head of the urology department, at Robert Koch Hospital (later called Krankenhaus Moabit).

However, he began facing persecution after the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933. As a North African, Dr Helmy eventually lost his position at the hospital, where all Jewish staff had already been fired.

He was arrested twice and sent to a prison camp at Wülzburg, in 1939 and 1940 – becoming seriously ill during this time. His 1940 release from the prison camp was because of how ill he was but, for the next year, he still had to report to police twice a day and regularly prove he was too unfit to be interred there.

Conscripted to the medical practice of a German doctor, Dr Helmy wrote fake sick notes to help German’s get out of labour conscription and military service, and foreign workers return to their countries.

Despite being persecuted by the Nazis himself, Dr Helmy helped a Jewish patient, and three of her older family members (mother, step father, and grandmother), survive the Holocaust by hiding them at a cabin he owned in Buch, on the outskirts of Berlin. Their hiding was successful, even when Dr Helmy was under direct police investigation.

Nazis had stopped him from marrying his German fiancée, but he did so after the war. Dr Helmy practiced medicine until his death, on 10 January, 1982.

The Yad Vashem recognised Dr Helmy with the honorific, Righteous Among the Nations, in 2013.

What is the Google Doodle?

The Google Doodle, by Berlin-based artists Noa Snir, shows Dr Helmy in a white lab coat, with a stethoscope draped around his neck. Half of the background in a desert, representing Egypt, and the other half is a building that appears to be a hospital.

Between his open arms, and in front of the word ‘Google’ sits four people, facing Dr Helmy, with suitcases — representing the Jewish lives he helped save.

Ms Snir told Google she was concerned about “how to correctly convey Helmy’s story without focusing much on the difficult times he operated in”.

“I thought the hint of war should exist in the doodle, but it should still communicate hope and strength. I hope I succeeded in doing that.”

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