I promised an interesting story about the sifrei torah in Rhodes. This is a story we discovered at the brand new Jewish museum in Rhodes.
In 1943, the German military took control of Rhodes. Early in 1944, British bombs resulted in the deaths of thirty-four Jews. Realizing that the situation in Rhodes was not secure, the community decided to find a way to safeguard their sifrei torah, among them one that was about 800 years old.
In secret, they turned over the sifrei torah to the Turkish religious leader, the Grand Mufti of Rhodes, Seyh Suleyman Kaslioglu, who hid them in the pulpit of a mosque that was located in the new city of Rhodes, far from the old town which was the target of the bombings.
In July 1944, the Jews of Rhodes were deported by the Germans, most of them to Auschwitz. Of the 1,676 Jews deported, only about 151 survived the war. At the end of the war, all of the sifrei torah were returned to the survivors and to this day are preserved in the synagogue in Rhodes.
In a conversation in 1971 with a Jewish friend of his, the Grand Mufti confided, “One of the greatest moments of my life was when I was able to embrace the Torah and carry it and put it in the pulpit of the mosque because we knew that no German would ever think that the Torahs were preserved in the pulpit of the mosque.”
In a later interview with the daughter of the Grand Mufti, in 2004, she revealed that she “had Jewish blood.” Further investigation showed that the Grand Mufti’s father-in-law was Jewish and that through the years, the Grand Mufti had meetings with the Grand Rabbi of Rhodes and other Jewish leaders.