A Canadian businessman is being dubbed the “Jewish Schindler” after paying for the release of Yazidi and Christian slaves held by Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
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Steve Maman has rescued 128 girls and women through the organisation he founded, Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI).
CYCI uses intermediaries to negotiate with Islamic State captors and pays between $1000 - $3000 for the release of each slave. According to the organization’s website, girls and women are then returned to their families or sent to a Kurdish refugee camp in northern Syria.
Islamic State is estimated to have taken 2,700 women and girls captive, torturing them and using them as sex slaves. Amnesty International claims Yazidi and Christian girls as young as 12 are being held.
Montreal-based Maman says his Jewish tradition motivated him to take action and establish CYCI in January this year.
“The Talmud says one who saves a life saves a world. It doesn't say one who saves a Jewish life, it doesn't say one who saves a Christian life, it talks about a life,” he told Canada’s CBC Radio.
“What motivated me is very simple: being Jewish, being part of a people that actually survived the Holocaust...we for six years waited for people to actually answer the call and come and help us."
Maman has been accused of funding Islamic State terrorism by paying the group for the release of hostages, and was charged with this criticism on-air.
"ISIS is worth today -- 4 billion dollars," he retorted. "Do you think that my little meager two or 3,000 dollars per child is going to in any way or form help the power and might that ISIS may attain?"
“You'd have to stand up and tell the 1,200 survivors thanks to Oskar Schindler and their 15,000 descendants, that they were liberated unlawfully...because we were liberated thanks to Oskar Schindler giving money to the Nazis."
Although Maman originally paid for the release of hostages himself, CYCI is now appealing for donation to continue its work.
“If we don't intervene when we do, their suffering just continues at merciless hands of sex traders,” its website says.
“We count on your continued support to help us liberate the ones that are left behind,” Maman wrote in a message to fans and donors on Facebook.