Podcast

How Assad’s Brutality Inspired Courage and Compassion Among Some Syrians

On the podcast: Members of the White Helmets describe what it’s like to charge to the scene when a bomb goes off.

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) carry a wounded person after shelling in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province on Feb. 26.
Members of the Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) carry a wounded person after shelling in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province on Feb. 26. ANAS AL-DYAB/AFP/Getty Images

For eight years now, Syrians have endured bombings, gas attacks, food scarcity, and a general breakdown of social order as President Bashar al-Assad suppressed any challenge to his regime.

But the civil war there has also spawned scenes of courage and compassion. For more than five years, volunteers around the country have been showing up at bombing sites minutes after the bombardments to help the wounded and search through rubble for survivors. The group calls itself the Syrian Civil Defence but is more commonly known as the White Helmets, after the signature headgear its members wear.

On First Person this week, we hear from Raed Al Saleh, the leader of the White Helmets, and his colleague Asaad Hanna. The White Helmets were in Washington to receive the annual Elie Wiesel Award from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, an honor that recognizes prominent individuals who have confronted hatred, helped prevent genocide, or promoted human dignity.

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