A Canadian businessman has coordinated the release of 128 Yazidi and Christian girls from sexual slavery at the hands of Islamic State militants, through a project that aims to save many more.
Steve Maman, dubbed the “Jewish Schindler,” raised more than $200,000 to pay for the release of the captives during the past year.
In the coming days his organization will free 10 more.
Maman said he felt compelled to act after watching the brutal ISIS regime sweep through parts of Iraq and Syria last August.
“It’s a level of barbarism which was on another level of persecution,” said the 42 year old father of six.
Over 5,000 Yazidis were executed, often en masse, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Thousands of women and girls spared from death were instead sold into sexual servitude according to UN reports.
Canon Andrew White, who headed one of the largest churches in Baghdad, helped to connect Maman with negotiators and navigate Iraq’s web of tribal networks to forge contacts at the ISIS slave markets.
“He is somebody who is really like a brother. He’s the first person who’s come to our aid,” White said.
Maman, a crystal wholesaler and classic cars dealer, launched the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI) and called on his business contacts and friends in the Jewish community for donations to his project.
He worked his industry connections in Baghdad to reach hostage negotiators and government officials who could help facilitate the rescues.
Things began to trend rapidly upward after he launched a GoFundMe account last month with a target of raising half a million dollars. He’s now looking to raise $5 million after the overwhelming response.
The money makes its way through front-line brokers, who take a massive cut, then on to Islamic State combatants in the mountain ranges of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Each girl costs between $1,000 and $3,000, and most have suffered violent sexual and physical abuse.
According to Maman about 2,700 young women remain Islamic State slaves. “If we get half of them, we’ll be lucky,” he said.
Maman credits Oskar Schindler, the German factory owner who saved 1,200 Jewish lives during the Holocaust, as his source of inspiration.
“He’s a hero not just to me but to every human being,” Maman said.
Maman's GoFundMe page can be viewed here