H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

Sadly The “Iranian Schindler Abdol Hossein Sardari has largely ignored by history.

The “Iranian Schindler” saved Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris

The Imperial State of Persia, renamed the Imperial State of Iran in 1935, was ostensibly a neutral country at the outbreak of World War II. It in fact had maintained warm relations with Nazi Germany since Hitler’s rise to power in the early 1930s.  Nazi racial ideology accepted Persians as pure-blooded Aryans and Iranian were declared immune to the Nuremberg Laws despite not being Germanic. For their own part, Iranians considered themselves an Asian equivalent of Hitler’s Germany, a representative of Aryanism in their respective spheres of influence. In the decade leading up the war, the Third Reich sent a 7,500-volume “German Scientific Library” on racial theory and various Nazi lecturers to Iran and Iranian journals glorified Hitler as one of the greatest men alive.

It was in this increasingly pro-Nazi country that Abdol Hossein Sardari became a diplomat of the Persian consulate in Paris. Sardari was born in 1885 into the ruling Qajar royal family and lived in luxury as a young man. A regime change in 1925 forced him to find employment; he earned a law degree in 1936 and was posted to the Iran Diplomatic Mission in Paris in 1940.

Abdol Hossein Sardari (second from right, with glasses) in Switzerland at the start of his diplomatic career

At the time there was a small community of Iranian Jews living in and around Paris. Jews had a long-standing presence in the Persian Empire ever since the 6th century BC, when Cyrus the Great, leader of the Persian Empire, freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity also attested to in the Bible. Thus, Judaism became the second oldest religion in Persia after Zoroastrianism. Most of the Iranian Jews in France moved there before 1925. The new regime, however, introduced a new passport, making the old ones no longer valid, so the expatriates had no papers with which to leave France after the German invasion.

The Cyrus Cylinder, a Persian document buried under the walls of Babylon in the 6th century BC, often cited as evidence of the repatriation of Jews

After the fall of France in 1940, the Iranian ambassador moved to the new Vichy State to establish an office there, leaving Sardari in charge of the consulate in German-occupied Paris. The diplomat immediately began to address the dire situation of his fellow citizens. More than anything, he needed time to act, as the deportation of Jews from Paris had already started.

Abdol Hossein Sardari

Being a shrewd legal mind, Sardari turned the Nazis’ own racial ideology and laws against them. He wrote a letter to the Nazi authorities, arguing that Iranian Jews are Jewish only by religion and not by race, and, therefore, are exempt from racial laws. According to his theory, which historians think he himself never really believed in, these “Jews” were not Semitic people but the descendants of Aryan-blooded Persians who started following Moses’ teachings. In a letter dated October 29, 1940, written on letterhead for the Imperial Consulate of Iran, he wrote:

Gym class for Jewish students at a boys’ school in the Iranian city of Yazd, 1931

“According to an ethnographic and historical study regarding the Jewish religious communities of non-Jewish race in Russia received by this consulate and validated by the [German] Embassy in Paris on October 28, 1940…the indigenous Jews (Jugutis) of the territories of the former Khanates of Boukhara, Khiva, and Khokand (presently within the Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan) are considered to be of the same [ethnic] origin as those of Persia. According to the study, the Jugutis of Central Asia belong to the Jewish community only by virtue of their observance of the principal rites of Judaism. By virtue of their blood, their language, and their customs, they are assimilated into the indigenous race and are of the same biological stock as their neighbors, the Persians and the Sartes (Uzbeks).”

Iranian Jews in 1917

The argument sounded good enough to give the Nazis pause. A German team of racial purity experts was consulted on the matter and they were convinced, or at least confused, enough to ask for more time and funding to settle the question. Eventually, the theory landed on the desk of Adolf Eichmann, the senior Nazi official in charge of Jewish affairs, who quickly dismissed it with the remark “the usual Jewish tricks and attempts at camouflage.”

The theory was rejected but it gave Sardari time to act while the Nazi institutions were running circles around it. For a while, Jewish Iranian citizens were not forced to wear a yellow Star of David as identification. Sardari started issuing them new passports so they could flee the country, also giving papers to non-Iranian Jews, all without the knowledge or permission of his superiors. It’s not known how many people he saved exactly but some historians estimate he may have had not more than 500-1,000 blank passports, each of which could be used by an entire family.

Sardari as a junior diplomat in 1940

In September 1941 Britain and the Soviet Union jointly invaded Iran, ousting the Nazi-friendly shah and replacing him with his son. This made Iran a hostile nation to Germany and Sardari no longer enjoyed diplomatic protection. He nevertheless refused to return home and continued his work even after his salary was frozen, using his personal savings to fund his operation.

The pro-Nazi Rezah Shah

His son the new ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Sardari’s life took several unfortunate turns after the war. In 1948, he sought to marry his long-time love, a Chinese opera singer, but she disappeared in the turmoil of the country’s Cultural Revolution. In 1952 he was recalled to Tehran and charged with embezzlement and misconduct over his issuing of Iranian passports to Jews during the war, but was eventually cleared of the charges. In 1978, he lost his pension and property in the Iranian Revolution, throwing him into poverty. He died in obscurity in London in 1981, his actions forgotten by his contemporaries, only honored by posterity. He never clamored for recognition in life. When he was contacted by the Yad Vashem Institute three years before his death, he replied to their queries with the following: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian Consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.”

You can learn more of the little-known heroes who helped save the victims of the Holocaust on our Central Europe Remembrance Tours and Third Reich Tours.