The Iranian Schindler: How thousands of Iranian Jews in America owe their lives to Paris diplomat

Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who employed over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust in an effort to save them from concentration camps, was memorialized in a famous book and Academy Award winning movie.

His Iranian equivalent, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, is now getting some of his due press.

In a book that troves through archival material, the story of how Mr Sardari used his diplomatic position in Paris at the time of the Nazi occupation to get passports for Iranian Jews and wove tall tales of faux-scientific stories to help evade the German authorities.

Mr Sardari, who was Muslim, was posted to Paris in 1941 and served as the highest member of the small Iranian consulate at the time of the Nazi invasion.

Because the Germans and Iranians had sizeable, and financially significant, trade contracts, the German considered the Iranians to be an Arayan race, and therefore an ally in their effort to rid Europe of what they viewed as lesser ethnicities.

Mr Sardari wrote numerous letters to Nazi officials telling elaborate stories about how Iranian Jews- who had been spared from Babylonian slavery by ancient Persian ruler Cyrus the Great- should be given the same status under Nazi rule as all other Iranians.

Another rationale that he used at one point was that Iranian Jews were not the same as the Jews that the Nazis so overtly despised since they were not blood-related to European Jewry.

Though some were initially hesitant to buy this version of events, the Nazis eventually relented and gave them the same status as the rest of their fellow Iranians. Before doing so, Nazi officials commissioned racial purity experts investigated the claim but it is thought that a lack of physical and financial resources forced them to cut it short and simply agree.

Another move that Mr Sardari used was to issue Paris-based Iranian Jews new passports: many of the Iranians in Paris at the time of the war had not renewed their passports after their home country went through a regime change, and so by falsifying those documents, Mr Sardari found a bureaucratic way to able to help Jews evade capture.

Exact numbers are not known, but the estimated headcount of people that Mr Sardari helped saved is in the thousands, many of whom ended up fleeing home to Iran or eventually ending up in America.

He was thought to have had 1,000 passports in his consulate safe at the beginning of the war- each of which could be used for more than one person- so experts put the number of lives saved between 2,000 and 3,000.

Though he himself was not harmed during the war, the end of World War II did not end his troubles as he faced embezzlement charges in 1952 which related to his doling out of passports during the war.

The new book, In The Lions Shadow by Fariborz Mokhtari, is astonishing in the amount of detail it is able to shed on the situation because Mr Sardari was famously quiet about his actions after the war ended.

Honored several times by Jewish-American groups, his only known public remark before his 1981 death came as a humble comment to the Israeli National Holocaust Memorial.

‘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,’ Mr Sardari said.


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