Abdol Hossein Sardari
Abdol Hossein Sardari
|Iranian ambassador to Belgium|
2 October 1945 – 1948
|Preceded by||Abdollah Bahrami|
|Succeeded by||Mostafa Samii|
|Died||1981 (aged 66–67)|
Nottingham, United Kingdom
Abdol Hossein Sardari (Persian: عبدالحسین سرداری; 1914 in Tehran – 1981 in Nottingham) was an Iranian diplomat. He is credited with saving thousands of Jews in Europe, and given the title "Schindler of Iran".
Sardari was in charge of the Iranian consular office in Paris in 1942. There was a sizeable community of Iranian Jews in Paris when Adolf Hitler invaded and occupied the city. Leaning on the national socialist perception that Iranians were Aryan, Nazi Germany had also declared Iranians to be immune to all Nuremberg Laws since 1936, as they were "pure-blooded Aryans" according to their racial theory. The Iranian government of the time during Reza Shah was able to protect Iranian Jews, whose families had been present in Iran since the time of the Persian Empire. (Cyrus the Great personally ordered the Jews of Babylonia to be freed from Babylonian slavery.) He very strongly argued this point to the Germans and specifically ascertained that the Iranian Jews were protected under these statutes. The Nazis grudgingly agreed and accordingly, many Persian Jews were saved from harassment and eventually deportation by the Nazi regime.
But Sardari went further. Once he realized the full nature of Nazi ambitions, he began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports for non-Iranian Jews to save them from persecution. To safeguard his plan, he did not ask for permission, and felt that support by the Iranian leadership was implied. His actions were later confirmed and applauded by the government of Iran.
Sardari's later life was blighted by many misfortunes, including the disappearance of his Chinese lover during the Chinese Civil War in 1948, charges of embezzlement by the post-war Iranian Government, and penury in his final years due to the loss of his pension rights and property in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. After a period spent living in a bed-sit in Croydon, he moved to Nottingham where he died in 1981. The documentary film, Sardari's Enigma directed by Mahdieh Zare Zardiny, visualises every aspect of Sardari's life and shows how Abdol Hossein Sardari could manage to save many lives during WWII in Paris. 
Early life (leading up to WWII)
Abdol Hossein Sardari was born in 1914 in Iran and belonged to the Qajar royal family. Seeing as he was part of a royal family, Sardari was believed to have had a privileged childhood. However, in 1925, his family faced several complications in controlling the country and he had no further choice but to flee and earn his own living. He went on to study law at Geneva University, in Switzerland and graduated with a law degree in 1936. After graduating from Geneva with a law degree, Sardari became an Iranian diplomat in Paris just four years later (1940). In this very city, the horrors of the Holocaust soon struck, which eventually led to the crippling of the embassy. While many of Sardari's colleagues in the embassy fled to Vichy, France (a safer city at the time), he made the ever-changing decision to remain in Paris. The Nazi-Germany invasion of France also led to the departure of Iran's ambassador in Paris, who was Sardari's brother in law, which is precisely what led to affairs of the embassy being left to Abdol Hossein Sardari.
Iranian Jews in Paris
After fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, many Iranian Jews settled in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. Many of them lived in luxurious houses, owned stores, and studied at universities. In May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded France and occupied the entire northern part of the country. This caused a great deal of fear. Just as they did in other countries, the Nazis readied to identify, imprison, and kill the Jews. The Jews in Paris feared for their lives, and many fled Paris even prior to the invasion. Those who remained were of course identified by the Nazis and had the yellow Star of David badges sewn onto their clothes. As Jews in France began to be rounded up, the growing fears were unimaginable. It was not at all easy for these Jews to leave France, because they required a valid passport. However, Sardari helped out roughly 1,000 Iranian Jewish families escape the Nazi-occupied country, not to mention the many non-Iranian Jews he freed. He did so by issuing Iranian passports and other necessary forms of documentation.
Operation to Rescue the Jews
His first step to help Iranian Jews in France, was to issue them with new passports that did not state their religion. He helped around 2,000 Jews obtain passports. Ibrahim Morady, an Iranian Jewish merchant that was saved by Sardari years ago, recently remembered and stated that Sardari was asked by Iran's foreign Ministry to return to Iran. According to Morady, “he was called by the government to return to Persia.”. Sardari refused to leave the Jews behind and feared that they would be deported with the rest. Sardari had a good notion of what the Nazis were capable of. Once again, he refused to leave Paris and continued aiding thousands of Jews. He began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports for non-Iranian Jews as well, to protect them from the hands of the Nazis. The Iranians who got their passports would beseech Sardari to issue passports for their non-Iranian friends, spouses, and colleagues. In hopes of protecting them from persecution, Sardari issued passports and signed affidavits for as many Iranian and non-Iranian Jews as he could.
Sardari was determined to free the Iranian Jews and get them out of France immediately. He did so by making use of his political position. He argued that the Iranian Jews do not belong to Hitler's “enemy race”. He testified that they are not Jewish; that they are in fact “Djougoutes”. He argued that they were not of Jewish descendancy and that in Iran, they have the same civil, legal, and military rights and responsibilities as Muslims. As it turned out, many senior Nazis in Berlin, saw things his way. Though he formulated this argument in hopes of sparing the Iranian Jews, he did just as much to help non-Iranian Jews escape the horrors of the war.
His efforts to help the Jews of France went as far as hiding their belongings for them. When the Germans attacked France, Sardari told a man who went by the name of Haim Sassoon, that he would hide the Jewish man's antiquities in the embassy or the basement of his own house during the war. When the Germans were no longer in France, Sardari called Mr. Sassoon and said to him “you could now come and collect your belongings.”.
After the War
Tchin Tchin, and Chinese opera singer whom Sardari loved ever so dearly, disappeared in 1948 when she traveled to China to receive a blessing from her parents to marry Sardari. In 1952, he had to return to Tehran, Iran and was charged with misconduct for issuing the Iranian passports during the war. From that point on, his career took a merely dark turn and it was only in 1955 when he was finally able to clear up his reputation. Shortly after, he retired from the Iranian Diplomatic Corps and moved to London. The Iranian Revolution of 1978 brought Sardari a great deal of despair when he heard the news that his nephew had been murdered and that all of his belongings in Iran were destroyed. He passed away in London in 1981. Abdol Hossein Sardari hesitated speaking publicly about his heroic actions during World War II and never asked for anything in return. Due to his efforts to save the Jews, Sardari has since been known as “The Iranian Schindler”.
Sardari has been honored by Jewish organizations such as the convention in Beverly Hills, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center on multiple occasions. In April 1978, three years before his death, Abdol Hossein Sardari responded to the queries of Yad Vashem, the Israeli national Holocaust Memorial, about his actions in this way: "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."
In popular culture
Zero Degree Turn (Madare sefr darajeh), a popular Iranian TV series (2007), was loosely based on Sardari's actions in Paris. The focus of the series is an Iranian Muslim who falls in love with a Jewish woman while studying in France during World War II and later desperately looks for ways to save her and other Jews from the imminent threat of deportation.
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