The ‘Muslim Schindler’: Remembering Abdol-Hossein Sardari.
Have you heard of the “Muslim Schindler” who risked his life to save Iranian Jews in Paris during the Second World War? No? Neither had I, until a few months ago.
Abdol-Hossein Sardari unexpectedly found himself in charge of Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris during the German occupation of France. A lawyer by training, he used his negotiating skills to try to persuade the Nazis’ experts on racial purity that the 150 or so Iranian Jews living in the city in 1940 were assimilated to non-Jewish - and “Aryan” - Persians through history, culture and intermarriage. At the same time, the dapper diplomat quietly began to issue new-style Iranian passports to Jews, making it easier for them to flee France.
Even though he was stripped of his diplomatic immunity and ordered to return to Tehran after Iran signed a treaty with the Allies in 1941, he stayed on in France to help Jews, and not just Iranian Jews, escape the Holocaust. In his 2011 book In the Lion’s Shadow, Fariborz Mokhtari estimates that there were between 500 and 1,000 blank passports in Sardari’s safe. If each of them was issued to a family of two or even three, “this could have saved over 2,000”.