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New book hails Iranian who saved Jews from the Nazis

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Summary of story from BBCNews, December 21, 2011

Thousands of Iranian Jews and their descendants owe their lives to a Muslim diplomat in wartime Paris, according to a new book.

In The Lion’s Shadow, by Fariborz Mokhtari, tells how Abdol-Hossein Sardari helped fellow Iranians escape the Nazis.

Eliane Senahi Cohanim was 7 years old when she fled France with her family, who were part of a small, close-knit community of Iranian Jews living in and around Paris.

When the Nazis invaded, the Senahis tried to escape to Tehran, hiding for a while in the French countryside, but they were forced to return to a Paris in the grip of the Gestapo.

Like others in the Iranian Jewish community, Mr Senahi turned for help to the young head of Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris.

And Abdol-Hossein Sardari was able to provide the Senahi family with the passports and travel documents they needed for safe-passage through Nazi-occupied Europe.

Although officially neutral, Iran was keen to maintain its strong trading relationship with Germany which suited Hitler: the Nazi propaganda machine declared Iranians an Aryan nation and racially akin to the Germans.

But Sardari used his influence and German contacts to gain exemptions from Nazi race laws for more than 2,000 Iranian Jews, and possibly others.

Sardari never sought recognition for his work during his lifetime, insisting he had only been doing his duty.

He died a lonely death in a bedsit in Croydon, south London, in 1981, after losing his ambassador’s pension and Tehran properties in the Iranian revolution.

He was posthumously recognised for his humanitarian work in 2004 at a ceremony at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles.

“Here you have a Muslim Iranian who goes out of his way, risks his life, certainly risks his career and property and everything else, to save fellow Iranians,” author Fariborz Mokhtari says.

“There is no distinction ‘I am Muslim, he is Jew’ or whatever.”

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