Abdol Hossein Sardari was not a household name for the Iranian Jewish community. Not until recently, that is. A newly published book, In the Lion's Shadow, reveals how he had helped thousands of Iranian Jews escape Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War.
At that time, Iran's ruler, Reza Shah, had economic and diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany. He saw the Germans as a counterweight against Britain and Russia. Both countries had for years meddled in Iran's affairs, plundered its resources through agreements with corrupt rulers and, in the case of Russia, attacked and occupied northern parts of Iran.
Race was another factor. Reza Shah saw Iranians as Aryans. This is why he changed the name of the country to Iran (meaning Aryan) in 1935. Hitler also considered Iranians to be Aryans.
Although Iran declared itself neutral in the war and German troops never invaded Iran, it is believed that Hitler had numerous spies in Iran during the war. Reza Shah made sure they brought no harm to Iran's Jews. He was later deposed by London and Moscow for his relations with Hitler.
Although doubts exist as to whether Iranians and Germans are racially related, at that time, the argument suited both country's leaders, whose mutual goal was to contain the UK and Russia.
Sardari convinced the Nazis that Jewish Iranians had no blood ties to European Jews
Sardari used this alleged racial connection to help Iranian Jews escape from France. Through extensive efforts he managed to convince the Nazis that Jewish Iranians who had been living in Iran for more than two thousand years did not have any blood ties to European Jews, that they were racially closer to Iranians coming from Iran.
And it worked. Through perseverance, the Nazis finally accepted his argument. It is believed that between 2000 and 3000 Iranian Jews who were living in France were saved by being given new passports.
This revelation is great news for the Iranian Jewish community around the world for several reasons.
First and foremost, because Sardari now has the recognition that he deserves. Secondly, because Sardari is another proof of why we Iranian Jews are proud of being Iranians: the wonderful people of Iran.
In many Jewish Iranian households you will find friendships with Muslims, who are as close as family members.
Sardari's heroic act will make those bonds even stronger. May he rest in peace.