During World War II, in the midst of one of the greatest cataclysms in human history, individual acts of bravery and righteousness helped save thousands of innocent lives. The little known story of Abdol Hossein Sardari, an Iranian Muslim diplomat in Nazi occupied Paris, still shines brightly more than seventy years later.
As Iran’s Consul General in Paris, Abdol Hossein Sardari used his influence to save the lives of hundreds of Jews living in German-occupied France. At a time when Jews were being targeted across Europe, Sardari managed to convince the Germans to exempt Iranian Jews from arrest and deportation.
Using the Nazis’ own propaganda and racist ideology against them, he argued that as Persians, Iranian Jews belonged to the Aryan race and maintained no blood ties to European Jewry. While German officials were busy examining the merits of his theory, Sardari issued between 500 and 1,000 Iranian passports to Iranian and non-Iranian Jews alike, allowing whole families to escape persecution in Europe.
Sardari’s work was made all the more challenging after the 1941 Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, which deposed the Shah in favor of his young, westernized son. The new Iranian regime declared war on Germany and Abdol Hossein Sardari was ordered to return home immediately. Sardari, however, refused to leave, instead continuing his efforts at great risk to himself after loosing both his salary and diplomatic immunity. When asked some years later what impelled him to act, he responded simply, “it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.”
After dying in relative anonymity, Sardari became a well known figure in Iran with a 2007 state-produced television series based on his life. Hugely popular in Iran, Madar-e Sefr Darajeh (Zero Degree Turn), tells the fictionalized story of an Iranian student who falls in love with a French Jew and with the help of Sardari’s character, both manage to escape the Nazis.
For more information on the life and times of Abdol Hossein Sardari, check out In the Lion’s Shadow: The Iranian Schindler and His Homeland in the Second World War.