The Iranian "Schindler List"
By Fereydoun Hoveyda
July 9, 1999
Amid all the distressing news about possible extremist motives behind
the arrest of 13 Jews in Iran, one wonders why some 30,000 Jews have chosen
to remain in Iran despite the often hostile religious fervor of the post-revolutionary
era. The fact is that prejudice and discrimination towards Jews has been
relatively mild and Iranian Jews have strong nationalist feelings. The
following is not an example of just one man's kindness towards Jews, but
an example of the close bond between Iranians in general, even under very
dangerous circumstances. Thanks to Farhad
Sepahbody for forwarding this piece. Also see
a report on documents that
shed new light. -- Editor
In June 1940, embassies were transfered from Paris to Vichy
which had become the capital of the new French Government. In each embassy
residence in Paris a caretaker was left behind.
My uncle Abdol Hossein Sardari Qajar, my mother's youngest brother,
pictured left, who was in charge of consular affairs remained in the former
French capital, now occupied by German Nazi military forces.
At that unfortunate time many Iranian Jewish families lived in Paris.
My uncle who liked to entertain, established close contacts with the German
authorities and at the outset made it clear to them that Iranian jews were
Iranians since the time of Cyrus the Great and therefore fell under the
protection of Iranian laws like any other Iranian.
A letter was sent to my uncle by the German ambassador in Paris assuring
him that no Iranian citizen would ever be harmed. As a result, the Iranian
jews of Paris were not subjected to the nazi measures against the Jews.
When the round up of Jews began in 1942, and news about the "final
solution" began to spread, the head of the Iranian Jewish community,
contacted my uncle about his French co-religionists who were in danger
of being sent to concentration camps.
My uncle had in his office a good supply of blank Persian passports.
He took upon himself to also issue them to non-Iranian Jews who were facing
deportation. As Allied forces invaded Iran, our ambassador in Vichy left
and all communications with Tehran was cut.
Referring to the humanitarian attitude of Cyrus the Great who had freed
in 500 BC the Jews held captive in Babylon, he had no doubt that the Shah
and the Iranian government would confirm his decision after the war.
I was a diplomat in Paris during 1948 when the Iranian Jewish community
(with its newly added "citizens') visited my uncle and offered him
a silver plater signed by their leaders, as a token of their deep appreciation
Sardari had also saved Mr. Petrossian -- a well-known importer of caviar
who had contacts with the French resistance -- from the Gestapo .
My uncle later became charge d'affaires in Brussels. ln the mid-fifties
he joined the National Iranian Oil Company and passed away in London in
Fereydoun Hoveyda served as Iran's ambassador to the U.N. before
the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty. He wrote this piece in December 1997 for
Farhad Sepahbody's web site on
the Qajars. ... TO TOP
- Send a comment for The Iranian letters