Edwin Black lies and distorts Iran’s history

This is my review of Edwin Black’s article at the San Francisco Chronicle from January 8, 2006 on Iran’s history under Reza Shah, in which he brands Iranians as Nazis responsible for the Holocaust. Yes, no joking… Edwin Black tries to pin the Holocaust on the Pahlavis and Iran.

The dirty lies of Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad have to be countered with truth and facts, not with false claims and lies, like Edwin Black does. It’s a shame that Edwin Black has to rely on bigoted, hate-filled lies to counter Ahmadinejads bigoted hate-filled lies. Edwin Black has jumped the shark. 

His article is choke-full of falsities, inaccuracies, half-truths and outright lies. I rely on scholarly books on Iranian history and the published memories of key Iranian and Western personalities of the 1930’s-1940’s. The list of recommended books is at the bottom of this comment.

Okay, now I’ll take apart the Edwin Black article:

Iran and Iranians were strongly connected to the Holocaust and the Hitler regime, as was the entire Islamic world under the leadership of the mufti of Jerusalem.

Blatant lie. The Mufti of Jerusalem and his friend the Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Gailani were pro-Nazi antisemites who tried to stage a coup in Iraq in Spring 1941. At that time Hitler was friends with Stalin (1939-41). Iran was dead afraid of the Nazi-Soviets partitioning the Middle East. When the pro-Nazi Iraqis staged their coup in 1941, Reza Shah of Iran proposed to send Iranian troops to arrest Al-Gailani and destroy the pro-Nazi Iraqi rebels. He tried to win with this the favor of Britain, hoping to win their support against the Nazi-Soviet alliance, which he felt was dangerous for Iran. The Arab world and Balkan muslims were indeed largely pro-Nazi, as were many Iranians. However not the leadership which tried to keep neutral and to thwart any foreign invasion of Iran. Read Donald Wilber, Hirschfeld and Stewart’s books on this issue.

Iran’s axis with the Third Reich began during the prewar years, when it welcomed Nazi Gestapo agents and other operatives to Tehran, allowing them to use the city as a base for Middle East agitation against the British and the region’s Jews.

Half-true.Iran was since centuries in focus of Russian and British imperialism. Therefore they sought for new trade partners. USA, Germany and smaller nation were courted therefore. Germany was at this time the leading producer of machines. Exactly what Iran wanted for modernisation. Therefore during the 1930’s many German (and also other European and US) merchants and advisers entered Iran. There were proven to be only a dozen German agents, the most important being namely Schulze, Mayer, Gamotha and Ettel. The Anglo-Soviet claim of “thousands” of German agents was widely exaggerated and it was acknowledged later by British involved.

Key among these German agents was Fritz Grobba, Berlin’s envoy to the Middle East, who was often called “the German Lawrence,” because he promised a Pan-Islamic state stretching from Casablanca to Tehran.

Grobba was emissary to Iraq and liason to the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem. That’s correct. However an “pan-Islamic” empire was solely the dream of the Nazi Mufti. The rulers of Turkey, Iran (and Afghanistan) were secuar Nationalists who fought Islamism. They would have never been part of an Arabic Islamic superstate. Also the title “German Lawrence” is most famously applied to Consul Wassmuss, a WW1 German agent who rallied South Persian tribes in the fight against the British. Again Black is vague and contradictional.

Relations between Berlin and Tehran were strong from the moment Hitler came to power in 1933. At that time, Reza Shah Pahlavi’s nation was known as Persia. The shah became a stalwart admirer of Hitler, Nazism and the concept of the Aryan master race. He also sought the Reich’s help in reducing British petro-political domination.

No. Iran-German relations were best during the pre-Nazi years (Weimar Republic). Germany dispatched not only advisors to Iran in the 1920’s, but also the German firm “Junkers” operated an airline in Iran pre-1930. Although in the late 1930’s German-Iranian economic relations peaked, diplomatically the relations of Iran towards the Weimar Republic were decidedly better than under Hitler, although some tensions about Iranian communists publishing in Germany existed. Also during the pre-Hitler decade, Germany supplied Iran with planes and staffed the Tehran arsenal, which Hitler did not. Iran’s army was on purpose equipped by weapons procured from neutral states (Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Switzerland) and also the US, Britain, Italy, France and Russia. The Iranian rifle was the Czech Brno Mauser, the Luger Pistols were procured through Switzerland. Iran’s General Nakhjevan, who was charaterized by Hirschfeld as anti-German, was one of the Iranians responsible for arms purchase. On purpose Nakhjevan favored British and neutral arm suppliers to Germany, which was avoided by Iran.

Around the time of Hitler’s accension to power, the German-Persian relations were also at a low point, due to corruption scandals involving Germans in Tehran and the “Leo Matthias affair”, the case of a German journalist slandering Reza Shah. Hitler’s accension to power gave hope that the communist influence on Persian students in Germany would cease, however Nazi Stormtroopers started to beat up Persian students in Germany, which elicited vehement protests from Iran.

Reza Shah was not an “Hitler admirer”, though an anti-communist authoritarian. Unlike Black’s false claims, Reza Shah was never in lockstep with Germany (or any other foreign power for that matter).

The ties with Germany were primarily economic. Iranian (Arfa, MR Shah) as well as Western sources report that he disliked Hitler as a lunatic and voiced this to Turkish ruler Ataturk in 1934. The Nazis sent their Youth Leader Schirach to Tehran who tried to convince the Shah of modelling Iran’s youth like the Hitler Youth. But the Shah thought of Schirach to be a rude, aggressive runt and chastised his minister for arranging this meeting. Iran insisted that their youth will be modelled after the British Boy Scouts, NOT the Nazi youth. However the Germans, who were respected for their quality machines and expertise donated a library to Iran, which beside technical books also included Nazi propaganda. However this fact (which curiously is not mentioned by Black) does not validate the sensationalistic smear Black is engaged in. Iran was exposed to propaganda and agitation from all sides, Soviet, German and British. German agents used their influence in the business sector to spread propaganda in form of films, broadcasts and paper. But the Shah tried desperately to stay neutral in a volatile world and for each supposed pro-German action one can find an contrary measure on behalf of the Iranians, ranging from arrest, sidelining and dismissal of Nazi sympathizers. Both Nazi and Communist agents and propagandists were under Iranian police watch.

So intense was the shah’s identification with the Third Reich that in 1935 he renamed his ancient country “Iran,” which in Farsi means Aryan and refers to the Proto-Indo-European lineage that Nazi racial theorists and Persian ethnologists cherished.

One source for this dubious claim on the renaming, originating from hear-say, was German Ambassador Wipert von Bluecher, whose memories I have in my library. Bluecher was a personal enemy of Reza Shah and wrote a lot of nasty things about him. This was perpetualised by pro-Nazi Iranians after Reza Shah abdicated in 1941, and also by his enemies, the communists and British. The claim of German diplomats suggesting the name change is based largely on hear-say regurgiated by Iranian and Western sources of varying reputation. As I wrote already, Iran is since ever the Iranian’s own name for their people and country, while Westerners used “Persia”, which is incorrect as it relates only to a part of the Iranians.  “Persia” was associated with semi-colonial backwardness,  thus the secular modernists around Reza Shah wanted to make the native name “Iran” official. 1935 was also the year Iran abolished Islamic laws for woman and wanted to renew itself. Thus they insisted on their own name being used for them. The theory that there is a Nazi link is a (weak) theory only, whithout conclusive proof.

Shortly after World War II broke out in 1939, the Mufti of Jerusalem crafted a strategic alliance with Hitler to exchange Iraqi oil for active Arab and Islamic participation in the murder of Jews in the Mideast and Eastern Europe. This was predicated on support for a pan-Arab state and Arab control over Palestine.

This is true, but not attributable to Iran.

During the war years, Iran became a haven for Gestapo agents. It was from Iran that the seeds of the abortive 1941 pro-Nazi coup in Baghdad were planted. After Churchill’s forces booted the Nazis out of Iraq in June 1941, German aircrews supporting Nazi bombers escaped across Iraq’s northern border back into Iran.

False on several levels. The few agents in Iran were “Abwehr” and “SD”, Gestapo was a German secret police. Not a spy agency. The seeds for the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq was planned in Berlin, Rome, Baghdad and Muslim Jerusalem. I have in all my books never read of German pilots escaping through Iran. Infact it was Vichy-French controlled Syria that was the base for operations in Iraq. Iran as I wrote already was pondering to invade Iraq and arrest the pro-Nazi rebels. German attempts to win over Iranian support of fuel and weapons for the Iraqi rebels, failed on the strict refusal of Iran to support the pro-Nazi rebels in Iraq. Iranian generals even proposed Britain that Iran would bomb Axis and Soviet refinieries in the Middle East. They called the operation of after Iranian Generals cited diplomatic and logistic problems. Reza Shah later said that he regretted not invading Iraq in cooperation with Britain. Read Stewart “Sunrise at Abadan”, Wilber and Lenczowski.

Likewise, the mufti of Jerusalem was spirited across the border to Tehran, where he continued to call for the destruction of the Jews and the defeat of the British.

Half true. The Mufti and Al-Gailani after the failed coup did escape to Iran, found refuge at the Japanese and Italian embassy and later left Iran through Turkey on the way to Berlin, dressed as Italians (the Mufti dressed as an Italian servant). However there is no indication that the Iranian King was behind this.

His venomous rhetoric filled the newspapers and radio broadcasts in Tehran. The mufti was a vocal opponent of allowing Jewish refugees to be transported or ransomed into Jewish Palestine. Instead, he wanted them shipped to the gas chambers of Poland.

Tehran radio was state-censored. However the Nazis, Soviets and British used their own radios to send propaganda through Iran. Infact a pro-Nazi Iranian radio propagandist was arrested by Iran. What Black also misses is the fact that during the time of the German-Soviet agreement, the Nazis propagated inside Iran against Reza Shah, by painting him as a British puppet. The German agents were deeply involved with seperatist Armenian and Azeri factions. The German agent Berthold Schulze gives a lengthy account on this in his memoirs. Again read Yair P. Hirschfeld on the scope of anti-Shah propaganda by Germany.

In the summer of 1941, the mufti, with the support of key Iranian military and government leaders, advocated implementing in Iran what had failed months earlier in Iraq. The plan once again was for a total diversion of oil from the Allies to the Nazis, in exchange for the accelerated destruction of the Jews in Eastern Europe and the Nazis’ support for an Arab state. Through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., Iran had already been supplying Hitler’s forces in occupied Czechoslovakia and Austria.

Totally false and absurd. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was fully operated by Britain. It would imply that Britain was delivering the Nazis. Also a pro-German circle of Iranian officers planned a coup in 1942 not 1941 and were put under arrest by Britain.

Now, the mufti agitated to cut off the British and the Allies completely and supply Germany in its push against Russia.

True, but unrelated to the Shah’s action. The Iranians were indeed overjoyed when the Germans attacked their nemesis Soviet Russia and hoped for the Soviets to lose however voiced their hope to Brtain that Hitler and Stalin would bleed each other white.

In October 1941, British, USSR other allied forces invaded Iran to break up the Iran-Nazi alliance. Pro-Nazi generals and ministers were arrested, and the shah’s son was installed in power. The mufti scampered into the Italian embassy, where he shaved his beard and dyed his hair. In this disguise, he was allowed to leave the country along with the rest of the Italian delegation.

Half true. The latter sentence is correct while the clueless author can’t get the basic facts right. The Invasion of Iran was in late August 1941. Not October. The arrest of pro-German Iranian officers was 1942.

Once the mufti relocated permanently to Berlin, where he established his own Reich-supported “bureau,” he was given airtime on Radio Berlin. From Berlin and other fascist capitals in Europe, the mufti continued to agitate for international Jewish destruction, as well as a pan-Islamic alliance with the Nazi regime.

True, but unrelated to the Iranians, who by then were already occupied by the Allies.

He called upon all Muslims to “kill the Jews wherever you see them.” In Tehran’s marketplace, it was common to see placards that declared, “In heaven, Allah is your master. On Earth, it is Adolf Hitler.”

Dubious, since Tehran was occupied by British and Soviets. However after the Shah abdicated political groups of all kind popped up. Communists, Nazis and Islamists of all colors. Possible that a splinter group like the SUMKA nazi party used such slogans. However the Iranian government under the new Shah (the old Shah’s son) was joining the Allies in 1943 already.

When the mufti raised three divisions of Islamic Waffen SS to undertake cruel operations in Bosnia, among the 30,000 killers were some volunteer contingents from Iran. Iranian Nazis, along with the other Muslim Waffen SS, operated under the direct supervision of Heinrich Himmler and were responsible for barbarous actions against Jews and others in Bosnia. Recruitment for the murderous “Handschar Divisions” was done openly in Iran.

Total nonsense and absurd. When the Handschar Islamic Waffen SS Division was prepared and created by the Mufti in 1942/43, Iran was occupied by the Allies. There would be no Waffen-SS recruitment posters in Iran without approval of the Allies. Also while some Iranian students in Germany at that time joined the German Army, there is no source to my knowledge (Mr Black doesn’t provide it and I haven’t read anything like that on the Handschar Division) that tells of “Iranian contingents” in this Division. The Handschar was made up from Balkan Muslims. Arab volunteers served in the “Arabische Lehrbattalion” and “Free Arab Legion”. No Iranian units. No proof on entire Iranian units in the Waffen-SS Division Handschar.

The only known Iranian figure of that time who joined the Nazis with proof, appears to be Police General Ayrom. Again it was Wipert von Bluecher (and Minister Teymourtache’s daughter), who self-admittedly personally resented the Shah ( Bluecher was a close friend of Minister Teymourtache, who was imprisoned and possibly killed on Reza Shah’s order), who used Ayrom’s pro-Nazism to blackpaint the Shah by proxy. How much truth to this claimsmay be is inconclusive.

Iran and its leaders were not only aware of the Holocaust, they played both sides. The country offered overland escape routes for refugee Jews fleeing Nazi persecution to Israel — and later fleeing postwar Iraqi fascist persecution — but only in exchange for extortionate passage fees.

Again Iran was occupied by the Allies. All this action would have required the Allies approval. Again nonsense. Indeed hundred thousand of Polish refugees from Soviet Union arrived in Iran and praised the hospitality. Iranian officers were on good terms with Polish officers, since the Poles saluted Iranian senior officers, unlike the British and Soviets.

Thousands of Jews journeyed to Israel via Iran both during the Holocaust and during the years after the fall of Hitler, when Arab leaders, especially in Iraq, tried to continue Germany’s anti-Jewish program. Iran profited handsomely.

As above nonsense and vague, unspecific phrasing. He has to seperate the wartime and post-war events. Black writes rubbish in regard to the wartime as there was only British ruled Palestine then. No Israel before 1948. Also the “Arab leaders in Iraq” for the remainder of WW2 then were British installed. The pro-Nazis were ousted in Spring 1941 already.

Indeed the Iranian ambassador to France Abdol-Hossein Sardari rescued many Jews persecuted by the Nazis, which is well documented and honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Reza Shah when becoming King gave Jews civil rights and bowed before the Torah in the Tehran Syangogue. His son Mohammed Reza Shah was a close ally of Israel and the US. The Iranian secret service SAVAK was trained by the CIA and Mossad since 1953.

Iran has played a leading role in the Holocaust drama and now tries to deny it. 

This is the most reprehensible line. Iran a leading role in the Holocaust? Edwin Black is engaging in exactly what he allegedly tries to counter: Denial, rewriting and tampering of History. He mocks the victims of the Holocaust by faking the History. He takes the blame away from the true criminals: the Nazis and their followers, including the notorious Mufti Husseini.

Edwin Black’s article is a slap into the face of Iranians, Jews, historians and serious journalists alike.  

That should be very hard in a nation that was named for Hitler’s master race.

The suggestion that Iranians were named “for Hitler’s master” race is unabashed, provocative nonsense. As written already above, Iran is the millenia old name Iranians used to call their people and country. A fact so basic and simple, it would have been sufficient for Edwin to look into a lexicon to find that out. Black is engaging in a historical circus show, tossing around the laws of time and reason.

When we look for Iranian antisemitism we have to look at Islamism, Khomeinism and their Revolutionary Ideology. This had nothing to do with the Pahlavi Shahs who were Western and modern minded, whatever Iranians thought of this. Black’s attempt to lump together the Pahlavi regime with the current regime and Pan-Arabism is contradictional and ridiculous.

Black also fails to address the fact that Iran was a neutral state invaded unlawfully by the Soviets and Britain. The Soviet and Indian Forces (most of the British units in Iran were Indian) committed war crimes, such as killing surrendered Iranians. This is testified by the British officer McVean who witnessed these crimes, among them also an attempted rape. His testimony can be read in Stewart’s book “Sunrise at Abadan”. Whether the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran was necessary for defeating Hitler is another question. No doubt Iran as a transit route to Russia was important for defeating the Nazis. However there is evidence that Reza Shah was willing to cooperate to avoid a war, but was kept misinformed by his cabinet and also the British and Soviet. Nontheless it was Iran’s open support for the Allied cause, under Mohammed Reza Shah, that ensured a successful transit of goods to Russia. This was acknowledged by the Allies.

Edwin Black who is obviously proud of his “journalistic awards” and “bestselling books” has failed the test of serious historical research. Black is engaged in amateurish historical revisionism.

Reza Shah, or better parts of his regime had at times some pro-German tendencies, which however were (at least to them) little different than pro-Soviet or pro-British tendencies, which the regime also displayed at times in it’s 20 year history. For the aim of neutrality Iran shifted it’s tendency between Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the US.

To reduce this complex history to simplicistic “they were Nazis” is nonsense.
If one or the other minor detail is point of debate, I cordially invite Mr Black to discuss these with me (saloonw@ymail.com). However the gross basic factual inaccuracies in his article have to be addressed first. I kindly ask him to address all the points I made. I proceeded scholarly while Black throws wild accusations around. Facts first, Mr Black. Opinion has to be based on facts, not fraud.

The poisonous Ahmadinejad is shamelessy distorting and denying the factual history of the Holocaust. We have to counter the lies of Ahmadinejad with truth and facts.Edwin Black however is using his own historical revisionism and fradulent distortion. This is counterproductive. Mr Black can’t fight their lies by lying himself. His article reeks of misplaced hate against Reza Shah and hatred of Iranians in general. 

I hope I have clarified the matter somewhat.


“Iran_History_Buff” (as I said Mr Black may feel free to correspond with me)


Recommended reading (for a start):

Banani A., The Modernization of Iran 1921-41, Stanford 1961

Hirschfeld Y., Deutschland und Iran im Spielfeld der Maechte, Duesseldorf 1980

Lenczowski G., Iran under the Pahlavis, Stanford 1978

Wilber D., Iran-Past and Present, Princeton 1976

Stewart, Sunrise at Abadan, New York 1988


Arfa H., Under Five Shahs, Edinburgh 1964

Bluecher W., Zeitenwende in Iran, Biberach 1949

Bullard R., Letters from Tehran, New York 1991

Pahlevi, M.R, Mission for my Country, 1963

Schulze-Holthus B., Aufstand in Iran, Munich 1980

Recommended are also the books of Stephanie Cronin.


Attention: I am soon going to provide an even more extensive and detailed rebuttal of Edwin Black’s lies. Stay tuned.

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