Mehdi Hassan, writing in the New Statesman this week, tells the story of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, an Iranian Muslim who saved Jews from the Nazi Holocaust in France during World War 2. With heightened tension between Israel and Iran, surely we need more Sardaris willing to challenge prejudice and racial hatred by their actions and not just their words.
Have you heard of the “Muslim Schindler” who risked his life to save Iranian Jews in Paris during the Second World War? No? Neither had I, until a few months ago.
Abdol-Hossein Sardari unexpectedly found himself in charge of Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris during the German occupation of France. A lawyer by training, he used his negotiating skills to try to persuade the Nazis’ experts on racial purity that the 150 or so Iranian Jews living in the city in 1940 were assimilated to non-Jewish – and “Aryan” – Persians through history, culture and intermarriage. At the same time, the dapper diplomat quietly began to issue new-style Iranian passports to Jews, making it easier for them to flee France.
In April 1978, three years before Sardari’s death, Yad Vashem, the central Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, sent a series of questions to him about his wartime role. He replied: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.” Sardari the humanitarian did not distinguish between Muslims and Jews.
So what is the connection with Britain? Sardari spent the last few years of his life in a bedsit in Croydon, south London, having lost his pension and properties in the Iranian Revolution. He never sought fame or recognition for his bravery and he died, poor and alone, in 1981.
Depressingly, few Jews and even fewer Muslims are familiar with his name or life story. However, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Faith Matters plan to hold an exhibition this year recognising the contribution by Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust – including Sardari. The gesture is overdue. And to help fight the scourge of anti-Semitism among some British Muslims, organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Society of Britain should do likewise.Source: New Statesman