The Iranian Schindler: Abdol-Hossein Sardari

Used his own inheritance

Abdol-Hossein Sardari was an Iranian Muslim diplomat in Paris who used his position to save thousands of Iranian Jews – and many European Jews – from the Nazis.

Born to a prominent Iranian family, Abdol-Hossein attended school in England and obtained his doctorate in law at the University of Geneva. His brother-in-law became the Iranian ambassador to France, and he brought Abdol-Hossein along to train him in foreign service. After the Germans invaded France in 1940, the French collaborationist government moved from Paris to Vichy. Abdol-Hossein’s brother-in-law relocated to Vichy and left him in charge of the Paris office.

A bachelor and bon vivant, Abdol-Hossein suddenly found himself the head of Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris at the start of WWII. Extensive travels throughout Europe opened his eyes to the metastasizing anti-Semitism, and he instinctively felt Jews were in great danger, even though many European Jews remained in denial.

Iran was officially neutral, but had strong trading ties with Germany. There were thousands of Iranian merchants living in Germany, many of them Jewish. For economic reasons, the Nazis declared that Iranians were Aryans and therefore in a racially protected category. However, Jews were excluded from this protection. Iranian Jews faced harassment at work and in the streets, and like other Jews, they began to be deported to camps.

Abdol-Hossein used his influence and extensive network to get 2000 Iranian Jews transferred to the Aryan race category. Using his skill as a lawyer, he argued that they were not related by blood to European Jews, so they should be treated like other Iranians. The Nazis launched an extensive investigation into the genetic makeup of Iranian Jews. In the meantime, Abdol-Hossein was busy creating fake passports for Iranian Jews – and other Jews in France.

Abdol-Hossein used every single blank passport and visa in the embassy vault to allow Jews to escape from Europe. It is estimated that he saved several thousand individuals. Many Jews tried to give him money but he adamantly refused to accept any payment for his brave actions.

In 1941, Britain & Russia invaded Iran and Abdol-Hossein was stripped of his diplomatic immunity and ordered to return to Tehran immediately. Abdol-Hossein refused. He felt that he was needed in France to help save Jews. He stayed there for the remainder of the war, going through his own inheritance to keep doing his righteous work.

When Abdol-Hossein returned to Iran, he was arrested and charged with illegal acts for issuing visas to non-Iranians. He spent 10 days in jail until the Shah intervened to free him. For the next thirty years Abdol-Hossein worked in the foreign service, and then the oil industry. During the Iranian revolution of 1979, the new Islamist government confiscated Abdol-Hossein’s property and took away his ambassador’s pension. He escaped the repressive regime and moved back to England, where he lived in poverty until his death in 1981.

During his lifetime, Abdol-Hossein did not seek recognition for his heroism, and it wasn’t until after his death that the story became widely known.

For saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust we honor Abdol-Hossein Sardari as this week’s Thursday Hero.

Meet other inspiring heroes!

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