The “Iranian Schindler” (& new report shows FDR deliberately let Jews die)

January 27, 2012

Above: Abdol-Hossein Sardari, the “Iranian Schindler”


Items below:

* How one Iranian diplomat saved a thousand Jews.

* Mehdi Hasan, political editor, of the New Statesman: I am ashamed by the attitudes of my fellow Muslims to the Holocaust.

* New two-year study by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington reveals that FDR’s opposition to saving Jewish lives in the Holocaust was even greater than previously thought.


[Note by Tom Gross]

Today marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. With Holocaust remembrance increasingly being blurred, there are two dispatches today connected to this cataclysmic occurrence.

The first, below, concerns the “Iranian Schindler” who saved Jews from the Nazis. (The other dispatch today can be read here: On Schindler’s List, two decades on.)

The story of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, an Iranian diplomat in Paris, has come to wider attention recently after a book was published about him.

Sardari saved over 1,000 men, women and children from the Iranian Jewish community in and around Paris, at a time when tens of thousands of other Jews were deported from France to Nazi death camps in the east.

Among those who have reported the story are the BBC and the (London) Daily Mail (articles below.)

Sardari was a member of the Qajar royal family, which ruled Iran until 1925. How different he was from the Holocaust-denying leadership of Iran today. (Only yesterday, YouTube removed a series of ten vile animated anti-Semitic clips posted by Iran, claiming the Holocaust is a “Jewish lie”.)

After the Islamic radicals seized control of Iran in 1978, they stripped Sardari of his pension and property. He died alone in a bedsit in the South London suburb of Croydon in 1981.



[Note by Tom Gross]

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by Soviet Forces. They found 7,000 starving survivors there, well over one million Jews having already been murdered at the camp and others packed away on death marches shortly before the Russians’ arrival.

A new two-year study published this week by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC reveals that the opposition by the wartime American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to bombing the train tracks to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944 was even greater than previously thought. FDR discussed the possibility of bombing the train lines and other supply routes to the camp and rejected the idea.

According to historians, the lives of over 300,000 Hungarian Jews who were killed in the second half of 1944 and in 1945 in Auschwitz would have been saved had FDR taken action, as well as those of other Jews from elsewhere in Europe.

FDR told Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (a Jew who was pleading with him to stop the Holocaust) and Leo Crowley, a Catholic appointed to government, “You know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance.”

Above: American wartime aerial image of Auschwitz

Wartime Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy, who made the decision with Roosevelt not to take action against the concentration camps, later put the onus on FDR for making the decision.

Shortly before his death, in 1986, a then 91-year-old McCloy said that when they discussed the idea, FDR “made it very clear” to him that bombing Auschwitz would seem “provocative” to the Nazis.

Furthermore, FDR was eager to ensure many Nazi units were still involved in murdering Jews and didn’t want them to be diverted to fighting the regular war.

For more, see “America’s Failure to Bomb Auschwitz: A New Consensus Among Historians”.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu commented on a previous occasion, during a visit to Auschwitz:

“All that was needed was to bomb the train tracks. The Allies bombed other targets nearby. The pilots only had to nudge their crosshairs.

“You think they didn’t know? They knew. They didn’t bomb because at the time the Jews didn’t have a state, nor the political force to protect themselves.”


* Among previous dispatches on the Holocaust, please see

“By the time the Soviet Army reached Auschwitz, my father was no longer there”.

That dispatch contains articles by subscribers to this list, Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe, and Daniel Finkelstein of The Times of London, both of whom are the children of Holocaust survivors.


I attach three articles below, the first of which was written by Mehdi Hasan, a senior editor at the New Statesman, and published in today’s Times of London.



I am shamed by Muslim attitudes to the Holocaust
By Mehdi Hasan
The Times of London
January 27 2012

Today, for the twelfth year running, the UK marks Holocaust Memorial Day. The date commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.

It pains me to admit this, but the attitude of many of my fellow Muslims towards the Holocaust is a source of great shame to me. In the Middle East Holocaust denial is rife, from the President of Iran to the taxi drivers of Cairo. At home British Muslim attitudes are defined not just by denial but by indifference.

Few Muslims or mosques take part in the memorial day. In 2006 a Channel 4 poll found that a quarter of British Muslims didn’t know what the Holocaust was and only one in three believed it had occurred. This is scandalous. How can we claim to be proud, integrated, European Muslims if we ignore a seminal moment in the history of this continent?

We British Muslims prefer to wallow in vicarious victimhood. Only “our” tragedies matter: Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya roll off our tongues. But none of these surpasses the Holocaust’s barbarism. The Nazi genocide cannot be relativised or generalised. It was an unprecedented act of industrial slaughter; a uniquely horrific crime against humanity.

Yet between 2001 and 2007 the Muslim Council of Britain took the morally abhorrent (and strategically stupid) decision to boycott the day, crassly insisting that it be renamed “Genocide Memorial Day”. In 2008, the boycott was dropped only to be resumed in 2009 after Israel’s assault on Gaza. I yield to no one in my support for the Palestinian cause. But denying or ignoring the Holocaust does nothing to advance that cause. Palestinian suffering is not reduced by belittling the mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

By joining events to mark the day, British Muslims can emulate our Prophet. Muhammad once saw a Jewish funeral procession pass by and stood up as a sign of respect. His companions asked why he stood up for a dead Jew. “Is he not a human being?” replied the Prophet.

Islam is not an exclusive or separatist faith. Thankfully, since 2010, the council has dropped its boycott. But the whole British Muslim community must do much more to remember the Holocaust – whether through hosting events at our mosques or sending our children to visit Auschwitz.

“Every man is your brother,” the great Muslim caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib once proclaimed. “He is either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity.” On Holocaust Memorial Day let us stand side by side with our Jewish brethren and together mourn the deaths of six million innocent souls.



The ‘Iranian Schindler’ who saved Jews from the Nazis
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News, Washington
December 20, 2011

Thousands of Iranian Jews and their descendants owe their lives to a Muslim diplomat in wartime Paris, according to a new book. “In The Lion’s Shadow” tells how Abdol-Hossein Sardari risked everything to help fellow Iranians escape the Nazis.

Eliane Senahi Cohanim was seven years old when she fled France with her family.

She remembers clutching her favourite doll and lying as still as she could, pretending to be asleep, whenever their train came to a halt at a Nazi checkpoint.

“I remember everywhere, when we were running away, they would ask for our passports, and I remember my father would hand them the passports and they would look at them. And then they would look at us. It was scary. It was very, very scary.”

Mrs Cohanim and her family were part of a small, close-knit community of Iranian Jews living in and around Paris.

Her father, George Senahi, was a prosperous textile merchant and the family lived in a large, comfortable house in Montmorency, about 25km (15.5 miles) north of the French capital.


When the Nazis invaded, the Senahis attempted to escape to Tehran, hiding for a while in the French countryside, before being forced to return to Paris, now in the full grip of the Gestapo.

“I remember their attitude. The way they would walk with their black boots. Just looking at them at that time was scary for a child, I think,” recalls Mrs Cohanim, speaking from her home in California.

Like others in the Iranian Jewish community, Mr Senahi turned for help to the young head of Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris.

Abdol-Hossein Sardari was able to provide the Senahi family with the passports and travel documents they needed for safe-passage through Nazi-occupied Europe, a month-long journey that was still fraught with danger.

“At the borders, my father was always really trembling,” recalls Mrs Cohanim but, she adds, he was a “strong man” who had given the family “great confidence that everything would be OK.”


The 78-year-old grandmother has lived for the past 30 years in California with her husband Nasser Cohanim, a successful banker. Mrs Cohanim has no doubt to whom she and her younger brother Claude owe their lives.

“I remember my father always telling that it was thanks to Mr Sardari that we could come out.

“My uncles and aunts and grandparents lived there in Paris. It was thanks to him they weren’t hurt.

“The ones that didn’t have him, they took them and you never heard about them again.”

Of Mr Sardari, she says: “I think he was like Schindler, at that time, helping the Jews in Paris.”

Like Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories, Sardari was an unlikely hero.


In his book “In the Lion’s Shadow,” author Fariborz Mokhtari paints a picture of a bachelor and bon viveur who suddenly found himself head of Iran’s legation house, or diplomatic mission, at the start of World War II.

Although officially neutral, Iran was keen to maintain its strong trading relationship with Germany. This arrangement suited Hitler. The Nazi propaganda machine declared Iranians an Aryan nation and racially akin to the Germans.

Iranian Jews in Paris still faced harassment and persecution and were often identified to the authorities by informers.

In some cases, the Gestapo was alerted when newborn Jewish boys were circumcised at the hospital. Their terrified mothers were ordered to report to the Office of Jewish Affairs to be issued with the yellow patches Jews were forced to wear on their clothes and to have their documents stamped with their racial identity.

But Sardari used his influence and German contacts to gain exemptions from Nazi race laws for more than 2,000 Iranian Jews, and possibly others, arguing that they did not have blood ties to European Jewry.

He was also able to help many Iranians, including members of Jewish community, return to Tehran by issuing them with the new-style Iranian passports they needed to travel across Europe.

A change of regime in Iran, in 1925, had led to the introduction of a new passport and identity card. Many Iranians living in Europe did not have this document, while others, who had married non-Iranians, had not bothered to get Iranian passports for their spouses or children.

When Britain and Russia invaded Iran in September 1941, Sardari’s humanitarian task become more perilous.

Iran signed a treaty with the Allies and Sardari was ordered by Tehran to return home as soon as possible.


But despite being stripped of his diplomatic immunity and status, Sardari resolved to remain in France and carry on helping the Iranian Jews, at considerable risk to his own safety, using money from his inheritance to keep his office going.

The story he spun to the Nazis, in a series of letters and reports, was that the Persian Emperor Cyrus had freed

However, he told the Nazis, at some later point a small number of Iranians began to find the teachings of the Prophet Moses attractive – and these Mousaique, or Iranian Followers of Moses, which he dubbed “Djuguten,” were not part of the Jewish race.

Using all of his lawyer’s skill, he exploited the internal contradictions and idiocies of the Nazis’ ideology to gain special treatment for the “Djuguten”, as the archive material published in Mr Mokhtari’s new book shows.

High-level investigations were launched in Berlin, with “experts” on racial purity drafted in to give an opinion on whether this Iranian sect - which the book suggests may well have been Sardari’s own invention – were Jewish or not.

The experts were non-committal and suggested that more funding was needed for research.


By December 1942, Sardari’s pleas had reached Adolf Eichmann, the senior Nazi in charge of Jewish affairs, who dismissed them, in a letter published in Mr Mokhtari’s book, as “the usual Jewish tricks and attempts at camouflage”.

But Sardari somehow managed to carry on helping families escape from Paris, at a time when an estimated 100,000 Jews were deported from France to death camps.

The number of blank passports in Sardari’s safe is estimated to have been between 500 and 1,000. In his book, Mr Mokhtari suggests that if each was issued for an average of two to three people “this could have saved over 2,000 individuals”.

Sardari never sought recognition for his work during his lifetime, insisting he had only been doing his duty. He died a lonely death in a bedsit in Croydon, south London, in 1981, after losing his ambassador’s pension and Tehran properties in the Iranian revolution.

He was posthumously recognised for his humanitarian work in 2004 at a ceremony at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles.

Mr Mokhtari hopes that by telling his story, through the testimony of survivors, including Mrs Cohanim, he will bring it to a wider audience but also shatter “popular misconceptions” about Iran and the Iranians.

“Here you have a Muslim Iranian who goes out of his way, risks his life, certainly risks his career and property and everything else, to save fellow Iranians,” he says.

“There is no distinction ‘I am Muslim, he is Jew’ or whatever.”

He believes the story illustrates the “general cultural propensity of Iranians to be tolerant” which is often overlooked in the current political climate.



Abdol-Hossein Sardari 1895 - 1981

• 1925: Qajar Royal Family, of which Sardari is a member, loses control of Iran

• 1936: Sardari gains law degree from Geneva university

• 1940: Takes over Iran’s diplomatic mission in Paris from brother-in-law following Nazi invasion

• 1941: Saves thousands of Iranian Jews and others from persecution and death by gaining exemptions from Nazi race laws and helping them escape France

• 1948: Seeks permission to marry long-term lover Tchin-Tchin, a Chinese opera singer, but she disappears in her country’s revolution

• 1952: Recalled to Tehran to face charges of misconduct and embezzlement relating to wartime issuing of passports

• 1955: Clears name and resumes diplomatic career, eventually retiring to London

• 1978: Loses pension and property in Iranian revolution

• 1981: Dies unrecognised in South London but is posthumously honoured by Jewish organisations



The Iranian Schindler: How thousands of Iranian Jews in America owe their lives to Paris diplomat
(London) Daily Mail
December 24, 2011

Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who employed over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust in an effort to save them from concentration camps, was memorialized in a famous book and Academy Award winning movie.

His Iranian equivalent, Abdol-Hossein Sardari, is now getting some of his due press.

In a book that troves through archival material, the story of how Mr Sardari used his diplomatic position in Paris at the time of the Nazi occupation to get passports for Iranian Jews and wove tall tales of faux-scientific stories to help evade the German authorities.

Mr Sardari, who was Muslim, was posted to Paris in 1941 and served as the highest member of the small Iranian consulate at the time of the Nazi invasion.

Because the Germans and Iranians had sizeable, and financially significant, trade contracts, the German considered the Iranians to be an Arayan race, and therefore an ally in their effort to rid Europe of what they viewed as lesser ethnicities.

Mr Sardari wrote numerous letters to Nazi officials telling elaborate stories about how Iranian Jews – who had been spared from Babylonian slavery by ancient Persian ruler Cyrus the Great – should be given the same status under Nazi rule as all other Iranians.

Another rationale that he used at one point was that Iranian Jews were not the same as the Jews that the Nazis so overtly despised since they were not blood-related to European Jewry.

Though some were initially hesitant to buy this version of events, the Nazis eventually relented and gave them the same status as the rest of their fellow Iranians. Before doing so, Nazi officials commissioned racial purity experts investigated the claim but it is thought that a lack of physical and financial resources forced them to cut it short and simply agree.

Another move that Mr Sardari used was to issue Paris-based Iranian Jews new passports: many of the Iranians in Paris at the time of the war had not renewed their passports after their home country went through a regime change, and so by falsifying those documents, Mr Sardari found a bureaucratic way to able to help Jews evade capture.

Exact numbers are not known, but the estimated headcount of people that Mr Sardari helped saved is in the thousands, many of whom ended up fleeing home to Iran or eventually ending up in America.

He was thought to have had 1,000 passports in his consulate safe at the beginning of the war- each of which could be used for more than one person- so experts put the number of lives saved between 2,000 and 3,000.

Though he himself was not harmed during the war, the end of World War II did not end his troubles as he faced embezzlement charges in 1952 which related to his doling out of passports during the war.

The new book, In The Lions Shadow by Fariborz Mokhtari, is astonishing in the amount of detail it is able to shed on the situation because Mr Sardari was famously quiet about his actions after the war ended.

Honored several times by Jewish-American groups, his only known public remark before his 1981 death came as a humble comment to the Israeli National Holocaust Memorial.

“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,” Mr Sardari said.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.