I came into a world burning in the ﬂames of the Second World War.
In Tabriz and all over Iran, fundamentalist Muslims sharpened their knives, preparing to slaughter Jews. Adolf Hitler wanted to purge the world of Jewish existence, and this was exactly what the Muslim clergy wished for, too, contrary to the Shah’s policy of protecting Iranian Jews. As Hitler’s army, in Soviet Azerbaijan, approached the Iranian border, our Muslim neighbors would threaten us daily, and planned to kill us. My uncle’s daughters were extremely beautiful, and the Muslims would plan which of them would rape which daughter when Hitler comes.
But not all was dark: A ray of light named Abdolhossein Sardari Qajar, otherwise known as “the Iranian Schindler,” shone in Paris, saving Jews of Iranian origin and possibly other Jews, from certain death.
Abdolhossein Sardari Qajar was born in 1895 to one of the branches of the royal family of that time. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the period of Reza Shah and his son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he served as a diplomat with the Iranian mission to France, and remained there at the time of the Vichy government — despite being summoned back to Iran like all other diplomats. He saved many Iranian Jews by using the Nazis’ own racial science. He proved, using the Nazis’ own research methods, that Iranian Jews are a different race than European Jews, and are actually Aryans, as all Iranians are, even though they have adopted the Mosaic belief. He convinced the German officials not only by writing multiple letters, but also through constant social interaction with Nazi officials.
In this way, he managed to save many Jewish and mixed families in France, including non-Iranian Jews to whom he issued Iranian passports without explicit permission from the authorities. He was put on trial for this after the war. Thanks to him, no Iranian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and only one was sent to a concentration camp. Jewish communities in other Islamic countries, especially in North Africa, lost many members in the Holocaust.
The Shah was also kind to Jews of non-Iranian origin. In 1942, the Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet authorities allowed about 24,000 Polish refugees, including 1,000 Jewish children and and 800 Jewish adults, to emigrate. Most of these children were orphans. By August 1942, the entire group had been transferred to Tehran, where the adult Jewish refugees set up an orphanage, with the help of the local Jewish community. The Jewish Agency sent emissaries to help run the orphanage, and by January 1943 it had procured a ship and immigration permits from the British authorities, so the children and their attendants sailed to Suez, and then transferred to trains. They arrived in Israel in February 1943, and are known to this day as the Tehran Children.
On the day I was born, 23 November 1942, Adolf Hitler declined the request from the chiefs of his own army to allow the soldiers to ﬂee from the Stalingrad frontier. He preferred losing his soldiers rather than saving them. But Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus disobeyed, and on 31 January 1943 he surrendered himself, with all his soldiers, to the Red Army.
The turn of events in favor of the allies in World War II saved our family and most Iranian Jews from bitter fortune and perhaps even extinction at the hand of our neighbors, incited by the clergy and acting against government policy. Instead of Hitler’s armies, Russian soldiers who escaped the front came from Azerbaijan. Most of them were starving, and some of them had no clothes. Our family took them in and took good care of them.