In our house we had everything, and never felt any want or shortage. It may sound odd today, but one of the things peculiar to our family was that we always had fruit on our table. One day I took an orange to school, which surprised all my friends, because in their houses oranges were a rare product. At another time I brought an apple to class and threw half of it in the trash can. When the teacher came to class and her eyes fell on that half apple, she asked, shocked, who had done this, and looked at me with astonishment!
We had a good life, protected by a father who did not deprive us of anything. My father was very kind and compassionate, and made every effort he could to make his wife and children happy. He was always occupied with his business, and it was actually my mother who wisely and skilfully managed, planned and controlled all the family and home affairs. Papa completely entrusted her with the house issues and decisions.
Although his business took up most of his time, my father still played a very active role in our education. He brought us a private tutor, who would come to our house in the afternoons and teach us German, because he wanted us to learn German perfectly, and to be in touch only with people who are articulate in German.
My father would always say: “Time equals gold, do not waste it in vain.” He used to work late, but the precious advice he would give me stays with me forever:
In Iran, my father used to gamble. One cold night, he lost his winter coat gambling, and his father didn’t buy him a new coat. Youssef froze that whole winter, and learned his lesson: he swore never to touch cards again. He used to tell us this story, and made us swear that we will never touch cards or gamble in any other way, ever. His advice may have saved some lives, because several members of our community lost all their money gambling.
Papa would always advise us to think good thoughts, and said: know that the (material) world is worthless, and what will remain of us will only be our good name. He strongly insisted that we be humble, and never arrogant or conceited. He aided hundreds of people I know, and never wanted credit for it. He ordered us to be kind and forgiving with those who are less fortunate.
I remember going to Los Angeles once, and meeting a middle aged woman who said to me: “You are Mr. Khakshouri’s daughter?!”
And then, how she praised my father! I never knew about these things, because my father had never spoken about his philanthropy and benevolence. When he supported an organization, he would ask them not to say or write anything about it.
Papa also loved the State of Israel very much, and aided the country with all his heart and soul. He had business connections in Afghanistan, and still had some contacts, so after the 1979 revolution, activists who smuggled Jews out of Iran through Afghanistan turned to him, and he arranged for them to come to Switzerland, and then helped them obtain visas to Israel or the States. Four years after his Aliyah to Israel, his Afghan contact also made Aliyah with his family, and they remained close friends until my father’s last days.
Ms. Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel, sent him a present — a bust with praises and gratitude for all his philanthropy.
Papa set a good example for us, by being a humble and modest person. He always told us to keep in mind that dust you are, and unto dust shall you return. It doesn’t matter if your father is rich or poor, we will all end up as dust. He loved Iranian literature and liked reading books. He always quoted this poem, by Purya-ye Vali, when giving us advice:
Learn humbleness, if you’re seeking to prosper.
It is the high land that never holds water.
اﻓﺘﺎدﮔﯽ آﻣﻮز اﮔﺮ ﻃﺎﻟﺐ ﻓﯿﻀﯽ
ﻫﺮﮔﺰ ﻧﺨﻮرد آب زﻣﯿﻨﯽ ﮐﻪ ﺑﻠﻨﺪ اﺳﺖ
There were many Iranian Jewish business people in Hamburg, in close business interaction, but my father also had business and social connections with Iranian Muslim families and businessmen, such as the Milanchi and Kianian families. He traded with leading German companies as well, like August Töpfer & Co. and Lübecker Marzipan factory.
Even though we moved to another country and continent, the business was still a family business, run by the brothers Youssef, Nathan and Shalom. Nathan joined us in Hamburg at 1965, and Shalom stayed in Iran with their younger brother Sion, who joined the business later. They both left Iran only during the revolution, Sion lives in London now, and Shalom in LA.
You can say we were the European office of the Khakshouri brothers’ business: The brothers who remained in Iran sent us shipments of dried fruit and nuts, which were exported mainly to East Germany. At that time, the Russian army was still situated in East Berlin. Passage between East and West Berlin was not easy, but the brothers turned this general difficulty into an advantage for themselves. My father also had a large booth in the Leipzig international trade fair, in East Germany, decorated with the Iranian ﬂag and a picture of the Shah, a source of pride for the Iranian community in Germany.
When trading with East Germany, instead of exchanging money, my father would barter with them: He took machine-woven carpets, and would barter these with the Russians in exchange for hand-woven carpets, for which there was a good market in Germany.
The East German office of textile commerce, which manufactured these machine-woven carpets, would sell carpets directly to the USSR, too, but had limited these transactions because the Russians would pay them in rubles, which was an unstable currency. They preferred the barter deals with Youssef Khakshouri, because food is always needed, and dried fruit doesn’t lose its value as fast as rubles. So my father actually bartered with both sides instead of having them dealing with each other directly, and obtained better merchandize to sell to the West Germans.
A few years later, when Sasson joined the business, he took over the deals in hand-woven carpets.