Amidst the increasing hoopla created by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has repeatedly been denying the Holocaust, Yad Vashem in Israel earlier this week announced plans to reconsider honoring the late Iranian diplomat Abdol Hossein Sardari the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts in savings Jews from the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Sardari headed the Iranian Consulate in Nazi-occupied France in 1941 and forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris. At the time he saved the lives of several hundred non-Iranian Jews in Paris in 1942 by giving them Iranian passports to escape Nazi persecution.
The Wiesenthal Center posthumously honored Sardari in April of 2004 for his efforts in savings Jewish lives. The award was presented to Sardari’s nephew, the late Fereydoun Hoveyda, who served as Iran’s ambassador to the UN in the 1970s. The ceremony was attended by the late Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian Jew who said that Sardari had helped him and the other Jews escape from the hands of the Nazis without requesting money. In April 2004, the Iranian Jewish Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills also posthumously honored Sardari in a ceremony.
Two years ago, Yad Vashem considered bestowing the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” to Sardari but did not do so citing that while Sardari had helped Jews living in Paris during the Holocaust, it was still unclear if did he did so at any risk to himself. In April 1978, Saradi himself wrote a letter to Yad Vashem explaining his efforts during the war.“As you may know,” he wrote, “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.” In 1981, Sardari passed away in London.
The issue of Sardari’s actions on behalf of Jews has resurfaced more recently after the airing of a new popular mini-series on Iranian state-controlled television dealing with the Holocaust called “Zero Degree Turn”. The program is loosely based on Sardari’s efforts as it involves an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man who saves his French Jewish girlfriend from the hands of the Nazis with the help of Iranian diplomats in France who provide forged passports for her family. However, the Iranian government has used “Zero Degree Turn” to besmirch Sardari’s good name and down play his efforts on behalf of Jews since the program shows the Iranian diplomats only giving the passports in exchange for money. We know from the personal accounts of the late Ibrahim Moradi that such was not the case with regards to Sardari.
On an interesting note, in 2004 I discovered and interviewed Menashe Ezrapour, the only known Iranian Jews to be held in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Ezrapour who is now 88 and living in Los Angeles, was studying in France as a university student during the war when he was gathered by the Nazis. He was later sent to the infamous “Gurs Concentration Camp” in Southern France. My article can be found here