In the Lion’s Shad­ow: The Iran­ian Schindler and his Home­land in the Sec­ond World War

Fari­borz Mokhtari
  • Review
By – December 11, 2012

The core of this book is the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry of an aris­to­crat­ic Iran­ian diplo­mat who man­ages, through a mas­ter­ful manip­u­la­tion of Ger­man law, to save and evac­u­ate hun­dreds of Iran­ian Jew­ish fam­i­lies liv­ing in France dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Twist­ing the Third Reich’s racial log­ic, the diplo­mat, Abdol-Hos­sein Sar­dari, argued that the Mosaique Ira­ni­ans or Djougoutes were quite dis­tinct from Euro­pean Jews. He argued that even though the peo­ple in ques­tion believed in the teach­ings of Moses, they met the stan­dards of Blut­mas­sig nicht Juden. Their blood and race was not Jew­ish. Indeed, like all Ira­ni­ans, they were Aryans. It also seems clear that Sar­dari issued Iran­ian pass­ports to non-Iran­ian Jews, thus extend­ing the hard-won pro­tec­tions to them. 

The author por­trays Sar­dari as a sym­pa­thet­ic though occa­sion­al­ly flawed per­son­al­i­ty. Sav­ing oth­ers from tragedy, he him­self is a trag­ic char­ac­ter. His diplo­mat­ic posi­tion changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly when neu­tral Iran, hav­ing been over­run by the allied British and Russ­ian troops, became an ene­my of the Ger­mans. Refus­ing to return to Tehran when recalled and los­ing all diplo­mat­ic priv­i­leges (and salary), he con­tin­ued to work to pro­tect those threat­ened by the Nazis using his own resources. 

Sad­ly, the end of the war was to bring Sar­dari no peace. The woman he loved, a Chi­nese opera singer known as Tchin-Tchin, dis­ap­peared when in 1948 she went to Chi­na in the midst of the rev­o­lu­tion to ask for her par­ents’ approval to mar­ry Sar­dari. In addi­tion he was pur­sued by a hos­tile oppo­si­tion in Iran which charged him with wrong­do­ing and suc­ceed­ed in tem­porar­i­ly halt­ing his career until he was grant­ed a roy­al par­don. He retired from the diplo­mat­ic ser­vice in 1958 and moved to Lon­don. In 1979, the events of the Iran­ian rev­o­lu­tion were to bring him fur­ther heart­break when his nephew, a for­mer prime min­is­ter, was exe­cut­ed. A short time lat­er he died while liv­ing in a rent­ed flat in Lon­don, his wealth a thing of the past. 

With an index, pho­tographs and an excel­lent set of notes, this work casts light on an oth­er­wise obscure fig­ure in the his­to­ry of the Holocaust.

Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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