The Muslim Who Saved Jews From the Holocaust

As the Nazis rounded up Europe’s Jewish population, one brave Muslim diplomat shielded Persian Jews from annihilation

By David Lazarus | | Topics: Iran, Holocaust
Photo: Public Domain

Abdol-Hossein Sardari Qajar was a Muslim diplomate in Paris who saved the lives of thousands of Iranian Jews from the Nazi death camps. 

Sardari Qajar was an Iranian born into the Azerbaijani Qajar dynasty that ruled Persia for almost 200 years until 1925, when the Iranian Mohammad Khan was crowned Shah and began a campaign of violence against Iran’s Azerbaijani citizens. 

Azerbaijan was eventually divided up between Russian and Iran after a long series of wars, and today over 30 million Azerbaijanis still live in Iran. Sardari Qajar was a member of this indigenous Azerbaijani community in Iran.

Azerbaijani Jews maintain good relationships until this day with their non-Jewish and Muslim neighbors. Jews even maintain the only Jewish town in the world outside of Israel in Azerbaijan. Qirmisi Qesebe is the only town in the world outside of Israel where Jews constitute the majority. Many famous Jews have also come from Azerbaijani background, such as Garry Kasparov, considered the world’s greatest chess player. 

When the Germans entered Paris, the 26-year-old Azerbaijani Muslim Sardari Qajar was left in charge of France’s Iranian Jews, as the Nazis and their French agents began sending the local Jewish population to be exterminated in death camps in far-away Poland. 

In 1940, the Nazis required all the Jews of France to register with the police and wear a yellow Jewish star. Sardari Qajar sent a letter to the French government now exiled to Vichy explaining that the Iranian Jews should be left alone because they had completely assimilated into the Persian culture. The unique place of Jews in the Persian world goes all the way back to Queen Esther, who married the Persian King Ahasuerus and saved the Persian Jews from Haman. 

Inexplicably, and some say miraculously, Sardari Qajar’s scheme worked, and Iranian Jews were not required to wear the yellow Star of David. Over 75,000 French Jews were eventually sent to Nazi death camps, but all of France’s Persian Jews remained untouched. For those Jews who wanted to leave France, Sardari Qajar courageously issued Iranian passports for entire families without official Iranian government approval, thus saving thousands from the Nazi Holocaust.

When Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s distinguished Holocaust Museum, asked Sardari about his work in France, he answered simply: “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.” In 2004, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles honored Sardari Qajar. The Center is an organization that researches the Holocaust, confronts antisemitism, hate and terrorism, stands with Israel and defends the safety of Jews worldwide. 

What the Iranian Muslim Sardari Qajar did for the Jewish people was an expression of thousands of years of peaceful coexistence between Jews and the Azerbaijani and Persian peoples. Sardari Qajar reflects a time when religion and ethnic background were superseded by the importance of humanity’s commonality and commonwealth. Growing up among the Azerbaijani people who lived in harmony with Jews, Sardari Qajar understood the importance of respect, the sanctity of life and the courage it takes to protect one another. A lesson we all must learn in the wake of the Holocaust. 

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