More than 300 people attended a presentation at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center Sunday about a man who used his status as an Iranian envoy in Nazi-occupied France to save the lives of thousands, and the hospitality of a culture in which tolerance is an ingrained value.
The crowd, many of whom were from Great Neck's Persian community, listened as professor Fariboz Mokhtari related the story of Abdol-Hossein Sardari, who used his influence to obtain passports and other means of survival for thousands of people in Paris, even staying behind after he was told to leave after Allied-occupied Iran declared war on Germany in September 1943.
Mokhtari is the author of "In the Lion's Shadow: The Iranian Schindler and His Homeland in the Second World War," published by The History Press.
He explained how Sardari confused Nazi officials using their own bloodline ideology, telling them that Persians were ethnically Aryan and that some had simply chosen to practice the teachings of Judaism. He secured passports and other documentation that ensured safe passage for many under the guise that they were Iranian citizens.
Sardari faced misconduct charges from his own government for using resources to aid non-Iranians, but continued his efforts nonetheless.
"After 20 years in Holocaust studies, I was stunned that I had never heard of this man," said Beth Lilach, the Center's senior director of education and community affairs.
Mokhtari was joined by Claude Morady, son of Ibrahim Morady, who aided Sardari's efforts to protect those at risk. Morady said he didn't know of his father's actions during the war until he was contacted by Mokhtari for the book.
"To them themselves, this was something routine and normal," said Mokhtari. "They never sought recognition."
A grand-nephew of Sardari and a woman who was saved as a child by his actions were also present.
Mokhtari stressed that the respect for human rights which drove Sardari is an aspect of Persian culture that has existed for centuries and still does, despite the reputation of the current regime in Iran. He emphasized that any discussion of the Persian people must be separated from that of the present Iranian government.
"I'd like to point out that Arthur Schopenhauer, the famous German philosopher, reached a conclusion in the nineteenth century that in moments of crisis, humans have the capacity to share the pain of others to the point of risking their own lives, for they recognize the unity of all life," Mokhtari said. "We in the West celebrate that, value that...but how many of us in the West recognize the Iranian scholar and poet Musleh-ud-Deen Sa'di? Sa'di had reached the same conclusion - the same conclusion - 600 years earlier. And that is the knowledge and the culture that informed Sardari, and that we all should cultivate to inspire future generations."