(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yad Vashem has been considering bestowing its highest honor on a diplomat known as the "Schindler of Iran" for saving Jews during the Holocaust, but tentatively decided not to due to "inconclusive documentation" on the risk he took, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority said Monday.
Deliberation over whether to confer upon Abdol Hossain Sardari the title of "Righteous Among the Nations," which was last taken up by Yad Vashem in 2005, would be reopened should new information arrive, a Yad Vashem spokesperson said Monday.
Sardari, who headed the Iranian consular office in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941, saved many Jews during the Holocaust by issuing them blank Iranian passports.
His story is the subject of an Iranian state-run TV series on the Holocaust. It is seen as a government attempt to differentiate between Israel and the Jewish people, and to moderate its anti-Semitic image after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" and repeatedly said Israel should be "wiped off the map."
The issue over whether to posthumously bestow the title on Sardari, who died in 1981, has been taken up twice by Yad Vashem, most recently two years ago. But it has been tentatively turned down due to a lack of evidence that the Iranian diplomat acted at personal risk to himself, a key criteria for the award.
"Thus far, the documentation is inconclusive insofar as the criteria for recognition as Righteous Among the Nations," a Yad Vashem spokesperson said. "Should material arrive that would shed more light on the case, it will be re-referred to the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nation."
Yad Vashem said it was clear that Sardari had helped Jews living in Paris during the Holocaust who held Iranian citizenship, but it was not clear if he did so at any risk.
"This is admirable conduct, but it appears he acted in compliance with his [government] instruction," the spokesperson said.
Due to the involvement of a diplomat, it appears that Iranian Foreign Ministry archives would offer historians the clearest picture on the case.
"After a profound exploration of the case and the historical circumstances, the commission decided then that based on the information at hand, it was unable to bestow the title on Sardari," the spokesperson said.
Sardari sent a letter to Yad Vashem in April 1978, setting the process in motion.
"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 2004 the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center posthumously awarded Sardari for his actions during the Holocaust. The award ceremony was attended by Ibrahim Moradi, an Iranian-born Jew who Sardari saved. The award was presented to Sardari's nephew, Fereydoun Hoveyda, who served as Iran's ambassador to the UN in the 1970s, Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said Monday. Moradi was saved from the Nazis by a passport that Sardari provided, he said.
Moradi, who has since passed away, noted at the ceremony that Sardari acted without getting any money in exchange, Cooper said. That contradicts the Iranian TV series, which depicts the diplomat giving out the passports for cash, he added.
According to Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's Israel director, the Iranian TV show indicated that the situation in Iran was not as monolithic as some might think.
"On the one hand we have the president of Iran who denies the very existence of the Holocaust, and on the other hand we have a flagship project of Iranian TV which presents the Holocaust as historical fact," he said Monday.
The Wiesenthal Center's criteria for honoring Holocaust heroes is less rigorous than that of Yad Vashem. It has also honored Khaled Abdelwahhab, a wealthy Tunisian landowner, for his actions during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is considering the case.
A future decision to honor Abdelwahhab, who passed away in 1997, would make him the first Arab awarded Yad Vashem's top honor.
Nearly 22,000 non-Jews have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.