My father was Ambassador of Iran to France from 1938 to
1941. When Germany invaded France we left Paris in a hurry for the spa city of Vichy, the
new seat of the French government led by Petain, the once victorious Marshall of France at
the battle of Verdun in World WarI. But World WarII was a different story, at least in the
beginning. France had been invaded by the Nazis during the German "blietzkrieg."
While driving from Paris to Vichy, our embassy car, a Buick, was strifed twice by
marauding warplanes. I guess diplomatic license plates could not be seen by pilots.
Gilles, our spanish chauffeur and veteran of the Spanish civil war drove the car in a
ditch surrounded by trees. He probably saved us. My father left my uncle Abdol Hossein
Sardari brother of my mother in charge of embassy affairs in Paris where he saved many
families from the Nazis.
See the plaque in his memory. Hear Radio Farda Program about Sardari in Persian.
To say the least, life in occupied France was horrendous for the French and even the foreign diplomatic corps had few privileges vis-a-vis the Germans. Look at my father's "Ausweis," or laissez-passer above. It said permit for the Envoy of Iran travelling from Paris to Vichy with his wife, son and chauffeur. It was a necessary document to cross the demarcation line at Moulins on the Allier river, between German-held territory and what was left of France. A few months down the road, the whole of France was taken over by the Nazis.
My father was later on nominated Ambassador to Turkey. When he bid the French head of State goodbye, Marshall Petain told him: "You are from the land of roses and nightingales. I hope these roses of Persia will remain without thorns. Poor France, I met Hitler last week, what could a humbled Frenchman do in front of this mountain of arrogance, bursting with pride?" Then the old Marshall of France, winner of countless battles began to cry and shed abundant tears in front of my father, who himself was taken over by emotion. (See the book of French historian Henri Tournoux, the Fall of France and Petain during World WarII.
Unfortunately, Persia's legendary roses had nasty thorns. During World WarII, Iran although neutral was invaded by the allies who craved to the newly constructed "Trans-Iranian" railway system. They ran it to the ground to bring sorely needed war equipment to the Russians. It was a time of great distress for our homeland. Iranians were not allowed use their own railways and roads. Famine ensued as crops could not be moved from villages to cities. By the end of the war, the entire rolling stock, locomotives and wagons had become worn out and all but useless. My father who had become Foreign minister in the cabinet Ghavam Saltaneh demanded prompt and rightful compensation. It was refused. Iran's demand is still pending at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
In November 1996, an AP report fron Holland bluntly stated: "Iran's demand for $150 million for compensation during World WarII has been finally rejected. The reason, there never was a compensation agreement signed for use by the Allies of the Iranian railway system. "By the way, did we have an agreement to be invaded?The persistence of my father angered London and Washington, the American ambassador was recalled and my father became Ambassador to a newly liberated France. Below is a 1939 photograph taken at Versailles Palace near Paris with my father, mother and two sisters.