The heroic doctor who saved Bukharian Jews from the Nazis

In the week marking the 80th anniversary of the round-up of 13,000 Jews in the Vel d’Hiv stadium,  and their dispatch to Drancy camp outside Paris before deportation to Auschwitz, it seems appropriate to recall an unknown story of heroism in wartime France. Dr Asaf Atchildi, a Jewish doctor from Samarkand,  saved members of the Bukharian community during the Nazi occupation. Here is a remarkable story of rescue, as told by Eve Weinberg in a Harif ‘Lockdown Lecture’.

Gestapo Headquarters in Paris at 86 Avenue Foch

Although only 150 Iranian Jews lived in Paris at the time of the Nazi invasion, the city’s Jewish population also included Jews from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Partnering with Ibrahim Morady and Dr. Asaf Atchildi, a Central Asian Jew and president of the Bukharian community,  the Iranian consul in Paris, Abdol-Hussein Sardari,  submitted documents to Nazi officials testifying that Jews from Bukhara were actually  Jugutis, a made-up term that described Persians who practised the “Mosaic” faith. At the outset of the war, Dr Atchildi and his wife never declared themselves Jews.

Eve Weinberg’s grandfather Aron (Arcadie) and his brothers Albert and Daniel together with Aron’s son David were taken to the Drancy Camp. Dr Atchildi pleaded with the Drancy camp commandant that the detainees were Afghans, not Jews. He managed to obtain the release of Aron and his brothers. But David was being held in  a Suspects’ Camp. The only way to obtain his release ( as he was advised to do by Mr Kedia of the Georgian Jews, who had similarly been exempted from the Nazi race laws), was for Dr Atchildi to go to Gestapo Headquarters at 86 Avenue Foch in Paris.

Taking his courage in both  hands, Dr Atchildi went to 86 Avenue Foch to plead David’s innocence, terrified that he might never get out of the building alive. The young man had been accused of ‘opposition to the German army’. But the doctor managed to prove that he had been framed by a vengeful policeman. The SS officer checked his story, found it to be the truth, and ordered David’s release.

Dr Atchildi’s account was submitted in 1967 to Yad Vashem. But his bravery remained unacknowledged during his lifetime. However, B’nai Brith World Centre bestowed the Jewish Rescuers’ Citation on his daughter Dora Aftergood, 94, in honour of her father. Dr. Atchildi, they said, had put his own life at risk to ensure the survival of over 300 Jews in Nazi-occupied France.  While Yad Vashem recognises ‘Righteous Gentiles’, B’nai Brith initiated the Citation project in 2011 to recognise those Jews who endangered themselves to rescue and protect others in Nazi Germany. Aftergood accepted the award on behalf of Dr. Atchildi in a small private ceremony in Vancouver.

Eve Weinberg  was astonished to learn that her cousin, David’s daughter, had never been told by him about this episode in her father’s life. Eve herself is determined to publicise these stories. She has published her mother’s memoir of her grandparents’ turbulent lives, ‘From Tashkent to Paris’.

You can hear Eve telling how Dr Atchildi rescued her family at 31:40 into this video.

 

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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