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Niazi Sion Dangoor



by Abdulla S Dangoor

Niazi Sion Dangoor who died recently in Tel Aviv at the age of 90, was born in Baghdad in 1910 when Iraq was a province of the Ottoman Empire and was named after Niazi Pasha the leader of the young Turks who staged a revolt against the Sultan. Niazi showed his skill in languages and at an early age mastered four languages: Arabic, Hebrew, English and French and latterly German. He was a brilliant entrepreneur and with the help of his brother-in-law, Jacob Mashaal, a racing man and a member of the Racing Board, he secured a concession for a betting office in town. A year later, at the age of 21, he realised that there was a trade opening with Germany and with the encouragement of Dr Grobba, the German minister in Baghdad, travelled to far away city of Leipzig and established a branch office to one of the biggest companies in Iraq, Meyer Toeg and Joseph Moshi to trade through the newly established Havara Mark which enabled German exports to be very competitive. Within a year he became fluent in German and achieved a great success in his business enterprise.

In 1931, Germany was in a state of tranquillity and Jews flourishing in the arts, music and business. The Lorélei, the poem written by the Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, was the most popular song at the time: "I know not why I am so sad; I cannot get out of my head a fairytale of Olden Times". But with the advent of the Nazis things changed overnight but they retained the song without mentioning the author. Almost every foreigner had to sport a badge of his country and even members of the diplomatic corps with dark complexions were molested. But Niazi was bold to walk the streets without fear. With his angelic good looks, wave hair and blue eyes, he became like an icon in a drab city. Dressed in a Savile Row suit by Henry Poole and driving in a smart Mercedes Benz coupé, he was courted by the intelligentsia as the first man from far away Iraq in their midst. Among them was Professor Landsberger the archaeologist and the greatest Assyriologist of the century who was to compose the Assyrian-English dictionary.

It was during my school holiday in Leipzig that my brother took me with his girlfriend and a couple of German acquaintances to the races. Soon after our arrival, the military band struck, the Nazi anthem was sung by the crowds who raised their hands in the Hitler salute with shouts of Heil Hitler and Sieg Heil. It was a daring do of Niazi and I at his side, giving the old fashioned military salute. The racegoers looked somewhat surprised at our bold and defiant attitude.

A few days after this episode, Niazi was summoned to the Gestapo Chief Obersturmerbannfuhrer. Facing the man with his intimidating physical presence, he deployed the strategy that the first part of defence is attack. He upraided him for keeping him waiting on a primitive and uncomfortable bench. The blond beast, pompous, arrogant and bombastic became docile. Eventually the wolf turned into a little twerp. The Chief asked him silly questions. Is Meyer the senior partner of your company a Jew? Yes he is. Does he worship in a synagogue? I have no idea. Do you know him well? "No. I have never met him." How is that? Because he lives in Basra and I am from Baghdad. Ach so! Where is Basra? It is the main port of Iraq. He never asked Niazi whether he was a Jew for fear that he might tell him to mind his own business. When alerted by an aide that he may be dealing with a Jew, he rebuked him by telling him: It is I who decide who is a Jew. After gruelling on petty and irrelevant subjects, Niazi could not contain his irritation, lost his patience and threatened to complain to the Wilhelm Strasse (The Foreign Office) that the Chief overstepped his mark by his intrusive interview. The Chief has realised that he cannot draw swords with a man of intelligence, learning and charisma. He was now so polite and promised that Niazi would not be bothered again. This promise was kept for many years to come. He took the unprecedented step by standing up, shook his hand, greeting Grosse Got and Gutten Tag, and not raising his hand in the Nazi salute.

It was at the racecourse that Inge Hansen Niazi's then girlfriend and one of the most beautiful women in Germany, was brought to the attention of Dr Ley, the Labour Minister and one of the most repulsive types of German corpulents. He asked to see the woman and after meeting her he fell madly in love with her, divorced his wife and married her. His strength through joy cruise ships swarmed up to Westminster pier just before the war and in 1940 he promised his workers trips to the beauty spots of conquered Britain. However, with Reichs defeat he was indicted as war criminal in Nuremberg and hanged himself in his cell.

In 1938, after the Munich conference, Niazi was on a business trip to London. When he phoned his office in Leipzig, he was told by his secretary that he cannot speak freely as the premises were occupied by the Gestapo and all communications were cut off with the outside world. Niazi's first reaction was not to go back and was so advised by his friends and relatives. However, the next day and on the spur of the moment, he took the plane and went straight to the Gestapo headquarters. He barged in unannounced and demanded to see the senior chief who became his friend. He stood before him, indomitable, unbent and courageous and berated him for their aggressive raid. The man was dumbfounded and after consulting his colleagues, he apologised profusely that the action was undertaken by subordinates without his knowledge.

Why were the ruthless Gestapo cosying to a man who cocked a snook at them with a brash manner? Niazi had the patronage of Dr Grobba and was a friend of the Emir Zaid the Iraqi envoy. Also they did not want to upset the notorious King Ghazi who was anti-British and broadcasting pro-German propaganda from his palace.

At this juncture Niazi came to the conclusion that it was time to go. He realised that war was imminent as he watched from his office in Nicolai Strasse the queues of the contingent of workers, and was told that these can be transformed within hours into a fighting force. He thought how naive and ignorant the Western leaders were. The French Prime Minister boasted that Hitler treated him as an equal and Chamberlain proclaiming that he can trust the Fuhrer and that he is a man of his word and he can do business with him.

He said goodbye to his tearful German staff who regarded him as a foreign protector and his being in Germany was reassuring of continued peace. In fact some of them wrote to him after the war seeking his help. Although most of them were Nazi sympathisers, they felt very vulnerable and looked at him as a father figure and foreign protector.

One final noble act was to obtain a visa and work permit in France for his Polish Jewish employee by the name of Fischleiber, mindful of the ancient Rabbinic teaching that he who saves a single life, saves the world.



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