Iranians and Germans – a changeful relationship
Traditionally, the political, economic and cultural relationships between Iranians and Germans were closely linked, even if it was not always uncomplicated. The technological expansion led German firms and their products to Iran long before the outbreak of WWII, whereby a German community has been established on-site with its own infrastructure and identity. German schools were found, businesses sprouted, and workshops that produced locally, contributed to a communal life that transferred the traditions of Germany to Persia.
Though in everyday life syncretic patterns proved to be successful: The Germans were open-minded and friendly to the culture of their host country, and for many of them Iran became a second home. On the other hand, the Iranians were interested in German craft skills and engineering art. The tie of solidarity has been built in spite of the otherness.
Moreover, the culture and history of Persia have been made accessible in Germany through travelogues. The lion in the sign of the sun. It decorates not only the national coat of arms of Iran, but also private libraries in remote Germany, whose readers dedicated themselves to the Persian culture, after a long working day:
"The continuous preoccupation with the history and culture of a foreign nation lets of its own volition the desire to visit the respective country and to experience the quite unique way of being of its inhabitants".
With these words the Iranologist Walther Hinz (1906-1992) annotated his book "Iranian Journey. A research trip through contemporary Persiaʺ from 1938. And it was this inner coming together of Iranians and Germans that contributed to a peaceful coexistence.
The Persian Gulf constitutes the infrastructural centre of gravity. Vessels of the German merchant navy belonged to the usual picture of the Iranian shores. Here disembarked mechanical goods for Iran and the ships picked agricultural products for Germany. Merchant seaman Officer Werner Buschmann, who belonged to the regular visitors with his steamer HOHENFELS from Bremen, depicts this in his book "Eine Handbreit Stacheldraht unterm Kiel" ("A hand of barbed wire under the keel"). The Persian Gulf always central to the conflict of interests of the powers, as a core of the international trade. Flags from all over the world were proudly flying over it – and still do so today.
The outbreak of the Second World War unleashed by Germany, meant for the coexistence of Iranians and Germans a caesura. The swastika blew through Tehran too. Not everyone from the Persian Germans were sympathetic with the rulers in their home country. It didn’t help. The upcoming world conflagration represented a profound watershed for the life of the Iranian Germans, but also for the Iranians themselves, since through the geostrategic considerations of the Allied powers Iran became a deployment territory of the Allied forces, - a transit country for military goods, that were transported to the Soviet Union.
For Germans, for the enemy, there was no place anymore. Women and children were allowed to go back to Germany. Men who were eligible as potential Wehrmacht-soldiers have been sent to Australia or, even worse, into a catastrophe - to the Soviet Union. Among the men who were sent to Australia, was Werner Buschmann, who during the outbreak of the war was sailing through the Persian Gulf. The crew of the Hohenfels thought that they were sailing to supposedly neutral waters, and they would be safe there. They didn’t imagine that they would get into a predicament that would lead them directly into the Australian bush.
Biographies broked in their continuities. The bond of coexistence among Iranians and Germans has been cut for many years. Both home countries have become inaccessible. The war ravaged not only cultures and countries, destroyed not only lives in an unprecedented brutality, but also disrooted. "Where should they go if the war shall end?" "Will the war ever end?" Years in internment let such questions arise. Werner Buschman thought to go back to Germany after the war. Relatives of him advised him against it: "There’s nothing here anymore. Stay where you are". Ultimately, it was Werner, who sent food parcels to Germany from remote Australia.
After the confusion of the war, the crop of coexistence between Iranians and Germans grew again through the next generation. Not a few Iranian Germans from the Australian internment camps stayed in Australia and built a new life. They settled down, started families. Their know-how was appreciated. It was an important element for a successful integration. However some paths led to Iran again after the war, where the experts were remembered. Meanwhile, Australia has become a home country where these Iranian Germans returned from their professional stay abroad. The descendants of these people see themselves as Australians. They know Germany only from occasional visits and from the tales of their ancestors. With the gradual demise of the prewar Iranian Germans the menace of the disappearance of memories of past vitas was intrisic. Nevertheless, materials such as diaries, photographs and occasional memoirs have been preserved. Recollections of more or less detailed conversations between those who still wanted to, and could, remember, and those whose academic interest in their roots fuelled them to unearth these recollections – and do so to this day.
The research has long neglected this topic. It is an ambitious endeavour. An investigative work that demands a lot of time, patience and an academic quality. Dr. Pedram Khosronejad undertook this endeavour in a way that deserves the greatest distinction. It is his merit to have gathered, preserved and made accessible voices of the past for the future generations through meticulous research, voices that inform about the intercultural life of Germans and Iranians, between members of two nations that document a common life, common work and learn about culture of the other without reservations and with mutual respect.
This first documentation in a form of a website fulfills all the above-named claims in all their facets. The homepage is tastefully designed, clearly presented and thereby easy to access. This presentation will stay for long, as a standard reference in its thematical uniqueness. Dr. Khosronejad created with this work and with the support of some of the descendants of the internees a fundamental basis for future research in this field.
""Written by Ralf Täuber, Editor of Werner Buschmann´s Memoirs "Eine Handbreit Stacheldraht unterm Kiel. Von den Weltmeeren in den australischen Busch". Article translated by Nina Täuber, 16/07/2020""
Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor
Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University
Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University