Professor Böhler, an Austrian physician was a great help to the Iranian veterans and performed operations on them, particularly on their completely deformed faces.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: I can remember a night in Vienna when I was home from work. After an exhausting day of filming I was watching scenes of the Iran-Iraq War on TV. For me, who was working in the flamboyant world of Austrian cinema, that footage wasn’t significant? The people and actions were indistinct and the newscaster’s explanations didn’t help much. The only thing I could understand was a long distance between me and the other side of the TV screen; a distance that disappeared when the injured veterans came to Vienna.
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [German], Professor Freilinger, War Surgeon in Vienna: “I think I’m known in Iran as a war surgeon. One day I was contacted in my department in A.K.H Hospital in 1980. I was asked if I could perform surgery on damaged faces. It was a daunting task for a surgeon to carry out surgery on faces so damaged.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “Professor Gerhard Freilinger was an expert on face surgery; faces damaged by bullets; faces with damaged jaws, noses etc. He was a well-known surgeon on this filed in A.K.H Hospital in Vienna.”
Narration: On the other side of the windows in A.K.H Hospital, the injured were being treated and I was the interpreter of their maladies. Meeting them face to face and listening to their words lead to many questions; most of them unanswered. August 2011. After about thirty years I decided to see my Austrian friends; those who used to see the events happening at those days in Iran and the world from a different angle rather than that offered by the Austrian media.
SOUNDBITE [German], Kristian Krowitziger, Reporter and Documentary Filmmaker, O.R.F. Channel: “The war between Iran and Iraq broke out in 1980. But the first the Austrian people heard of the war was when the first group of the injured came to Vienna. Every war, no matter how bloody it may be, when it’s away from here, is of concern to people as much as a sci-fi movie is.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Dr. Markus Perner, Writer and Researcher: “Economically speaking, the region is very important because there are many important oil fields there. Iran had to fight tooth and nail defending itself against Saddam and his large army equipped with then the latest technologies.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Gholam Hosseini, Pilot & Injured Veteran in Vienna: “The whole world was against us. All the European countries like the Netherlands - and even Austria where we came for treatment - France, England, Germany etc. were fighting against us, in cooperation with the countries in the region”
Narration: But from the heart of that darkness you could see lights offering a beacon of hope to you. Undoubtedly, one of those lights was at the front entrance to Bohler Hospital.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “Professor Bohler helped a lot. We would send him and his medical team to hospitals in Iran to perform several operations and then he would come back to his own hospital.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Gholam Hosseini, Pilot & Injured Veteran in Vienna: “Professor Bohler was your surgeon, wasn’t he?
There was another surgeon called Dr. Baradar, isn’t he?
Yes. And they tried very hard. When I was released I was hospitalized in Air Forces Hospital. The country was in the throes of the war and hospitals were full of the injured. Professor Bohler had come to Iran and performed around fifty operations in less than ten days.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Lotfollah Zakeri, Attaché and Executive Manager in the Iranian Embassy in Vienna: “And when he came back to Vienna we arranged a meeting with him to pay his fees. And he eventually accepted at our insistence. He was prepared not to receive a fee for all the operations he had performed.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Houshang Yari, Psychologist and Neurologist in Vienna: “He had a special, positive feeling toward the Iranians. And he came to Iran several times, accompanied by Dr. Baradar to carry out some difficult operations.”
Narration: On a cold day in winter, Professor Bohler came to the residence of the injured. He asked Ashayeri to play volleyball. Ashayeri had been injured in the spinal column and no doctor could treat him. A few while ago, Bohler had carried out a successful operation on him and now had wanted to see the result. Ashayeri began playing and then a smile spread across Bohler’s face. He said his goodbye, got into his Renault and came back to work. In addition to Professor Bohler, there was a woman called Edith Bower; a woman who devoted herself to the Iranian injured more than anyone else in Austria.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “A European woman who had converted to Islam came to me and said, “Mr.Kiarashi, after operation, the injured need care and attention. Give a room in the building and I will take care of them.” She had about six little children. I gave her a room in the building. She never accepted a fee from us.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Palizban, Injured Veteran in Vienna: “She changed our dressings and prescribed us medications. Her husband who was an Iranian used to bring her to the building by a Volkswagen. They had lunch or supper with us.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Dr. Markus Perner, Writer and Researcher: “Well, they didn’t know that Iran would resist so much. Here religion plays an important role. The Shia Muslims are prepared to sacrifice themselves for their causes. Their role model is Imam Hussein and Ashura. The war was also important from a national point of view.”
Narration: In addition to be in hospitals and act as a translator for the injured I was eager to drop into their residence in Purkersdorf, 15 kilometers away from Vienna. The distance between these two places bridged the gap between two different worlds and I would travel that distance in the blink of an eye.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Alami, Injured Veteran: “I’m Mohammad Alami from Torbat Heidarieh. I was hit by a bullet in the Sardasht Front more than one month ago. I was injured in the head and eyes. I was transferred to Austria, along with other veterans for treatment.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Mohammad Baradar, Orthopedist and the Injured Veterans’ Surgeon in Vienna: “The aim was to keep those injured veterans together in one place not to feel lonely because one can be tormented more by loneliness than physical pain.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hessam Nahvani, Dermatologist, Vienna: “We had a 9-person Toyota van at the service of the injured. Just Hossein Asheq and I had Austrian driving licenses. We would drive to the city to see different places.”
Narration: I can remember how Vienna cityscape was changing when we were travelling with the injured, as if the confluence of two different worlds had produced a light and heat felt only by us, standing in between.
SOUNDBITE [German], Elizabeth Schill, Art Restoration Engineer: “Suddenly I saw a group of youths my age; one had stepped on a mine; the other had lost his leg; one has damaged his face. They had entered a world unimaginable. In war movies you can see things unbelievable but what we were seeing was tangible and in real life.”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
Narration: For most of the Austrian people, seeing smiling injured veterans was astonishing. But I can remember that there was an exception that day. There was an injured man who had to cut his two legs the next day. Though with us there, he seemed to be far away from us. To make him smile, each of us in turn, cracked a joke. But none of them worked.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hossein Asheq, Volunteer Physician for the Injured in Vienna: “I used to play jokes on them. We were having so much fun. I tried to make them laugh.
Would you like more?
What are you doing, dude? Don’t do that, Mostafa.
What do you mean?
I know what you are doing.”
Narration: I was standing amid tall cypresses feeling his hard look behind me all the time. We took the injured to many excursions; to places we knew, and we knew that those places would take a new sense and name with their presence.
SOUNDBITE [German], Elizabeth Schill, Art Restoration Engineer: “Amid the injured who were in critical condition, there was a man whose face had been completely damaged. He had several operations and his face had been made anew but not completely. He didn’t like to appear in the streets. He had gone out one day attracting people’s attention. I can remember you told me, “The excursion has been arranged for some injured veterans to come back to the streets again. I was practically like a stranger when I was with you. Well, I didn’t know what to do or behave. I know it was important to be cool and well, after fifteen minutes everything came to normal. We had a good walk. We had a long chat with each other. It was a unique experience for me.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Injured Veteran: “I had fallen into the canal. I couldn’t see anywhere. I had hurt my eyes and nose and mouth. They fired three bullets as coup de grace. One of them chafed my nose. Then when they came up to me, I realized that they were Iraqi troops. I pretended to be dead. I had long beard and they hit my head several times to the ground. And they also hit my head with the stock of AK-47. Thinking that I was dead they went away. One hour passed and I was dying. I had been starving for 50 hours. It was summer and it was so hot there. The next time they came I surrendered myself to them. They dragged me on the ground for about 300 meters. When I told them that I was thirsty they gave me gasoline. There was an old man there also arrested. He told me, “Don’t drink it, Seyyed. It’s not water but gasoline.” Then they poured it on our heads. The next time, I drank a bit of it and the old man told me not to drink it. Again they poured the gasoline on our heads. Then one of them struck a match. I thought that he wanted to burn us. Then he lit a cigarette and forced us to smoke it.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Mohammad Baradar, Orthopedist and the Injured Veterans’ Surgeon in Vienna: “He used to say, “My father told me that a physician in charge of a hospital had to reside in that hospital to devote himself full-time for patients.” He had three rooms in the hospital. He was there day in day out and used to come to the hospital as a supervisor.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:30
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Houshang Allah Yari, Psychologist in Vienna: “All those working in the hospital were in awe of him. He used to hold meeting every day and everyone standing in front of Professor Bohler to talk about what he or she had done was trembling with fear. He had a strong personality. Maybe those doctors who worked for him didn’t like his personality but it was to the benefit of patients.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Gholam Hassan Enayati, Injured Veteran: “He was a nice guy. In fact, he was a nice scientist. He was a good-humored old man. I never felt lonely in his hospital.”
Narration: That said, I can remember an injured veteran whose feeling was quite different. The next day after the excursion, he was lying motionless on bed staring at the ceiling. He was waiting for the nurses to take him to the operating room. It was night and in his dark room, the turning light of Vienna telecommunication tower lit his face every few minutes. I knew at that moment, there were people in the tower seeing the city from above. And it was likely if one of them was looking unwittingly at the room we were in. That person, unlike others, was looking at just one direction. Fatima, was her name.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “She was a medical student. She married an Iranian Muslim and converted to Islam.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Mohammad Mohsen Moghari, Volunteer Surgeon for the Injured in Vienna: “She was an extremely gifted medical student who graduated with honors. He finished her university in about five years. That’s while it takes about eight years for medical students to get their degrees.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “If a patient called her in the middle of the night, she would get a cab to see the patient, despite all difficulties.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Zahra Richard, Austrian Muslim: “She was a very good, intelligent, sympathetic woman. Fatima had a very engaging personality.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Hossein Asheq, Volunteer Physician for the Injured in Vienna: “She was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis that was the development of excess fibrous connective tissue in the lungs.”
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Mohammad Kiarashi, Chargé D'affaires to Vienna: “It was her dying wish to be buried in Behesht-e Zahra in Iran.”
Narration: That night, after I heard of Fatima’s death, I was standing alone on the street. My mind was caught between two different worlds and I was not sure at which end I was standing.
SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Mohammad Mohsen Moghari, Volunteer Surgeon for the Injured in Vienna: “When such events happened we realized how far human beings are from each other. Though they are apparently living together but they are far from each other.”
SOUNDBITE [German], Elizabeth Schill, Art Restoration Engineer: “Lightness cannot be understood without darkness and vice versa. So such events will happen in the future. And of course, there will be helpful people.”