Day After Ragnarok
Robert Charles "Robin" Zaehner
A religious scholar with extensive counter-sabotage experience
Tall, slender, almost frail-looking man with a gentle demeanor. Everything he really isn’t.
Born on 8 April 1913 in Sevenoaks, Kent, the son of Swiss immigrants to England, Zaehner was educated nearby at Tonbridge School. Admitted to Christ Church, Oxford, he studied Greek and Latin, and also ancient Persian including Avestan, gaining first class honors in Oriental Languages. During 1936-37 he studied Pahlavi, another ancient Iranian language, with Sir Harold Bailey at Cambridge. He then began work on his Zurvan, a Zoroastrian Dilemma, a study of the pre-Islamic religion of Iran.
Zaehner enjoyed “a prodigious gift for languages” and later acquired reading knowledge of Sanskrit (for Hindu scriptures), Pali (for Buddhist), and Arabic (for Islamic). In 1939 he acted as research lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford. About this time, apparently after reading the French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and Rumi the Sufi poet of Iran, as well as the Hindu Upanishads, Zaehner had adopted a “nature mysticism”. Yet his spiritual progression led him to convert to Christianity, becoming a Roman Catholic while stationed in Iran.
During World War II starting in 1943, he served as a British intelligence officer at their Embassy in Tehran. Often he was stationed in the field among the mountain tribes of northern Iran.
Decades later another British intelligence officer, Peter Wright, described his activities:
“I studied Zaehner’s Personal File. He was responsible for MI6 counterintelligence in Persia during the war. It was difficult and dangerous work. The railway lines into Russia, carrying vital military supplies, were key targets for German sabotage. Zaehner was perfectly equipped for the job, speaking the local dialects fluently, and much of his time was spent undercover, operating in the murky and cutthroat world of countersabotage. By the end of the war his task was even more fraught. The Russians themselves were trying to gain control of the railway, and Zaehner had to work behind Russian lines, continuously at risk of betrayal and murder by pro-German or pro-Russian… .”