Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (1893 - 1958) was a Persian-American author and Baha'í who co-founded the New History Society and the Caravan of East and West in New York, and was excommunicated from the Baha'i apparatus in 1939 by Shoghi Effendi.
This page writen and copyright 2007-2008 by Will Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org, Professional Genealogist. This page is locked, if you'd like to comment on it you may email me.
Mirza Ahmad Sohrab was born "about 1894" (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 21), to a family who were already, or very shortly became Baha'i. Sohrab was born near Esphahan in the village of Isfahan Province, Persia (now Iran). Sohrab's father Abdu'l-Baghi was a descendent of Muhammad. Abdu'l-Baghi was a farmer "possessed of broad lands" and also chief dyer of the town. Both sides of Sohrab's family, his mother and his father, claimed descent from the Imam Husayn, grandson of Muhammad. His mother died when Sohrab was a few months old, while she herself was still a teenager, and he was taken to live with his maternal grandmother in Isfahan. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 25)
|After the family had become Baha'i, they were persecuted by the citizens of the town and Sohrab with a maternal uncle, left his grandmother's home forever. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 38) He and his uncle traveled about the countryside as doctors, and now and then meeting other Baha'is. By instruction from Abdul Baha, he and his uncle parted company, the uncle returning to Esphahan, while Sohrab went on to meet Abdul Baha in Acca. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 48) Here he was put to work, copying, and reciting the words of Baha U'llah, but where he stayed only 39 days before moving on to Port Said. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 56) In Port Said, Sohrab worked selling merchandise, for Ahmad Yasdi who kept a store there. While living here, he studied the Bible with "...a Scottish lady who ran a missionary school." (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 60) It was here that he met "...another Baha'i teacher, the greatest of them all. Mirza Abul Fazl of the College of Tehran..." who invited him to come to America with him.(My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 62 However Sohrab had first to train a replacement for the shop and he did not leave until nine months later, bound for Washington, D.C. but stopping first in New York City where he addressed a small group of Baha'i.||Original context of this picture is here|
|When he first arrived in Washington, D.C. he was a cook and errand boy for Abdul Fazl, while Ali Kuli Khan served as interpreter. In the summer they went to Green Acre, Maine, where he met many of the initial pioneers of the Baha'i Faith in America (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 69). He names some of these in his Autobiography on page 70 (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 70). After three years in America, Abdul Fazl was requested to come back to Haifa by Abdul Baha, but Abdul Baha privately told Sohrab to stay in America if possible. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 72) He lived in New York City for three months, cleaning rooms in a boarding house, followed by a term of homelessness, and then a job as a busboy for about nine more months. It was at the end of this time, that he met the new Persian Minister to the U.S., Mam-Taz-Ol-Mulk, and was offered a position with him. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 77) During his time in Washington, D.C., he also became correspondent to "...two Persian magazines, the one published in Calcutta, the other in Cairo. These articles of mine, dispatched weekly, dealt with politics and education...." It was also at this time, that Sohrab began receiving letters from Abdul Baha to translate, and he states that he would always keep a copy of these. He also says that "...American letters written to the Master were addressed to me, to be dispatched to Acca...." (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 82) "During this period, hundreds upon hundreds of letters designated for the American Bahais came from the Master, and several decades later, these were bound in volumes and placed on the shelves of the Record Room in Caravan House." (My Bahai' Pilgrimage, page 83)|
|After three years, the Minister was recalled to Persia, it was at this time, sometime before or during 1911, that Sohrab had founded an organization called the Persian-American Educational Society, which among other things, set-up a scholarship program to teach Persian children.(My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 87) Around this same time, Sohrab founded a bi-lingual journal, in Persian and English, named Bahai News. On 13 Nov 1911 Sohrab sailed to Europe "in the interests of his work". (The Washington Post, 13 Nov 1911, p.4). This was evidently in response to where Sohrab states "...Abdul Baha instructed me to meet him in Paris." Abdul Baha, gave him three thousand dollars and instructions "...for any necessary work, prepatory to his arrival." Sohrab returned to Washington, D.C. where he created a group of writers to create booklets containing a resume of the teachings and mailed them to institutions, colleges, and universities throughout the United States and Canada.|
This resulted in many invitations for Abdul Baha to speak, 250 requests had been received and a schedule of appearances was created. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 90) "In the Record Room at Caravan House are to be found thirty one volumes of press clippings that appeared in the newspapers and journals of the United States during this momentous trip. The publicity was extraordinary." (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 95)
Abdul Baha first came to New York City, arriving on 11 Apr 1912 on the S.S. Cedric. for his speaking tour which criss-crossed the United States from this time, until they left for England on 5 Dec 1912. They then visited Scotland, France and Germany before returning to Port Said. Sohrab would continue as secretary and interpreter to Abdu'l-Baha until 1919, with instructions to also memorize all of Abdul Baha's tablets. When World War I ended and letters could flow freely, the Bahai's in Palestine learned that the American Baha'is had been quarreling, ostracizing one another, had formed a "Committee of Investigation", and were persecuting the innocent in public. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 111) Abdul Baha instructed Sohrab to go to American and address these problems, Sohrab left the compound on 22 Dec 1918. He would never see Abdul Baha again. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 113) Sohrab came to the United States in time for the 11th annual Baha'i Convention, and remarks on the stumbling blocks put in his path by certain Baha'is, whom he does not name, but he does name those who helped him. (My Baha'i Pilgrimage, page 114)
It was while accompanying Abdul Baha in 1912, that Ahmad briefly met and began wooing Juanita Marie Storch, when she was brought by her father to meetings with Abdul Baha in Oakland and San Francisco in 1912. Juanita was the daughter of Hugo William Storch (1873-1917), an architect, and his wife Johanna Thee. Hugo had been born in Mexico of Bohemian immigrants, while Johanna was born in Germany. The family at that time was living in Oakland, Alameda County, California. Since Sohrab returned to Palestine, the wooing took place long-distance by means of "five hundred letters". The coming of World War I, put a temporary halt to the letters as they were apparently being confiscated or at least not allowed through the lines, but at the end of the war, the lovers re-made their acquaintance (see Oakland Tribune, 26 Dec 1919).
The story of their long and long-distance courtship, intercepted mail, and his many love letters which never made it to her, captivated a number of newspaper who made comment upon it. For example the Sandusky Star Journal (Sandusky, Ohio) on 29 Apr 1920 said : "New York - East met west here today with the marriage of Ahmad Schrab, former secretary to the Persian legation and Juanita Storch, Santa Rosa, Cal. Schrab could have a harem in his own town but preferred one American girl."
While the Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), 20 Jun 1920 went over the top, devoting three-fourths of a page to a photo of guests, a large picture of Juanita, a smaller one of Sohrab, and a long article here, which I will transcribe here.
Ahmad and Juanita had one child, a girl Laila J in 1921. Ahmad and Juanita were divorced either while Juanita was pregnant or within a year after Laila was born. A site visitor tells me that Laila never met her father. In his autobiography, writen about 1929, Ahmad mentions neither Juanita nor his daughter Leila.
In the 1930 census Juanita Sohrab and her daughter Laila are living with her mother Johanna Storch in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California. Juanita and Laila lived for some years in Santa Rosa, with Laila showing up in Passenger Lists giving her address as Santa Rosa, at late as 1953. They moved eventually to Seattle, where the Social Security Death Index shows Juanita living with Laila, but Juanita either moved back to Sonoma County or at least died there in 1995. Laila was still living in Seattle as late as 2002 under the name "Laila Storch".
Although Sohrab wrote an Autobiography which covers his life up to when he joined up with Mrs Julia Chanler, he does not appear to mention his wife nor daughter, which is perhaps a bit odd.
A reader of this page tells me that : "Laila Storch, the daughter of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, has lived in Seattle for many decades, and has been a lifetime member of the Baha'i Faith. She is a retired music professor from the University of Washington (oboe). You can find quit a few references to her career online. She never knew her biological father, M.A. Sohrab, because her mother separated and divorced Sohrab before she was born or while she was still an infant. I have met Laila a number of times through the years and she really knows nothing about her biological father other than what everyone else knows from books, and she really prefers not to discuss him. The marriage of Laila's mother, Ms. Juanita Storch to Sohrab was written about and photographed for either Baha'i News or Star of the West magazine, I forget which. The late Juanita Storch also wrote memoirs about her meeting with 'Abdu'l-Baha (World Order, 25.1 ; Fall 1993)."
A site visitor tells me that : "Laila Storch is married to violinist Martin G. Friedmann. Her daughter from that marriage is violinist Aloysia Cecile Friedmann who married pianist Jon Kimura Parker in 1998. (For a number of years, Laila went by the name Laila Friedmann so far as the Seattle Baha'i records show, but for about the past twenty years has gone by the name Laila Storch)."
Meets Julia Chanler
Meanwhile, Ahmad moved to Los Angeles, where he helped write a scenario for a movie dealing with Mary Magdalene, for the actress Valeska Surratt, who was herself a Baha'í. Valeska sued Cecil B. Demille and others in 1928, and mentioned that Sohrab had helped her write the play. (New York Times, Feb 28, 1928, p2)
He found it necessary to go to New York to discuss business matters with Miss Surratt and it was through her that he was introduced to Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler and his wife Julie. Together they formed the "New History Society" in 1929 as a way of spreading the teachings of the Baha'í Faith.
On Mar 10, 1930, "Mirza Ahmad Sohrab" filed a petition for naturalization in the US District Court of New York City. The petition states that he is 39 years old and residing at 28 W 50th Street.
Caravan of East and West
The New History Society gave rise in 1930 to the Caravan of East and West, and the Chanler's New York house was now called Caravan House. A badly reproduced picture of Caravan House may be seen here on page 131 of Sohrab's Autobiography. This foundation was designed to prepare children and youth to join the New History Society. This group had a quarterly magazine called The Caravan, where Sohrab's partial autobiography first appeared. (The autobiography appeared again in 1959, shortly after his death, with a few additional paragraphs.)
- "The Caravan of East and West is an educational movement, the chief activity of which is international correspondence. It numbers 1,300 Chapters in 37 countries, with an aggregate membership of 100,000 children, young people and adults. Its publications, The Caravan and Pen Friends Guide, respectively appearing quarterly and monthly, keep the large circle of its readers informed as to the growth and influence of the movement. The New History Society and the Caravan is a movement in itself for the spreading of the Baha'í ideals and principles, independent of and unaffiliated with the Baha'í organization."(Bahai Library "Ferm")
Sohrab had already published a few books, phamplets and a movie scenario, when in 1933, with Julie Chanler he wrote a book that provided an overview of many of the events of the Baha'i movement; it contained a description of the events of the Bab, Baha'u'llah — his claim in the Garden of Ridvan— Tahirih, and Abdu'l-Baha. The book also contains several pictures, including some which may be unique.
Julie attempted to patch things up between Sohrab and Horace Holley, "one of the chief men in the American Baha'í Administration". (Free Bahais "White") But Sohrab refused to allow the New York Spiritual Assembly, to have oversight of the affairs of the New History Society. Since Holley sat on the National Spiritual Assembly at this time, this led to a confrontation which resulted in Sohrab and the Chanlers being expelled from the Baha'i community about 1939.
In 1941, Allen McDaniel and others, as members of the National Spiritual Assembly, filed suit against Sohrab to try to stop him from using the name Bahá'í. The NSA felt this created the impression that Sohrab was "connected with and authorized to represent the Baha'í religion..."
This suit was filed in the Supreme Court of New York County. The judge granted a motion to dismiss, stating that "the plaintiffs have no right to a monopoly of the name of a religion. The defendants, who purport to be members of the same religion, have an equal right to use the name of the religion..."
The judge mentioned that the complaint could be further amended (Bahai Library "Sohrab Vs NSA") and the NSA appealed (H-Net "Sohrab 'Broken Silence' page 247") but the Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the lower court. (The entire book "Broken Silence" may be downloaded in PDF form here 29Meg)
Collaboration with other opponents of Shoghi Effendi
After his excommunication, Sohrab joined forces with other people who opposed Shoghi Effendi. Part of this combination was a court case raised by Qamar Baha'i Jalal the grandson of Mirza Musa and others in about 1950-1, challenging Shoghi Effendi's right to carry out major construction work around the Shrine of Baha'u'llah. One of their key witnesses, Nayyir Afnan, died shortly before the case was due to open, and it all came to nothing. One of the culminations of this was a meeting that was held in Famagusta in the late 1950s. Representatives of all three main generations of Covenant-breakers were present including: Jalal Azal representing the followers of Mirza Yahya, Ismat and others represented the followers of Mirza Muhammad Ali, and Ahmad Sohrab represented those opposed to any form of administration. One of the aims of this conference was to build a mausoleum over the grave of Mirza Yahya. To this end, an amount of money was collected but it "disappeared" and nothing came of the project.(Bahai Library "Exiles")
The Caravan eventually severed the links with the Baha'í Faith, but Sohrab, Julie and their organizations continued to promote the interests of the Baha'í Faith as long as they both were living.
The Caravan existed for a time as a worldwide pen-pal club with social ideals. In addition, there are various references to the Caravan Art Gallery at this same address. There are also references in Julie and Sohrab's writings to art showings.
Sohrab died Apr 20, 1958.(The New York Times, Apr 22, 1958; p. 33 "Obituary") In his obituary he is described as "leader of the Reform Baha'í Movement in the United States and co-director of the Caravan of East and West". He died in Doctors hospital in New York City, 20 April 1958.
The New History Society is now defunct, not outliving Sohrab. Caravan House still exists, "Caravan Institute, Inc. is a non-profit organization founded in 1929 to further education and the arts." They have about a million a year in income. (TaxExemptWorld "New York")(Parliamo.com)
- Heart Phantasies, (sometime before 1929), date uncertain, but he mentions it on page 126 of his Autobiography as his "first published work"
- The New Humanity, appeared daily for sometime in a Santiago newspaper, (sometime before 1929), date uncertain. He mentions it on page 126 of his Autobiography,, as apparently his second published work
- `Abdu'l-Bahá in Egypt. New York: J. H. Sears & Co for the New history Foundation, 1929. Approved by the Publishing Committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada. Digitally republished, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2005.
- The Song of the Caravan. Another ed. also 1930, New York, The Grayzel Press ed., xii, 410. New York: George Dobsevage for the New History Foundation, 1930.
- Living Pictures. In the Great Drama of the 19th Century. (with Julie Chanler) New York: The New History Foundation, 132 E 65th St, New York, 1933. Reprinted. H-Bahai: Lansing, Michigan, 2004.
- I Heard Him Say. Words of `Abdu'l-Bahá as Recorded by his Secretary. New York: The New History Foundation, 1937. Digitally republished, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2004
- The Bible of Mankind, (ed.) 743 pp., Universal Publishing Co., 132 E 65th St, N.Y., 1939.
- A Persian Rosary of Nineteen Pearls. 2nd. ed. New York, Caravan of East & West, n.d. [194-?] 3rd. ed. New York, Caravan of East & West, n.d. [195-?] ed., . New York: New History Society, n.d. .
- `Abdu'l-Bahá's Grandson: Story of a Twentieth Century Excommunication. New York: Universal Publishing Co for The New History Foundation, 1943. Reprinted. H-Bahai: Lansing, Michigan, 2004.
- Brand, Max and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab [libretto Max Brand, and Julie Chanler; Music Max Brand]. The Gate: Scenic Oratorio for Soli, Chorus, and Orchestra in Two Parts (19 Scenes). 61. New York: Associated Music Publishers, 1944.
- The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, An Analysis. New York: Universal Publishing Co, 1944. Reprinted. H-Bahai: Lansing, Michigan, 2004.
- The Story of the Divine Plan. Taking Place during, and immediately following World War I. New York: The New History Foundation, 1947. Digitally republished, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2004.
- Ioas, Leroy, Mrs Lewis Stuyvesant [Julie Chanler] Chanler, and Ahmad Sohrab. Three Letters.  leaves. New York: Caravan of East and West, 1954.
- Living Schools of Religion. Vergilius Ferm, ed. Ames, Iowa: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1956. Chapter 19, "The Bahá'í Cause," by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (pages 309-14)
- My Bahá'í Pilgrimage. Autobiography from Childhood to Middle Age. (originally ran serially in The Caravan) New York: New History Foundation, 1959. Reprinted. H-Bahai: Lansing, Michigan, 2004.
- 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Mírzá Ahmad Sohrab. Abdul Baha in Egypt. Mírzá Ahmad Sohrab, trans. (New York: J. H. SEARS & COMPANY Inc. for NEW HISTORY FOUNDATION, 1929). Mirza Ahmad Sohrab provided a detailed record of three months of Abdu'l-Bahá's time in Egypt in Abdul Baha in Egypt, in which he includes a historical presentation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's activities while there as well as translations of his talks.
- Abdu'l-Bahá and Badi'u'llah. Center of the Covenant: Tablet to Mason Remey, interview with Badi'u'llah, in Star of the West, 3:7, pages 17-18. Ahmad Sohrab, trans.
- Bahá'u'lláh. Lawh-i-Ra'is III. Tablet to `Ali Pasha III. Ahmad Sohrab, trans.
- Mirza Ahmad Sohrab. Living Schools of Religion. Vergilius Ferm, ed.
- Excerpts from Mirza Ahmad Sohrab's Broken Silence: The Story of Today's Struggle for Religious Freedom. New York: Universal Publishing, 1942.
Works about him
- Biographical Sketch of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, Director of the Caravan of East and West, Inc. 3. n.p. [New York?]: n.d. . Collins 12.10.
- Light-Bearer Magazine: A Persian Rosary, Winter 2000, pg 50 (reprint from The Theosophist, 1978)
- 1900 Census of Fruitvale, Alameda County, California showing : "Hugo W Storch 26; Johanna M 27; Juanita M 5; Alvin H 3; Leland A 1"
- 1910 Census of Oakland Ward 7, Alameda County, California " Hugo W Storch 36, married first time, 15 years ago, born Mexico/Germany/Austria, immigrated in 1879, Designer, Architectural, Owns Home; Jamea [sic] 35 [or 38], married first time, 15 years ago, mother of 3, 3 living, born Germany/Germany/Germany, immigrated 1880, no occupation; Juaneta 19 b CA; Alvin 13 b CA; Leland 11 b CA"
- 1920 Census of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California showing : "Johanna M Storch, 48; Juanita 24; Leland 20"
- Star of the West, Vol. 11, p 73, "MARRIAGE OF JUANITA AND AHMAD SOHRAB"
On this afternoon, in the midst of a joyful company, the marriage of Miss Juanita Marie daughter of Mrs. Johanna of Oakland, Calif. and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, of Isphahan, Persia, was solemnized. The surroundings were beautiful, the large assembly hall of the Engineering Societies' Building being used, the architectural attractions of which were increased by spring flowers and soulful music. Tablets were read by Mr. William H. Hoar and Mr. Howard MacNutt. The spiritual atmosphere was intensified by the harmonious blending of East and West. The past and present were linked in the two ceremonies.
That of the Episcopal Church was read by Dr. William N. Guthrie of New York. The Creative Words of nuptial union, with their brief but impressive majesty, were read by Rev. Howard C. Ives:
- "Verily, we are content with the Will of God!"
- "Verily, we are satisfied with the Desire of God!"
This attitude of heart and soul is the means of creating loving companionship throughout all the worlds. Miss Rouhieh Jones was maid of honor. The bride was given in marriage by Mr. William H. Hoar and Dr. Frederick W. 'Evelyn was best man.
- Petition for Natualization showing "Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, residing at 28 W 50th Street, New York, age 39, certificate issued 10 Mar 1930 by the US District Court of New York City."
- 1930 Census of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California, 3 Apr 1930 showing : "Johanna Storch, head, FW, 58, Widow, born Hanover Germany, no occupation; Juanita Sohrab, daughter, FW, 34, divorced, born California, father born in Mexico, Artist, Art Store; Laila J Sohrab, grandchild, 9, born California, father born Isphan [sic] Persia"
- His WWII Draft Registration Card showing "Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, resident at 849 Lexington Ave, New York, Mailing address: 132 E. 65th, 51 years old, born Isphahan, born 21 Mar 1891".
- New York Passenger Lists showing : "Laila J Storch, 29, single, 10 pieces of luggage, of 4770 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, California, tourist departing Cherbourg 29 Sep 1950, arriving New York 4 Oct 1950 on the 'Queen Elizabeth'"
- New York Passenger Lists showing : "Laila Storch, 30, single of 770 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, California, tourist departing Le Havre, France 18 Sep 1951, arriving New York 24 Sep 1951 on the 'Liberte' "
- Social Security Death Index showing : IS this Juanita ? "Juanita Storch, born 23 May 1895, died Jan 1987, last resided in Seattle, King County, Washington. SSN Issued by California in 1958"
- California Death Index 1940-97 showing: "Juanita Storch, born 23 May 1895 California, died 26 Jan 1987 Sonoma County. Mother's maiden name Thee"
- US Public Records Index showing : "Juanita Storch and Laila S Storch, 4955 Stanford Ave NE, Seattle, King County, Washington Record number 647925425
- US Phone and Address Directories, 1993-2002 showing : "Laila Storch, 4955 Stanford Ave NE, Seattle, King County, Washington, residence from at least 1998 to at least 2002"
- Some Biographical Notes, hosted in the Bahai Library, prefixed to an article called "The Baha'i Cause" which Sohrab submitted to be included in a comprehensive work entitled "Living Schools of Religion". Vergilius Ferm, ed. Ames, Iowa: Littlefield, Adams & Co., 1956. Sohrad's contribution became Chapter 19, "The Baha'i Cause," by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (pages 309-14).
- "Mirza Ahmad Sohrab" on Wikipedia
- Laila Storch
- Laila Storch
- Laila Storch
- Hugo Storch
- Hugo Storch