During the Second World War, more than 100,000 Poles found refuge in Iran after being deported to Siberia in 1939 and sentenced to forced labor for years in inhumane conditions. An intercultural encounter from which we can learn.
On the family history of a friend, whom I met during my semester abroad in Krakow, I came upon this interesting historical fact: During World War II, more than 100,000 Poles found refuge in Iran for years. Immediately I wanted to know more about it, but there is little literature about it. So I decided to make this the topic of my master’s thesis.
When, in 1939, Hitler and Stalin enacted the secretion of Poland in a secret protocol and subsequently carried it out, Stalin sent “over half” of his “half” citizens, no matter what profession, ethnicity or religion they deported to the Soviet Union. There they were to end up in labor camps, collective farms or prisons, and many died on their way, especially children, the elderly and the sick.
The new Polish army under General Anders
Two years later, in 1941, several things happened: Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and the German-Russian War began. Stalin therefore negotiated with the Allies, including the Polish exile government in London. These were the victims of the release of the Polish prisoners, which was mainly due to the founding of a new Polish army. Only after General Władysław Anders was released, civilians were released, at least those who had relatives in the army.
In 1942, more than 100,000 Poles were transported by ship across the Caspian Sea, traumatized, ill and without hope, until they saw the Iranian mainland. General Anders’ plan was as follows: The refugees Poles were to recover in Iran until the able-bodied men and women were ready to travel on. Then the army marched on Iraq and North Africa to Italy, where it supported the Allied forces in the fight against the Axis powers.
Polish culture in Iran
The civilians meanwhile remained in Iran, especially in Tehran and Isfahan. Sometimes they even stayed there for years. The orphans were brought to Isfahan, where they could recover better, where the air was better and more space was available. The city was soon to be called the “City of Polish Children”, more than 2,000 of them grew up there in specially founded Polish institutions and were thus able to live at least part of their childhood after the traumas in Siberia.
In the meantime, Polish magazines were founded in Teheran, Polish cinemas, shops, doctors’ offices, schools were raised, Polish people found employment in cafés, restaurants, hotels, and in the windows of many shops signs were posted: Here one speaks Polish! Some Polish women even intensified intercultural contact and founded a Persian family.
Searching for traces all over the world
However, except for the latter and the children in Isfahan, the chapter of Poles in Iran was short-lived. Due to the economic situation of Iran, which was occupied even by the Allies and the Soviet Union, as well as the fear of the approaching Germans, the refugees fled to Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, Palestine and Lebanon.
To summarize this complex story is difficult, especially after writing a master’s thesis on it. I also examined what was left in the cultures of remembrance of Poland and Iran. Not much according to the circumstances. But one should not forget them: The Poles in Iran are an example of a transnational memory community, from this story could be deduced a lot for integration and international understanding.
More information e.g. at: www.aljazeera.com