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For the life of a child
Polish World War II refugees in Iran

By Robert D. Burgener
November 4, 1997
The Iranian

Filipina Stadnicka sat next to the hospital bed and cradled the hand of her seven year old daughter Zofia. The sun was rising over the hospital for Displaced Persons located northwest of Tehran in a sparsely settled area that didn't even have a name. The doctor had told her the child was dying.

Most of the patients, former prisoners of war who ended up in Iran after the Soviets released them in 1941, and the staff of Polish doctors and nurses had left. It was a year now since the war had ended and those who weren't afraid of the communists had gone back to Poland, others had left for new lives in Mexico or any country that would take them.

Filipina, her mother and father and young daughter had stayed in Tehran living in a single room they rented from a family on Nahid Street. Filipina had a job teaching at the French School. She had been a teacher back home in Poland until the summer of 1939.

Zofia was three that summer when they left for a short vacation at her parents' home in eastern Poland near the Ukrainian border. Filipina's husband was the police commissioner for their region in western Poland and had no free time, so she and "Zosha" went alone. The morning they were preparing to leave, news came that the Germans had invaded Poland and within days they heard bombs falling near her parents' home. Not from German guns.

The Soviet Union had invaded Poland's eastern frontier. Her husband had managed one phone call to her after the surrender to Germany. He and other prisoners of war were being taken to a place called Katyn. She never saw her husband again. In 1941 she and the rest of the world learned that the Soviet army had massacred 4,000 Polish military officers and civilian officials in Katyn forest.

She looked down at her daughter's unconscious face. So much had happened to them. The knock on her parent's door after midnight and the Soviet secret police giving the family one hour to gather their belongings. Being loaded into the cattle cars of a train headed east for the steeps of Kazakstan and the labor camps and finally Comrade Stalin's announcement in 1941 that they were free to go home - but what home.

The trek across the Caspian to Iran with her mother and daughter , following in the footsteps of the re-constituted Polish Army which had been sent to Iran to guard the oil fields, had been marked with one of the few joyous moments of the war years when they discovered that her father and brother were alive and the family was reunited.

Now, this. Two days before, she and Zosha were crossing a street in Tehran enroute to school when the Iranian Army truck came round the corner and struck them. Filipina's injuries were not serious but Zosha's young body was badly broken and the doctor said that without a new miracle drug called penicillin, the infection that was spreading would kill her.

When Filipina arrived at Nahid street several of her Iranian neighbors had gathered to offer condolences and help. Shoja Ashrafi, a Captain in the Iranian cavalry, lived just up the street and he and Filipina had managed to exchange a few words in French since she could not speak Farsi and he didn't know Polish.

She shared the grave prognosis and the doctor's comment about the miracle drug. It was Friday, the Moslem sabbath, and she knew it would be impossible to find anyone at the Ministry of Health and that was the only place that could distribute such new and scarce medications.

Returning to the hospital, she sat between her daughter's bed and the open window. A cool evening breeze had begun to ease the stifling heat and as she leaned closer to the window she heard the sound of horses' hooves. She looked out to see Captain Ashrafi and his sergeant galloping toward the hospital.

The doctor, accompanied by Captain Ashrafi, burst into Zosha's room and announced that at last they had penicillin.

The young Captain, had rode to the health minister's home where he shared his concerns - evidently in a most convincing way. The Minister went to his office and removed one of only four vials of penicillin in all of Iran and gave it to Captain Ashrafi - "for the life of a child."

Captain Ashrafi & Zofia Jozefowicz-Niedzwiecka

Zofia Jozefowicz-Niedzwiecka returned to Poland to attend university. She went on to be a senior interpreter for the Polish Parliament involved in many high-level exchanges between Warsaw and Tehran. She retired from the Persian studies department of the University of Warsaw.

Captain Ashrafi and Filipina were married in Tehran and had three children of their own. One son and a daughter are successful business executives with American companies and another son is a justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Mrs. Ashrafi died on August 1st of this year while visiting Zofie in Warsaw.

Copyright Robert D. Burgener. Permission to reprint given to The Iranian.

For information on a documentary video on this almost-forgotten chapter of World War II, see "Tales of the Persian Corridor - Bridge To Victory".

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