Polish War Cemetery at Anzali

On behalf of the men, women and children who died here


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Polish War Cemetery at Anzali
by Ryszard Antolak
09-Jan-2010
 

The grand, wrought iron gates of the Polish wartime cemetery have not been opened for decades and are permanently padlocked. Entrance can be gained using a smaller, more prosaic, gate at the western end of the compound. As with the other Polish war cemeteries in Iran, this site is cared for by the local Armenian community, a service for which it deserves a deep debt of gratitude.

Arrived with a bouquet of red and white flowers in my arms, I am welcomed at the door by the caretaker, Mr. Reza Moghadam, a slim, gentle, self-effacing man who leads me leisurely through what looks like a secret garden rather than a graveyard. We pass a couple of tiny Armenian churches turned into family mausoleums. They are surrounded by gravestones inscribed with beautiful Armenian lettering. The vegetation is lush and the air is heavy with the scent of roses, pomegranates, and various flowering bushes.

A few moments later we arrive at a low metal gate – the entrance to the Polish cemetery – and the contrast is immediately evident. There are few bushes or plants to be seen anywhere: only a few thin saplings struggling to survive the intense July heat. Apart from a few shaded areas close to the perimeter wall, all is bare, sandy, and almost desert-like.

At the centre stands a high rectangular column of white marble lavishly engraved with a Polish eagle. Below it, in English and Polish, are inscribed the words:

This is the resting place of 639 Poles, the soldiers of the Polish army of the east, of General Władysław Anders and civilians, the prisoners of war and captives of the Soviet camps who died in 1942 on the way to their homeland. Peace to their memory.”

There is an earlier commemorative stone lying in the soil a few feet away, brown and disfigured by time. Its Polish inscription can still be made out, but only with the help of touch and imagination. In a few months time it will merely be another mysterious recumbent stone whose purpose has long been forgotten.

Laying down my bouquet of flowers, I sit down on the ground to mourn my fellow countrymen. Around me are the small, neat identical gravestones in long cemented rows close together. The names and dates on many of them are weathered or erased. Two have crumbled away altogether.

One of the graves stands out among the others. It is higher than the other stones, upright and proud in grey marble. This headstone is new.: erected by a young Polish couple who made the long journey to Anzali a couple of years ago to replace the crumbling headstone of their relative.

Mr Moghadam (who lives in the cemetery and tends all of the the graves) receives no salary or remuneration for his services other than the gatehouse he lives in, donated to him by the Armenian community. Together with his wife (whom I met on my previous visit to the cemetery) he survives solely on donations from visitors and well-wishers. In the last year only three visitors from Poland had come to the cemetery. And, as a result of the recent volatile political situation in Iran following the elections, he does not expect any more in the foreseable future. "They are frightened to come", he says bluntly".

“People sometimes ask me whether I am afraid to live in a cemetery,” he continues, head bowed low as we walk among the headstones. “But I always tell them this: why should I be afraid of the dead? It is the living I should be afraid of.”

In the course of our conversations he lets slip that he is an artist, and I somehow manage to persuade him to show me a few of his paintings. In a shed near the front gate he drags out a stack of large oil paintings, all of them executed in thick, vibrant colours. The themes range from scenes from Iranian history to Christian religious icons. Above us on the stone wall of his work shed he has painted a gigantic figure of Christ rising from the dead, his arms outstretched against a large yellow cross. “This one is purely for myself”, he smiles shyly.

Several years ago (he tells me) he received a commission to paint a number of icons for a church in Turkey. On the way to its destination the consignment disappeared (most probably stolen) and he lost everything. A short while later, the Iranian Government asked him to consider painting propaganda pictures. He refused, saying it was not the kind of work to which he was suited.

Eventually, I ask him about the sad state of Polish cemetery. He lowers his head slowly, and nods. Two years earlier, the winter weather was so severe that it brought down many of the mature pines in the graveyard. He planted new ones to replace them but only a few had taken root. He directs my attention to a vague stone structure in a distant corner of the plot. “We have a well for water here”, he says. "Can you see it? It has a motorized pump that still works. But the difficulty is getting the water to the trees. What is required is a long length of plastic piping and a few minor repairs to the pump. And the trees would grow.”

I begin to become heated. A year earlier, on a previous visit to the cemetery, I had written to the Polish Embassy in Tehran informing them of this matter. But they didn't even have the courtesy to reply. A few weeks later I wrote to them again, this time about the imminent disappearance of the important Polish wartime cemetery in Qazvin (Northern Iran), which was threatened by demolition from developers. The matter was urgent (I wrote) but the cemetery could still be saved if the embassy acted promptly and decisively. Again, there was no response whatsoever. A few weeks later, the Polish embassy quietly removed the name Qazvin from the list of Polish wartime cemeteries on its website. This was the sum total of their involvement with the problem. Shame on them!

Angry and exasperated, I went across the road and purchased the necessary plastic piping myself on behalf of the men, women and children who had died here in exile after enduring horrific conditions in the work camps of Siberia: citizens of a country whose government cannot even afford 25 metres of plastic tubing to sweeten the memory of their existence.


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more from Ryszard Antolak
 
maziar 58

anonymouse khan

by maziar 58 on

the one in northwest you referrring to was it called lazar kenedy?

what a peaceful place I remember prior to 1979 visit to that village.        Maziar


Anonymouse

Well maybe a cultural ministry or something in Poland can help

by Anonymouse on

Isn't there a cultural ministry in Poland?  Maybe they're afraid that Iran will ask them to do more if they get involved.  I can understand a Govt ministry can't pay for the pipes and hoses because it is "too small" an amount.

I just don't know but it is a shame. Iran has quite a few of these places that are from various cultures.  I didn't know about this one but there is that Armenian holy place in Northwest Iran or the Esther masoleum in Hamedan and probably more that we don't even know about. 

Everything is sacred.


Ryszard Antolak

Why wouldn't Polish Govt care?

by Ryszard Antolak on

This is a good question. And I wish I knew the whole of the answer.

Part of it, I suspect, is to do with Education. The Polish officials at the various embassies just do not understand the significance of the sites they are supposed to be protecting.

The old Polish (Communist) government, who ruled the country after the war, had a vested interest in suppressing all mention of the Soviet invasion of Poland together with its consequences. The history books in Polish schools, universities and libraries contained no mention of it. No-one was allowed to make any public reference under pain of prosecution. Films and documentaries about the war dealt exclusively with the German atrocities during WW2, not those of the Russians. A generation of children grew up knowing nothing at all about Soviet-Nazi collaboration from 1939 to 1941, about the mass murder by the Soviets of the country’s intelligentsia at Katyn, and nothing about the ethnic cleansing of Eastern Poland by the Soviets in 1940 (a tiny fraction of whose survivors ended up in Iran in 1942). Only now are many Poles in a position to learn the real history of their nation after decades of lies and cover-ups. And that process of education is still going on. It will take a long time.

(The story was also suppressed to a certain extent in the West, but for somewhat different reasons. And it was only partly effective)

Then, of course, the recent transition from Communism to “freedom” was an extremely messy process, one which really pleased no-one except the (former) communist functionaries who happened to be in a perfect position to take over all the old state industries. They became the new capitalists and leaders of industry. Many also continued in power, creating a rainbow of various new political parties. And many of them are still there in the foreground (and the background) directing political and industrial matters. Not a few of them have ended up in the embassies of the Polish Government in places around the world.


sima

Thank you again, Ryszard

by sima on

It is not easy to keep important historical memories alive against all kinds of forces working toward their obliteration. We should all learn from you. I do hope some day the extent of the -- I don't know what word to use -- holocaust ? -- against Polish people is acknowledged. The 20th century saw too many. If we don't want to see the same thing in the 21st century we have to acknowledge all of them. Truly, great shame on the Polish governement for turning a blind eye.


Anonymouse

Why wouldn't Polish Govt care? This is their heritage.

by Anonymouse on

I really hope sites like these are cared for both by Iran and the countries whose heritage they belong to.  It is a shame and they are a big part of history that should be preserved. 

Everything is sacred.


oktaby

Seems Polish government should preserve & record in detail

by oktaby on

the suffering of the Polish people & their contribution to the war effort. Poles & Iranians could share a lot of stories of abuse they took in the hands of Russians/Soviets. Iranians still do.

I found two resources: one is on the documentary:

http://www.pffamerica.com/09_zagubionerequiem.htm

and second is a blog site with some original pictures including a document that is hard to read but seems English with Persian writing & signature at the bottom apparently related to the camp:

http://polandiran.blogspot.com/2007/09/iranian-min...  

this site also talks about the famed Enigma and Polish contribution to breaking the Nazi codes

http://polandiran.blogspot.com/2007/09/polish-cont...

Poles have moved on to freedom and independence and hopefully, Iran can enjoy the same soon. Peace upon all their memories. 

OKtaby


obama

My grandma's best friend was a beautiful Polish lady married

by obama on

to an Iranian. she was in my grandma's house everyday as she was her daughter. They had 5 beautiful kids that I played with. She adored my grandma who was honestly an angel who had a wonderful DELKESH voice and would sing Kurdish (kermanshahi) and persian songs all the time! YADESH BEH KHEIR!

I never knew how she got to Iran and never even came to my mind to ask her, since that was not important to me. All I knew that she was very kind and spoke persian with an accent. Now I know how she got there! Now one of my brothers has married to a polish, but not in Iran. Wonderful people! Thank you!


Mort Gilani

Ryszard and Stefan

by Mort Gilani on

Thanks for your response. The Polish Exodus is indeed a human tragedy that touches our soul. I am embarrassed to admit that only few residents of Gilan knew about this tragedy at the time I lived there. I hope a team of Iranian and Polish artists change that, and the suffering of Polish men, women and children are given proper recognition and respect that is due.


Darius Kadivar

Thank You Ryszard jaan

by Darius Kadivar on

Thank you as usual for your great stories.

And Happy New Year My Friend,

DK


Ryszard Antolak

maziar 58

by Ryszard Antolak on

Dear Maziar 58,

thank you for your kind gesture.

I appreciate it very much.

Ryszard

 


divaneh

Very Touching

by divaneh on

Thank you for this interesting and touching article. It's very important that such memorials are saved and looked after, as they are reminders of war crimes that we should never allow to repeat.


hamsade ghadimi

mr. antolak

by hamsade ghadimi on

thank you for your response.  yes, the link that you provided is the same film that i was talking about.  i got it mixed up about the iranian wife and polish husband (it was the other way around).  i'm very happy about being wrong about the doolab cemetery.  i had heard it from someone who no longer lives in iran, and whose mother and grandmother are buried in that cemetery.  he will be very happy to hear that the cemetery is still being cared for.


Stefan_Wisniowski

online resource - Polish exiles in Iran

by Stefan_Wisniowski on

Hi Mort

To learn more about this journey, please visit www.kresy-siberia.org and also
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Kresy-Siberia/

Our group is "Dedicated to researching, remembering and recognising the Polish citizens deported, enslaved and killed by the Soviet Union during World War Two."

Regards
Stefan Wisniowski
Sydney


Ryszard Antolak

Doolab

by Ryszard Antolak on

Dear Hamsade Ghadimi,

I think the documentary you refer to may be Khosrow Sinai's "Lost Requiem".

http://iranian.com/main/blog/ryszard-antolak/k...

http://iranian.com/main/2007/lost-requiem

http://iranian.com/main/2008/uncovering-cover

Doolab, in Tehran, is safe and well-looked-after. It is the Polish cemetery in Qazvin that has recently been levelled.


Ryszard Antolak

Peace to Their Memory

by Ryszard Antolak on

Dear Mr Gilani,
the story of the Polish Exodus to Iran is now much better known after years of "deliberate" neglect.

http://www.parstimes.com/history/polish_refugees/e...

http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/pol...

http://iranian.com/main/2008/isfahan-city-poli...

 


hamsade ghadimi

mr. antolak

by hamsade ghadimi on

thank you for sharing your touching story.  recently, i saw a short documentary made by an iranian filmmaker on the plight of polish people traveling by a ship to iran from the soviet union in the caspian sea during world war 2.  his video documented the polish cemetery in tehran and a sad story of a young man who was son of one of these poles and and an iranian woman.  the filmmaker was invited to poland where he screened his film and was warmly received by the people, relatives of those who died in iran, and a few remaining refugees who repatriated to poland after the war.  interestingly, some of those poles opted to stay in iran after the war.  i will try to find that video and post it with another comment.

sadly, i heard that they have also razed the polish cemetery in tehran.  it was called "dool cemetery."   dool or doolaab is an old persian word for water bucket.  perhaps there was a water well in that cemetery as well.


Mort Gilani

Peace to Their Memory

by Mort Gilani on

A democratic government in Iran can work with its polish counterpart to acknowledge the suffering of those souls and keep their memories alive. Is there an online source about the story of their journey?


benross

Thank you.

by benross on

Thank you.


Abarmard

Your concerns are shared

by Abarmard on

Polish and Iranian population should be proud of you.

Thanks for the article.


maziar 58

I'm with you,

by maziar 58 on

let me know of 25 or 250 meters I can help and have locals from nearby 20 km to get every thing done.

I myself tried to contact the polish embassy reguarding of isfahan stamps twice and all I'd got was RUN AROUND.          Maziar