The Polish exodus to Iran


by Kamangir

Exhausted by hard labour, disease and starvation - barely recognizable as human beings – we disembarked at the port of Pahlavi (Anzali). There, we knelt down together in our thousands along the sandy shoreline to kiss the soil of Persia. We had escaped Siberia, and were free at last. We had reached our longed-for Promised Land. – Helena Woloch. In Tehran's Dulab cemetery, situated in a rundown area of the city, are the graves of thousands of Polish men, women and children. It is not the only such cemetery in Iran, but it is the largest and most well-known. All of the gravestones, row upon row of them, bear the same date: 1942.
From Poland to Iran
In 1939, the Soviet Union had participated with Nazi Germany in the invasion and partition of Poland. In the months that followed, the Soviets began a policy of ethnic cleansing in the area to weed out what they called socially dangerous and anti-soviet elements. As a result, an estimated 1.5 million civilians were forcibly expelled from their homes in the course of four mass deportations. Thrust at gunpoint into cattle trucks, they were transported to remote labour camps all over Siberia and Kazakhstan.[1]
Their salvation finally came when Stalin was persuaded to evacuate a fraction of the Polish forces to Iran. A small number of civilians were allowed to accompany them. The rest had no option but to remain behind and face their fate as Soviet citizens.

The evacuation of Polish nationals from the Soviet Union took place by sea from Krasnovodsk to Pahlavi (Anzali), and (to a lesser extent) overland from Ashkabad to Mashhad. It was conducted in two phases: between 24 March and 5 April; and between the 10th and 30th of August 1942. In all, 115,000 people were evacuated, 37,000 of them civilians, 18,000 children (7% of the number of Polish citizens originally exiled to the Soviet Union).
A makeshift city comprising over 2000 tents (provided by the Iranian army) was hastily erected along the shoreline of Pahlavi to accommodate the refugees. It stretched for several miles on either side of the lagoon: a vast complex of bathhouses, latrines, disinfection booths, laundries, sleeping quarters, bakeries and a hospital. Every unoccupied house in the city was requisitioned, every chair appropriated from local cinemas. Nevertheless, the facilities were still inadequate. They had not quite escaped, however. Weakened by two years of starvation, hard labour and disease, they were suffering from a variety of conditions including exhaustion, dysentery, malaria, typhus, skin infections, chicken blindness and itching scabs. General Esfandiari, appointed by the Iranians to oversee the evacuation, met with his Polish and British counterparts to discuss how to tackle the spread of Typhus, the most serious issue facing them. On 11th April 1942 Josef Zajac, chief of Polish forces in the Middle East, noted in his diary on a visit to Tehran that the Persian population were better disposed to them than either the British or the White Russian émigrés (who were distinctly hostile). His relationship with the Iranian Minister of War, Aminollah Jahanbani (released a year earlier from prison for plotting against Shah Reza Pahlavi), was genuinely friendly and cordial. During the course of their discussions together on 13th April 1942, they discovered that they had been students together at the same French military academy.[5] Personal friendships such as these further smoothed relations between the two populations. Contacts between Polish and Persian soldiers were equally cordial. The custom of Polish soldiers saluting Persian officers on the streets sprang up spontaneously, and did not go unnoticed by the Iranians. Isfahan: The City Of Polish Children
Washed up in the detritus of evacuees arriving at Pahlavi had been over 18,000 children of all ages and sexes (mostly girls).[6] Not all of them were orphans. Some had been separated from their families during the long journey through Russia. Their condition was especially desperate. Many were painfully emaciated and malnourished. Orphanages were set up in immediately in Pahlavi, Tehran and Ahvaz to deal with them as a matter of urgency. The first major orphanage to be opened was situated in Mashhad, and was run by an order of Christian nuns. It opened its doors on March 12 1942. The children at this home were predominantly those transported over the border from Ashkabad by trucks. Eventually, however, Isfahan was chosen as the main centre for the care of Polish orphans, particularly those who were under the age of seven. They began arriving there on 10th April 1942. It was believed that in the pleasant surroundings and salutary air of this beautiful city, they would have a better chance of recovering their physical and mental health.
Exile in Iran
The refugees remained in Pahlavi for a period of a few days to several months before being transferred to other, more permanent camps in Tehran, Mashhad, and Ahvaz. Tehran possessed the greatest number of camps. A constant stream of trucks transported the exiles by awkward twisted roads from the Caspian to Quazvin, where they were put up for the night on school floors, before continuing their journey next morning to the capital. Tehran s five transit camps, one army and four civilian, were situated in various parts of the metropolitan area. Once again, certain Iranian authorities and individuals volunteered buildings (even sports stadiums and swimming baths) for the exclusive use of the refugees. Camp No.2, however, (the largest) was nothing more than a collection of tents outside the city. Camp No. 4, was a deserted munitions factory. No. 3 was situated in the Shah s own garden, surrounded by flowing water and beautiful trees There was also a Polish hospital in the city, a hostel for the elderly, an orphanage (run by the Sisters of Nazareth) and a convalescent home for sick children (Camp No. 5) situated in Shemiran. By 1944, however, Iran was already emptying of Poles. They were leaving for other D.P camps in places such as Tanganyika, Mexico, India, New Zealand and the UK. Their main exit route was Ahvaz, where an area of the city still called Campolu today, is a distant echo of its original name Camp Polonia. Mashhad s last children left on the 10 June 1944. Ahvaz finally closed its camp doors in June 1945. The last transport of orphans left Isfahan for Lebanon on the 12 October 1945. What Remains
The deepest imprint of the Polish sojourn in Iran can be found in the memoirs and narratives of those who lived through it. The debt and gratitude felt by the exiles towards their host country echoes warmly throughout all the literature. The kindness and sympathy of the ordinary Iranian population towards the Poles is everywhere spoken of.[8] The Poles took away with them a lasting memory of freedom and friendliness, something most of them would not know again for a very long time. For few of the evacuees who passed through Iran during the years 1942 1945 would ever to see their homeland again. By a cruel twist of fate, their political destiny was sealed in Tehran in 1943. In November of that year, the leaders of Russia, Britain and the USA met in the Iranian capital to decide the fate of Post-war Europe. During their discussions (which were held in secret), it was decided to assign Poland to the zone of influence of the Soviet Union after the war. It would lose both its independence and its territorial integrity. The eastern part of the country, from which the exiles to Iran had been originally expelled, would be incorporated wholesale into the Soviet Union. The Polish government was not informed of the decision until years later, and felt understandably betrayed. 48,000 Polish soldiers would lose their lives fighting for the freedom of the very nations whose governments had secretly betrayed them in Tehran, and later (in 1945) in Yalta.



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Ryszard Antolak

Pushkina, this is nonsense

by Ryszard Antolak on

Dear Pushkina

The following is just nonsense (and also plainly malicious).

Please check your facts before writing such inflamatory and ignorant statements in future.

"the poles written about above were very christian, very not jewish, as most of them were attached (either as officers or soldiers or their family members) to the army of the Polish general Anders, a Polish, nationalistic character, who made a very smelly deal with stalin (in rder to save his army from the germans and keep it and their families intact, hence their travel directly accross the caspian to enzeli) and then tried to double cross stalin (! not very smart!) after the war, in order to assume power in poland for himself".

Ryszard Antolak

This is one of my articles

by Ryszard Antolak on

Dear Kamangir,

this whole posting is a copy of one of my articles, written several years ago. Even the title is the same.

It would have been nice to see my name at the bottom of it. After all, it did take me some time to write.





yaldeh tehran

by pushkina on

from my own research, i have been told that the jewish community of tehran housed, clothed and fed (with the assistance of the 'Joint') between approximately 10,000 -15,000 eastern european jewish refugees, which included the 1500 'yaldeh tehran', 'tehran children' eastern european (polish, russian, and other) jewish children who were on their way to palestine.

the poles written about above were very christian, very not jewish, as most of them were attached (either as officers or soldiers or their family members) to the army of the Polish general Anders, a Polish, nationalistic character, who made a very smelly deal with stalin (in order to save his army from the germans and keep it and their families intact, hence their travel directly accross the caspian to enzeli) and then tried to double cross stalin (! not very smart!) after the war, in order to assume power in poland for himself.

the route the yaldeh tehran took was more clandestine, around the eastern side of the caspian, down through to pakistan where they waited for the brits' permission for their travel to continue.

polish jewish refugees who were sheltered in tehran, were care for mostly directly by the funds of the jewish community, a poor community then, which was also suffering from the double then (triple) occupation by the soviets, the brits and the americans.

i have interviewed iranian survivors of that time who were children themselves, who told me that their parents were so moved at the sight of those poor kids that the parents divided the scarce food destined for their own families, in order to share it with the oprhans,who at first were kept in a tent city under armed guard by the brits.

that episode, during the holocaust, was the one time a jewish community in the war theatre extended itself wholeheartedly for the survival of their doomed co-religionists. this gesture of honor which should surely be recognised, as a positive, heroic event continues to be virtually ignored by most holocaust or modern jewish historians. indeed, most iranian jews know nothing about this episode either!


Thanks Darius

by Kamangir on

Thanks very much, for providing me the sites where I can get information about those jewish Iranian children, I had never heard about this!





by Taraneh (not verified) on



Re: to Taraneh

by Kamangir on

Many years ago, I was watching a documentary about Iran which made reference to this very unique event of our history. You could see black and white footages of those pole families dancing and celebrating their Christmas in Tehran. i always wanted to know why most Iranians weren't aware of it and what happened to those poles who stayed in Iran.  You can find pictures and more information by visiting the following blog:





by Taraneh (not verified) on

A noteworthy slice of history. May I inquire how you acquired this information regarding their living conditions in Iran?
As a child I knew this wonderful(and very beautiful) lady who was a great cook. (ghazaye farangi mipokht!) She had a very cute Persian accent which she had not lost in over many decades!
I used to talk to her while she cooked. She was a reserved but very kind lady. She didn't like to talk about how she came to be in Iran,but said they came over because of the war.
Also, I always wondered about a specific kind of wooden chairs they used to call "Sandali Lahestani"
when I was a child in the 60s. My grand parents had them in their house and they were all wood and had a round seat. They were great because you could sit on them dangle your legs and swing them!

Darius Kadivar

NEW DOCUMETARY: The Tehran Children ( 1943 )

by Darius Kadivar on

Thought this would interest you/ A documentary film is made or is in the making about the odyssey of the Tehran Children who were kids of jewish refugees who fled Poland and Russia at the eve of the Nazi invasion and came ot Iran ( under Pahlavi Rule) and then immigrated to Israel. Some were orphans because their parents were arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camps others were lucky to have their parents with them.


Below is their account in another Israeli magazine:


Today they and some 700 orphans who immigrated to Israel in February 1943 are the subject of "Tehran Children," a documentary film currently in the making, directed by Yehuda Kaveh ("Avidanium 2005," "Letters from Lebanon"). The film interviews now middle-aged "Tehran Children," to find out how they are coping with their memories or lack of memories of their arrival in Israel, which at the time caused a tumult in the pre-state Jewish community.

The story of the "Tehran Children" began during World War II, when Jewish refugees from Poland crossed the border into Russia to escape the Nazis.

In order to save their children from the hunger and harsh living conditions in Russia, many parents sent their children to local orphanages.

In 1942, the Polish II Corps was established to fight the Nazis alongside the Russians and the troops were sent to Tehran to train; they were accompanied by a few thousand civilian refugees, including several hundred orphans.

In Tehran, the Jewish Agency assisted the refugees, who were housed in tent encampments, and after lengthy negotiations with the British administration in Palestine, the children were granted immigration certificates. 




Poles in Ahvaz

by ahvazi on


They were in an area which today is called Campolo which comes from the "Camp of the Poles".


A good lesson for current USA Lackeys

by Asghar_agha (not verified) on

Thanks for a good history lesson.