The lost requiem

Khosrow Sinai's priceless Iranian and Polish historical document


The lost requiem
by Ryszard Antolak

There are gaps in our history, lost episodes in our collective memory caused not by forgetfulness, but by the deliberate policy of governments and politicians. There are also courageous individuals who fight to bring such material back into the public light. Khosrow Sinai is one such individual.

Author of "In the Alleys of Love", “The Inner Monster”, and “Bride of Fire”, Khosrow Sinai is internationally famous for over a hundred short films, documentaries and features. One of his works, “The Lost Requiem”, has never been publicly released. Sidelined and ignored for over a quarter of a century, its content has been deemed too politically sensitive to be shown. Now, at last, its official obscurity is coming to an end, and the film is being hailed as a priceless Iranian and Polish historical document.

“The Lost Requiem” tells the story of the war-time exodus to Iran of hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens released from the Soviet labour camps of Siberia. During the two months of April and August 1942, leaking ships crammed with emaciated, men, women and children began arriving at the Caspian port of Anzali (then called Pahlevi). Their condition was desperate. Within days of their arrival, thousands had died from malnutrition and typhus. Of those who survived, the men travelled onwards to join the armies of the Allied Forces in Syria and Lebanon. The remainder (mostly women and children) remained in Iranian refugee camps for up to three years, their lives totally transformed in the process.

Twenty five years after those dramatic events, Khosrow Sinai began to seek out those who had chosen to remain behind in Iran. Among them was a doctor who had fought at the battle of Monte Cassino, the widow of an Iranian policeman who had been a student in Warsaw before the war, and many many more. He travelled half way across the world to find some of the 700 Polish orphans sent to New Zealand from Iranian refugee camps. Their reminiscences, together with the many graves left behind in Tehran, Anzali and Ahvaz, bear testimony to a chapter of history almost erased from the public memory.

When I talked with Khosrow Sinai recently, I asked,

What made you want to produce a documentary about the Polish exodus to Iran?

I happened to be in the Dulab cemetery in Tehran in 1970. I was there because the father of a Christian friend had died, and I saw the rows of polish gravestones, and became curious. As far as I remember, it was a priest in the graveyard who first told me about the polish refugees, and it became the starting point of my research.

The film took twelve years to make and took you as far as New Zealand to interview survivors. What was it that kept you motivated all those years? Was there anything in this story that had special meaning or poignancy for you, personally?

What can be more poignant than destiny of a people who are thrown out from their homeland through the cruel plans of the world powers and politicians? The story has nothing to do with my personal life, except that for more than 12 years long I lived with it and could not complete it because of the political situation before (and after) the Iranian Revolution.

During that time, was there any one person (or event) that stood out for you above all the others?

I met many polish people who had married Iranians, or had chosen to stay and live in Iran. But two persons were most interesting for me: Anna Borkowska - because she was such a natural born artist - (today she is 93 years old) and doctor Filipowicz, whose father worked as a physician for about 40 years in Iran (Ghazvin). He himself was also for many decades a very well known physician in that city. The event which really shocked me, however, was the sudden death of the 26-year-old son of Anna Borkowska, who in my film seemed to be so indifferent about his mother's harsh destiny. His sudden death (through a heart attack), caused a radical change to the ending of my film.

During the Communist era, no mention of the events related in the film was allowed in Poland. In the West, the subject was similarly “buried”, as it touched upon the sensitive matters of Katyn, the Teheran and Yalta Conferences, Soviet-Nazi cooperation (and, of course, the Anglo-American betrayal of Poland to Stalin). Did any of these matters have any bearing on why the “The Lost Requiem” was never released in Iran?

I really don't know why this film hasn’t been shown for many long years in Iran or in other countries. Of course it has been shown at two festivals over the years, once in Iran, and the other in Sweden in 1986 (Immigrants Film festival). I think the reason that the film hasn’t been distributed around the world is because of the carelessness and ignorance of people who should have known better and could have done it. But after years of waiting without a result, I have decided to do what I can to save this important Document of Polish and Iranian History!

You were in Poland recently, where you met the Polish director Andziej Wajda. His new film “Katyn” tells the story of the mass murder of 15000 Polish officers by the Soviets in 1940 (buried in mass graves in Katyn Forest and elsewhere). It is a very different film in style from yours. But in many ways they complement each another, exploring twin sides of a single story. Did you find you had much to talk about?

Ever since I was a film student in Vienna during 1960s, I have been very fond of modern Polish films. So I was very glad to meet Mr. Wajda. He was very kind to me, and we agreed how important filmmaking can be to preserve History. I am glad that after 25 years, my film has found its way to the people for whom and about whom it was made.

There are many who might say: “The past is dead. You can’t change it. Stop obsessing about it. Leave it alone and concentrate on the present.” How would you answer these critics?

Please tell my critics this wise saying (of a polish philosopher whose name I can’t remember!): “that human tragedies repeat themselves because people prefer to forget the tragedies of the past!” That is the main reason for my making "The Lost Requiem".


The Polish premiere of “The Lost Requiem” took place on the 26th September 2007 in Poznan (the home of Polish cinema). Shortly afterwards, a documentary by Dorota Latour about the Iranian director’s life and work was screened on public television by TVP Polonia.

Khosrow Sinai was born in Sari, northern Iran, in 1940. He studied film directing and screenwriting at the Academy of the Dramatic Arts in Vienna and music theory at the Vienna Conservatoire. His most recent work, “Talking with a Shadow”, is a film about the celebrated Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat.

Ryszard Antolak is a writer and teacher based in the UK.


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JJ, thanks for posting this!

by gol-dust on

My grand mother who was a very loving and kind person was home most of the time and always singing while working, since she had problem walking. She had a loving neighbor who adored her and always would come to help her and talk to her like a mom. I knew she was polish and married Javad Agha and had 6 good looking kids. I always thought that her husband went to poland and married her, till I read this posting! How ignorant of me about the recent history and lack of my curiosity!

Thank you for the posting and opening my eyes to this tragedy! Polish are very nice people! My cousin married one in canada and they have 3 children. It is as though she is an ideal decent iranian lady. in fact, she speaks persian now.


I've been a fan of Sinai's

by Mosleh (not verified) on

I've been a fan of Sinai's work for a long time. Pity the likes of him aren't well supported back home in Iran. I remember in particular his docu/drama on a guy returning to ruined khorramshahr shortly after the war reminiscing the years gone by in "In the Alleys of Love" (Dar kochehaye Eshgh)


Poles, Persians

by smile (not verified) on

When me (Persian) and my wife(Polish) visited poland, I notice the Phrase of "send to Siberia", in ordinary conversation. They used this phrase, practically as we say " go to hell". Although we knew about this human trgedy, but a few outside of Poland have heard about it. My wife's great aunt and her 3 children (7 to 12 years) were among them, and back to Poland ,7 years later via Persia. This undescribable crulty to another fellow human being is difficult to imagine, and worse than that is the silnce of the rest for the past 60 years.
What will happen if the history repeats in Persia? Where do they send us to?
And something more pleasant and fun.
these are the numbers in Persian = Polish from one to ten.
yek= yeden ,do=dva , seh=tche , char=chtary , panj=penj ,
shesh=shesh , haft=shedem , hasht=oshem , noh=jevech ,dah=jeshenj


Jahanshah Javid, Hezbollah in Disguise!

by Justice (not verified) on

Jahanshah Javid, Hezbollah in Disguise!
Hezbollah's Front Businesses in America!
Part one
part two


Online Viewing

by afshin on

I really wish this film could be posted online somewhere or at least information given to us so we can purchase it.  The only way to propagate the thought is to promote the work of art Mr Sinai has created.  Is there a possiblity to place the film on youtube perhaps?



by Steve Wallag-Muno (not verified) on

My father in law and his siblings were some of the fortunate few who escaped Stalin's exile in the Soviet Union in 1942 via what was then known as Persia. He spoke of the Persian people with great fondness, as they were very welcoming and nurturing to the Poles as they arrived in horrible condition.

My father in law would have loved to see this film. He passed away last year, his life forever changed by the evil of communist Soviet policies, but forever blessed by the kindness and generosity shown by the people of Iran in a most trying time of need.

Someone please inform us as to how we might see or obtain copies of this film in the USA, as some of these survivors that are still with us would love to see this work!

Thank you so much for this lovely article.

Rosie T.


by Rosie T. on

I don't know if you read my first post below but it provides a possible explanation for your sense of kindred spirit with the Poles.  Every old, powerful, civilized and cultured nation which has been torn to shreds by the forces of history is related in EVERY form and manner to the Poles.




by Anon (not verified) on

I had heard about this documentary quite a few years ago and always wondered how I could get to watch it. Thanks for bringing it up.

I had always wondered about "Sandali Lahestani" (I am sure people in their 50's and older remember them. Each home had a few of those light yet sturdy wooden chairs and also all vodka bars and restaurants in Iran used them). And after reading about this documentary, it became obvious to me that it was the Polish carpenters who made this style of chair popular in Iran.

There was also a sad part to this story that many of the women had to turn to prostitution in Iran and also a happy ending for many children who were adopted by Iranian families.


RT nokhodi

by zz (not verified) on

Baz een "nokhode har ash" sar o kalash peyda shod! Nemizare mardom nafas rahat bekeshan, baba joon, khanoom jan, "boyfriend" mikhayi inja jash nist. Sad rahmat be azam nemati, baz personality jalebi dasht!


Let it surface... let it be

by Mahnaz (not verified) on

Let it surface... let it be known.... make people aware....let them see the sad faces of the past...and present...
the cruelty, the injustice...
then maybe... just maybe... perhaps...
history will repeat itself a little less!
Thank you for this article Ryszard Antolak.
Thank you Khosrow Sinai for your work and Film.
I hope I'll be able to see it one of these days.
I am not in any form or manner related to the Poles, yet in some strange way I have always liked them and felt for them!
(perhaps in another life I was Polish!)

Rosie T.


by Rosie T. on

yes...a sad story but also a rather happy one now.  Fourty three years later and the mystery is solved, the truth is revealed.  Because of the enormous potential of cyberspace as a means of revealing truth.  Do you realize what a tool this will be if we harness it correctly?


In November 1964, coming

by Zarebin (not verified) on

In November 1964, coming home from a long day, I stopped at a deli in Bloomfield, New Jersey for a sandwich. While preparing my sandwich, the man at the counter asked me my nationality. I told him I was Iranian. Upon hearing that he stretched his hand to shake mine. He said that he was Polish and was in Iran during WWII as a refugee. He then said how much he loved the people there. I asked him the circumstances of him being in Iran and he shook his head and said it is a long story. Seeing the pain on his face I did not ask anything else and left the store. I always wondered about him and never had an explanation as to why he was in Iran as a refugee until I read this article. I Wanted to thank you for this informative historical piece. A rather sad one and indeed a testimonial to the cruelty and inhumanity of wars.


Thank you M. Sinai

by ziaian on

It's so heartwarming to see and meet talented Iranians with so much empathy. Thank you M. Sinai. Thank you JJ. I am wondering if and how we can see The Last Requiem and other productions of M. Sinai in Canada.

Shodja Eddin Ziaian


Tragedies certainly do have a way of repeating themselves.

by Amir Khosrow Sheibany (not verified) on

The mentality of the people who sent the Poles to Siberia, who changed the name of great cities like Saint Petersburg to Leningrad, and brought death and miserly on millions, is much the same as the spirit and mentality of those who changed the name of the port of Pahlavi to Anzali. or AryaShahr to FooladShahr or the renaming highways from Shahrah to Bozorgrah

Idiots do what idiots do, but only fools repeat after them and give credence to the ranting. Our vocabulary was formed over thousands of years; it won’t change to please the complexes of a group of thugs and degenerates.



by ahvazi on

Where can it be seen. Will be shown in the US. Thank you.

Rosie T.

The Past

by Rosie T. on

As the author of this article no doubt knows, in 1799, when the three great powers, Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary made an official treaty among them to divide and eliminate Poland politically, they also made an unofficial pact to suppress all knowledge of Polish culture and history.  Poland was actually the first nation of Europe with a semblance of a working democracy, since medieval times; it was the largest nation of Europe for many years, and the one with the finest army for about two hundred years.  Poland was called in by other Europeans to defeat the Turkish aggressors in the 17th century, and they did so swiftly and expeditiously.  Without Poland it is possible that all of Europe would have fallen to the Turks.  And now in America we have Polish jokes about how many are needed to change a light bulb.

So it is true, history is suppressed by politicians.  As for the question of whether "the past is dead' I quote the opening words of the Argentine filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg's, "The Official Story" on the "desaparecidos" of the US backed dictatorial regime of the '70s:  History is the memory of the people."

Without memory we are little more than cows.

My grandfather's shtetl near Minsk, Byelorus, was razed by the Nazis during World War II and nothing remains of it or its inhabitants save the words you are reading now.  But these words are memory, and history is the memory of the people.


I strongly caution all Iranians to honor and scrutinize the complex, nuanced and fecund truth of your history.

Thank you for your moving article.
Robin Jayne Goldsmith