Polish War Graves, Qazvin, Disappear


Polish War Graves, Qazvin, Disappear
by Ryszard Antolak

Earlier this year I travelled to Qazvin to find traces of the 40 Polish men, women and children who had died there, victims of the Polish Exodus from Siberia in 1942. What I found distressed and saddened me. For the cemetery was already in the process of being demolished, and new high-rise buildings were fast taking its place.

Finding the graves was no easy matter. I knew that they were located in the Christian Chaldean cemetery. But there were two such cemeteries in the city, both of them in the process of being cleared.

The first site, not far from the famous Hussein mosque, had already been completely levelled. Nothing of the old cemetery remained except the old red-bricked wall that once enclosed it. Local residents directed us to the other site, which was being rebuilt as some kind of a park. Paths and circular features were clearly marked out. But we could find no signs of any graves.

We wandered over to a wooden shack that served as the site office, and were introduced to a tall, soft-spoken, sophisticated, young man who introduced himself as the chief engineer. We asked about the whereabouts of Polish graves, and he told us that they were not far away.

He asked to see our papers, and after studying them intensely for some time, offered to help us. First, however, he drove us to his office in the City Chambers a few blocks away where he served us tea and confectionery. Then he brought out a series of very large detailed maps of the building site he was developing. They clearly showed a large number of graves in an irregular grouping amid various broken stones and unidentified markings.

He was a soft-spoken and urbane young man. We were invited to have dinner with him that evening, but we were in a hurry, and politely declined. He expressed words of regret and assured us the matter was being dealt with in a sensitive manner. He explained that in Iran, any graveyard could be re-used for housing after 30 years if it was not covered by a special preservation order. This particular cemetery did not have such an order.

It was true. In 1955, the Iranian government had approached the authorities in Poland to ask them to contribute something to the upkeep of the Polish plot in Qazvin. The officials had declined, wishing to distance themselves from the events of 1942 which were politically embarrasing for the Polish Communist government. Instead, they had offered only a miserly sum, barely enough to buy a couple of dressed stones. And as a result, the graves had fallen into such disrepair that traces of them were barely visible above ground.

We finally saw the remains of the graveyard ourselves. It was adjacent to the Qazvin Khoda hospital in the centre of the city. It was nothing but a building site open to the main road by a hedged driveway: a large open space of dusty earth covered with broken stones.

In the very centre stood three upright monumental stones with the name Filipowicz engraved upon them. This was the name of the Polish doctor who had settled in Qazvin during the war, and who featured in Khosrow Sinai’s documentary The Lost Requiem. Beside them were a few other Christian graves with elegant Armenian letters and crosses still emblazoned on their surfaces.

It was obvious this had once been a very large graveyard. A long red-bricked wall and a ruined house in the corner defined its former contours. On the opposite side of the plot, a tangle of multi-storey steel girders were already approaching fast, and a team of workmen were mixing cement within feet of the remaining graves.

Out of my pocket I took out a list of the names of those buried here beneath my feet. I read them out in a whisper. These forty Polish souls had been dragged at gunpoint out of their homes in the middle of the night and exiled to the work camps of Siberia. They had all survived the ordeal and finally reached the promised land of Iran only to die in Qazvin of unidentified diseases while on their way to camps in Tehran and the Lebanon.

Barely a trace of their existence now remained , nothing but a few broken stones and dust.

I took a few last photos and began to take my leave. The Iranian workmen, who all this time had been keeping a respectful distance, pushed forward when they caught sight of my camera and began to pose grotesquely like manikins in a shop window.

I left, and headed for the nearby Hussein Mosque to say a prayer in memory of my compatriots. As I entered the courtyard, I was met by an elaborate funeral ceremony. A body, wrapped in two carpets and carried on a thin wooden bier, was being processed around the precinct of the mosque. Women wailed, and men of all ages sat around weeping openly. For me, the whole scene took on added meaning and significance. I stood and watched from the sidelines, sharing their grief and feeling included in their community of mourning.


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Ryszard Antolak

Deletion from Embassy Website

by Ryszard Antolak on

I've just noticed that Qazvin no longer appears on the Polish embassy's list of wartime grave sites in Iran.




by ahvazi on

Ryszard, these articles on Polish history in Iran are priceless and keeps alive a part of history that is often forgotten and not fully appreciated by authorities on both sides.


What a pity!

by mertsi1340 on

It is always sad to hear of pieces of history, however small, being destroyed by ignorance, negligence or greed (in this case maybe all three).

I have read your earlier articles which I found interesting and started reading a bit more about the history of Polish refugees in Iran.

A couple of months ago I visited Poland on a very short business trip. I am a structural Engineer and visited a power plant in the little town of Kozienice which a client of our's is modernizing. I desperately wanted to buy the stamp you had mentioned in one of your articles but, due to lack of time, I could not, so I asked my Polish colleague (Piotr) to find it for me if possible.
Piotr had known Iranians before me and was very knowledgeable about Iran and Iranians. In fact, he told me his best friend is an Iranian in Holland and they are in touch very regularly.
He picked us up from the airport in Warsaw and drove us to our destination (by the way, the roads in that part of the country are not very good, they reminded of the roads in Iran 30-40 years ago). After the first hour or so we were the best of friends and comfortably chatting about different things and having a good laugh.

Maybe there is something about Poles and Persians. Of course my experience is limited to only one person but I am sure they are mainly nice and descent people, just like other normal people all over the world.

I wish you success in what you do and I hope you come up with something to save the graveyard in Ghazvin.

Shad bashi!

Ryszard Antolak

Sub plot

by Ryszard Antolak on

Thank you for your comment, Sima. It's good to know my little bits and pieces are not falling on stony ground.


Touching, yes, but also crucial

by sima on

I love reading your pieces, Ryszard. They are a kind of parallel history of the Iran we know. They provide an illuminating subplot. I can't say why exactly I think this subplot is so important but I feel it is. Not just your unearthing of the history of the Polish refugees in Iran but your own history and connection to Iran... Perhaps you're working on a book?!

Ryszard Antolak

Polish embassy

by Ryszard Antolak on

I wrote to the Polish embassy in Tehran about the Qazvin graves several months ago (with no result). Embassy officials regularly visit Dulab (Tehran) and Isfahan Polish cemeteries (which are beautifully upkept), but those at Qazvin and Mashhad seem to have been neglected for years.

The Polish war cemetery at Anzali, the second largest in the country, also has problems. The stones are so weathered away that many of the inscriptions are illegible. In addition, the mature pine trees around them are withering for lack of water. These are all matters for the Polish authorities, which seem to be doing very little, if anything.

JJ: I informed Khosrow Sinai about Qazvin some time ago.

bajenaghe naghi

ryszard antolak jan

by bajenaghe naghi on

your story touched me very deeply. thank you for sharing it with us. 

Jahanshah Javid


by Jahanshah Javid on

This is sad indeed. I hope someone can be approached to stop the destruction of whatever graves that remain. Besides the fact it is utterly wrong to destroy relatively recent graves, the story of the Polish WW2 refugees in Iran is one of the brighter ones in our history. Maybe Khosrow Sinai can step in and remind the authorities of the significance through the documentaries he made on the refugees.

Darius Kadivar

What a Shame !

by Darius Kadivar on

So Sad. Our collective memory deserves to be preserved. This is shameful of the ministry of Culture in Iran that does not pay attention to such important sites of common heritage.

So Sad, truly.