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.
|Recently by Ryszard Antolak||Comments||Date|
|Echoes of Polish Isfahan|
|Apr 15, 2012|
|Oct 17, 2010|
|Journey to Alamut|
|Mar 15, 2010|
|نسرین ستوده: زندانی روز||Dec 04|
|Saeed Malekpour: Prisoner of the day||Lawyer says death sentence suspended||Dec 03|
|Majid Tavakoli: Prisoner of the day||Iterview with mother||Dec 02|
|احسان نراقی: جامعه شناس و نویسنده ۱۳۰۵-۱۳۹۱||Dec 02|
|Nasrin Sotoudeh: Prisoner of the day||46 days on hunger strike||Dec 01|
|Nasrin Sotoudeh: Graffiti||In Barcelona||Nov 30|
|گوهر عشقی: مادر ستار بهشتی||Nov 30|
|Abdollah Momeni: Prisoner of the day||Activist denied leave and family visits for 1.5 years||Nov 30|
|محمد کلالی: یکی از حمله کنندگان به سفارت ایران در برلین||Nov 29|
|Habibollah Golparipour: Prisoner of the day||Kurdish Activist on Death Row||Nov 28|