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Britain’s Embassy in Tehran during the Second World War prepared Intelligence summaries which record details of the journeys. Polish military and civilian refugees from the Soviet Union to Iran between 1942 and 1944 made it.
Above all, in these reports, one poignant statistic stands out that in January 1943 the camp in the city of Isfahan contained 2,457 civilian refugees of which 2,043 were children.
Most of Isfahan’s 2,000 children were orphans or their one surviving parent accompanied them. They were part of the second wave of the evacuation of 25,000 Polish refugees from the Soviet Union in August 1942. That was where here they incarcerated since the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. After Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 Stalin signed a Polish-Soviet treaty that freed Polish citizens in Russia. After years of incarceration, violence, malnutrition and disease and with no homeland to return to the futures of these Polish refugees remained bleak.
In August 1942 thousands of Polish refugees arrived from Russia at the Iranian port of Pahlavi (now Anzali) on the Caspian Sea. The Red Cross and the Polish Government in Exile assisted in the establishment of transit camps for the refugees. After that, to prevent the spread of disease and lice the refugees’ hair shaved off and the rags they incinerated. New clothes, shelter and provisions supplied. From Pahlavi the refugees traveled onward to Tehran, Isfahan, Ahwaz and Mashhad. So children needing the most care sent to Isfahan where the climate thought more amenable to their recovery.
Twenty-one ‘establishments’ opened across the city for Polish children, many of which concentrated around Isfahan’s famous Chahar Bagh boulevard. Royal princes, affluent families and the city’s religious institutions donated their palaces, mansions. Also monasteries and convents for use as orphanages, hospitals and schools. Many establishments had their own gardens that the children made full use of. On the other hand, one former refugee later recalled walking through a ‘paradise of tall mulberry, fig, quince trees and pistachio bushes’. Eight primary schools and one secondary school established for Isfahan’s Polish children. That was which a technical school training women in tailoring. Scout and Girl Guide groups also proved a popular activity.
Many of Isfahan’s Polish children remained in the city for the duration of the War. Later on they departed for new lives in East Africa, India, Mexico and New Zealand. Polish diaspora shared memories which indicate a fond regard for their time in Iran and for Isfahan in particular. It was which for many will always remembered as ‘the city of Polish children.’