When Iran Welcomed Jewish Refugees
- Written by ibro

(CRN) OCT 22, 2019 In the summer of 1942, Bandar Pahlavi, a sleepy Iranian port town on the Caspian Sea, became a city of refugees. On its shores were clusters of tents, a quarantine area for typhoid patients, and a large area for distributing food. Outside the tented area, local peddlers hung baskets of sweet cakes and sewing thread, disappearing periodically when club-wielding policemen appeared. 

The refugees were Polish citizens who three years prior, with the outbreak of World War II, had fled into the Soviet Union and now, having journeyed nearly 5,000 miles, sailed from Soviet Turkmenistan to northern Iran. More than 43,000 refugees arrived in Bandar Pahlavi in March 1942.A second wave of almost 70,000 came with the August transports, and a third group of nearly 2,700 was transferred by land from Turkmenistan to Mashhad in eastern Iran. Of these, roughly 75,000 were soldiers, cadets, and officers of what was known as Anders’ Army, a Polish army in exile that had assembled in the Soviet Union under the command of Gen. Wladyslaw Anders.

The rest were mothers and babies, elderly men and women, and unaccompanied children. Three thousand, perhaps more, were Jewish, including four rabbis and nearly 1,000 unaccompanied children who were taken from Polish orphanages in the Soviet Union. There were also several hundred Polish Jewish stowaways, recent converts to Catholicism, women who pretended to be married to Polish officers, and the like. 

From the vantage point of the world we live in today—a world of turmoil in the Middle East and peace in Europe, a world of refugees fleeing the Middle East into Europe, a world in which Iran and Israel are locked in a seemingly eternal conflict—it is hard to imagine that another world existed. 

In that world, refugees fled war-torn Europe into Iran, Turkey, and Mandatory Palestine, and they lived there in relative peace for the duration of the war. 

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