Iran: A refuge for World War II's refugees
Exiled Poles were sent to Persia, as one woman discovers in tracing her grandmother's journey to America.
Hello. Thank you. Goodbye now. These words are the extent of my Farsi, so when a caretaker answered the bell at the gate of Tehran's Roman Catholic cemetery I froze. Truthfully, I hadn't anticipated that anyone would be watching over this quiet monument to a time most have forgotten.
The caretaker looked at me and his one-word question provided the password to enter.
"Polish?" he asked.
"Polish," I replied.
Last spring, I set out to explore Iran. As an American, I saw the trip as an opportunity to experience everyday Iran, to move beyond the political suspicions and outrageous rhetoric that have kept our countries at odds for 30 years. I looked forward to 12 days of art, history, Iranian food, and the chance to meet locals in a culture famed for its hospitality. It wasn't until I mentioned the trip to my grandmother that I began to consider searching out the piece of my family history that lies buried in the capital of the Islamic Republic.
I grew up hearing the story of my grandmother's long journey to America. Awakened in the middle of the night by soldiers on her farm in Poland, shipped off to Stalin's Siberia, then on to Tehran, and finally India, my grandmother spent her youth in the World War II refugee camps of Asia.