Tehran’s eastern suburb is the location of a stark reminder of an often forgotten aspect of Iranian history. Most Iranians are not even aware of this multilingual memorial and many do not know that Iran provided succor to hundreds of thousands of freed Polish prisoners of war. The Dulab Polish Cemetery covers three quarters of the city’s Catholic cemetery. This parcel of land is the resting place of around 2,000 Polish refugees who died in the Iranian capital between 1942 and 1945.
A memorial in three languages
A lane of pine trees leads to a special memorial in the cemetery. Two memorial stones can be found at the very center of the Polish section of the cemetery. One of the memorial stones was inscribed with a few heartfelt words in Persian, Polish, and French. The other stone has inscriptions in Polish and English. The first stone dedicated the place “to the memory of Polish exiles…who found the peace of God.”
The English inscription on the other biligual stone is more detailed. It reads:
“In commemoration of thousands of Poles the soldiers of the Polish Army in the East of General Wladyslaw Anders and civilians the former prisoners of war and captives of the Soviet camps who died in 1942 on the way to their homeland and peace to their memory.”
The stone memorial is also engraved with images that represent the Jagellionian eagle and the Virtuti Military, which were important Polish military decorations. The lane of trees proceeds from the memorial stones to a statue with an iron cross on top. A stone plate bears the emblem of Poland. An inscription in Polish read a similar but shorter message to what’s written on the memorial stones. The message was expressed in French and Persian found at the statue’s back.
This cemetery is the largest burial ground for Polish citizens in the Iran. There are others. Those buried were a fraction of the Poles who survived the camps in Siberia in the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands crossed the borders of Iran which was then occupied by Allied Forces. Both military personnel and civilians were laid to rest in the cemetery. Only 45 tombstones were put up after 1945, and the rest were refugees who arrived but eventually passed on from diseases or exhaustion from their experiences in the camps.
The other quarter of the Catholic cemetery of Tehranis is a mix of nationalities – Armenians, Czech nationals, English, French, Germans, and Italians. The Polish cemetery is managed by the Polish Embassy.
The past and the present
Tehran, the capital of Iran, was at the very center of the Polish evacuation. A documentary by Khosrow Siniaie called “The Lost Requiem,” highlighted this almost forgotten relationship between the Polish people and the Iranians. Hungry and tired, Poles reached Iran after weeks of travel. Around 14,000 to 300,000 of them arrived in Iran. Those who could fight wanted to join the new army, but the women and children amongst the throng had nowhere else to go. Iran served as their home until they had the resources to move on. Some stayed and a few are still alive today with families of their own.