A forgotten story of the exodus of refugees during World War II lies buried in a cemetery in a poor neighbourhood in south Tehran. The Doulab cemetery contains rows of Polish graves where hundreds of refugees fleeing war-torn Europe are buried.
Following the invasion of Poland by the Soviet and German armies in 1939, thousands of Poles were sent off to Russian prison camps in Siberia. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin freed the Polish prisoners so that they could join a Polish army being formed by the Allies which was to assemble in Iran. In a matter of months hundreds of thousands of these released Polish prisoners, including women and children, were allowed to enter Iran from Russia via the Caspian port of Anzali, then called Bandar Pahlavi.
Within weeks of their arrival in Iran, thousands had died from malnutrition and disease. The men who survived volunteered for the new Polish army but the remainder, mainly women and children who had nowhere else to go, remained in Iran. Most of them eventually emigrated to other parts of the world but some stayed and settled in Iran, where a few may be still be living.
“The Lost Requiem” by the Iranian filmmaker, Khosrow Sinai, tells the story of the Polish exodus and the plight of these refugees in wartime Iran. Sinai says that on a visit to Doulab cemetery in Tehran in 1970 he saw the Polish graves and was inspired to find out more and to make a documentary about the Polish refugees. It took him twelve years to complete the film during which he had to track down and interview the surviving Poles in Iran and other countries as far away as New Zealand.
In this multimedia report, Khosrow Sinai tells the moving story of the Polish exodus to Iran and the refugees whose lives were so dramatically transformed.