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The Children of Zion: "The Tehran Children"

· Background
· Database
· Acknowledgements
· Searching the Database

Background

In my endless quest for Holocaust literature, I found and read Henryk Grynberg's book translated from Polish to Hebrew: Dzieci Syjonu, The Children of Zion, The Path of Agony of the "Tehran Children" (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1995).  The book was translated into Hebrew by Zeev Schuss, who added an excellent historical background to the children's testimonies.  The book is based on 73 testimonies – "Protocols" – taken and registered from the children immediately after their arrival to the Promised Land.  The protocols of the children's testimonies are in the archives of the Hoover Institution, Documentation Box 197, Folders 1-4, Polish Information Center - Jerusalem, at Stanford University, in the collection "Poland - Ministry of Information and reports of Jewish Deportees."  They were the basis of Grynberg's book, which enfolds the historical events of this less explored chapter of the Holocaust through the eyes of the little Jewish refugees from Poland and their struggle for survival in the Soviet Union.  The book was also published in English, as I found out later: Henryk Grynberg, Children of Zion (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1998).  The original book in Polish is Dzieci Syjonu (Warszawa: Karta, 1994).  (See Note 1).

The end of Grynberg's book has the original list of those who arrived on February 18th, 1943, those who arrived in August 1943, and those who gave the testimonies.  I knew immediately that I would translate and process these lists and post them on JewishGen as part of their Holocaust database, both as an integral part of the survivors' database, and as an addition to the Pinkas HaNitzolim (Register of Survivors) already computerized.  The aim is to help the children find the relatives they have never known, as they were so little when the cruel circumstances of the war separated them from their family, their roots, and their past.  The list contains the year of birth of the child, the parents in many cases, and the town of birth in Poland.  I translated it and then found the original typed list in English in another book about the Tehran Children (in Hebrew): Gadith Shamir: "The Tehran Children" Since the Eruption of Second World War, Published by the Public Commission to Commemorate the "Tehran Children" by Meir Ohad, Tel Aviv 1989.  There I found the original list (but only those who arrived on February 18th, 1943), which was translated into Hebrew in Grynberg's book.  I matched my entries to this list.

Re-checking the data was like inserting the information for the second time.  Then Mr. Henryk Greenberg proofread the list, and my sincere thanks to him for his kind cooperation with JewishGen and me.  I thank also Yad Vashem which approved the project.  My thanks also to Eva Floersheim, author of the moving web site about Holocaust children searching their identity ("Missing Identity"), who also proofread the list.

The escape of the children from Poland saved them from the clutches of the Nazi extermination machine, yet exposed them to the cruel fate of helpless refugees, fighting all sorts of hardship: diseases of many kinds, incomprehensible hunger, cold, forced labor and confinement to an orphanage.  These events are less documented in history books, and in this respect the "Children of Zion" contributes, through the testimonies of the individual child, to the general review of history.

The "Tehran Children" escaped from Poland to Russia after Germany conquered it in September 1939, or lived in regions annexed to the Soviet Union following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 (see Appendix I on the JewishGen Yizkor book site), which divided Poland between the two powers.  Some of the children's original Polish towns moved from German hands to Russian and via versa (see Appendix II on the JewishGen Yizkor book site) during the period in which the Jews ran away, fleeing eastward from certain death, as history proved later.  There were around 300,000 such refugees, according to some estimates. (See Note 2).

In the beginning of 1940 the Soviet authorities, through the NKWD, began mass expulsion of Polish citizens to gulags in Siberia.  Many hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens, many Jews among them, were expelled to the depth of Russian Siberia.  After weeks of a horrible journey in cattle cars, the deportees were settled in Siberia and lived under harsh and difficult conditions.  The mortality rate was very high; many of the children died or became orphans in this period.

On June 22nd, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the U.S.S.R. despite the non-aggression pact between them, and a new era started for the Polish refugees, Jews among them.  An amnesty was declared; as a result all the Polish citizens were set free from the gulags (see Appendix III on the JewishGen Yizkor book site).  A mass emigration started, towards the Asian territories, mainly Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.

A wave of hungry and sick refugees, wearing torn rags, flooded the towns of Tashkent, Samarqand, and others.  Many of the children lost their parents in this period, and many of the children themselves died of hunger and epidemics.

At the same time, Lt-General Wladyslaw Anders was freed from prison in Moscow and founded the Polish Armies in Exile, which would attack Germany in Italy, passing through the Middle East.  The Soviet authorities agreed to the emigration of about 24,000 Polish citizens with the Anders army, including around 1,000 Jewish children, most of them orphans, and 800 Jewish adults.

By the end of 1941, Sikorski, the prime minister of the Polish Government-in-exile, managed to convince Stalin to send around 25,000 Polish soldiers of the Anders Armies to Iran, to arm themelves and to strengthen the British armies in the Middle East.  Thirty-three thousand soldiers left, 11,000 citizens with them, including 3,000 children, of which about 1,000 were orphaned Jewish children.  (See Note 3).  The "Tehran Children" left in trains from Samarqand to Krasnovodsk, and from there, through the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi, an Iranian port town on the Caspian southern shores.  From there they moved to Tehran.

In Pahlevi, refugee tent camps were immediately erected.  The Jewish children suffered from heat, starvation, sicknesses, and also the abuses by their fellow Poles.  The situation changed once the Jewish Agency learned about the refugees' camps and opened its Eretz Israel Office in Tehran.  Messengers and instructors were sent to the camp; as a result, living conditions improved significantly.  It is worth mentioning that Tzipora Sharet, a leader from the Yishuv in Eretz Israel, contributed to the children's welfare.  David Lauberg (Laor), one of the adult refugees, was appointed to be the head of the camp.  In 1995, David Laor submitted many documents, photographs and items to Yad Vashem.  This material was the basis for another book about the "Tehran Children" published by Yad Vashem (Hebrew) "I Did not Have Time to be Sad", 1996 (the story of Kaner Majloch from Pruchnik, a symbol of the children's odyssey).

In January 1943, the evacuation of the tent-city began.  The children moved to Afhaz and then to the Iranian port of Bender Shapur, where they embarked on the S.S. Dunera, headed to Karachi.  This route was chosen since the Iraqis refused to grant them transit visas through Iraq.  From Karachi they embarked on another ship, the Neurolia, which sailed to Suez, Egypt.  Then they crossed the Sinai Desert by train, they were quarantined in El Arish for another two days, and finally after an odyssey of four years of agony, they arrived home and disembarked the train in Atlit in Eretz Israel ("Palestine" at that time), on February 18th, 1943.

The second group (of around 110 children) arrived via Iraq after the British suppressed the Rashid Ali's revolt that year.

The small Yishuv (the name of the Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel prior to the foundation of the State of Israel) rejoiced and welcomed the little children as if a miracle had happened.  The children were distributed among Kibbutzim, Moshavim, and various educational institutions.  Natan N. Alterman, the famous Hebrew poet, wrote a poem which is well known about the Tehran Children, "who also after they will grow old, will always remain "the Tehran Children"...

..." yes, the war of the elders of Tehran, ten years old,
and the war of the elders of Kazakhstan, six years old,
all the elders of the battles between Siberia and Polesie
the little elders, persecuted by fire..."

The "Tehran Children" were quickly absorbed in Israel and overcame the gap in their education, the loss of four significant years, during which instead of studying, they struggled for their life.  They did grow up, raised new families, and overcame the bereavement, the sad memories, and the hardship.  They completed their studies and slowly their faith in humanity was restored.  They all became very positive and contributing citizens of Israel, active in all realms of the Israeli society, economy, and army.

But 35 did not grow old.  Thirty-five of the children fell in battles during the wars of Israel, mainly the Independence War in 1948, sacrificing their lives for the freedom of the new State of Israel.  Those 35 young brave boys and girls were commemorated in the book by Meir Ohad, Yizkor the Tehran Children, published by the Public Commission to Commemorate the "Tehran Children", Tel Aviv, 1979.  Details (in Hebrew) about each combatant, his biography, the date and place of his death, and his burial place are in the Israeli Ministry of Defense website: http://www.izkor.gov.il.

Notes:

  • (Note 1): Another source about the odyssey of one "Tehran Child" is: Dr. Dorit Bader Whiteman, Escape via Siberia: A Jewish Child's Odyssey of Survival, Holmes and Meier, 1999 (English).

  • (Note 2): Dr. Robert Rozett and Dr. Shmuel Spector, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem and Facts on File, Inc., Jerusalem 2000, page 434.

  • (Note 3): Stefan Wisniowski comments: “By the end of 1942, Anders managed to convince Stalin to send around 41,000 Polish soldiers and 74,000 accompanying civilians to Iran, to arm themselves and to strengthen the British armies in the Middle East.  About 1,000 of these were orphaned Jewish children.  The "Tehran Children" left in trains from Samarqand to Krasnovodsk, and from there, through the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi, an Iranian port town on the Caspian southern shores.  From there they moved to Teheran.”

Database

The database includes 848 records.  The database includes two different lists of children who arrived in Israel on 18 Feb 1943 and Aug 1943.  The numbers without a letter suffix correspond to the original list in Henryk Gyrnberg's book.  Numbers 35, 36, 64, 204, 718-820, 825 and 837 were missing and numbers 238, 239 and 240 were used twice for different children.

The numbers with the suffix letter "b", (1b-108b) correspond to the 2nd list of children who arrived to Eretz Israel on August 1943 (108 children).  "Mother's Name" and "Place of Birth" were not included for this group of children.  In addition, instead of "Year of Birth", these children had their age, in years, listed.

Children no. 109b and 109c were born on the way, and their names are not in Grynberg's book.

Children with numbers 822-844 (22 children) can be found only in the list of children who gave testimonies ("protocols") and were the basis of Grynberg's book (pages 189-193), but their names do not appear in either list of the Tehran children.

Finally, many of the given names were changed in the protocol list to Hebrew.  For consistency, the Polish/Yiddish original names were used for this database.

The fields in the database are as follows:

  • Number
  • Surname
  • Given Name
  • Year of Birth / Age
  • Place of Birth
  • Father's Name
  • Mother's Name
  • Arrival Date
  • Page Number
  • Protocol Number
  • Comments

Acknowledgements

The database was created from Henryk Grynberg's book Dzieci Syjonu, initially published in Polish: (Warszawa: Karta, 1994).  The book was then translated into Hebrew by Zeev Schuss, as The Children of Zion, The Path of Agony of the Tehran Children, (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1995), and then published in English as Children of Zion (Northwestern University Press, 1998).  This information is accessible to you today thanks to the efforts of Ada Holtzman.

Ada Holtzman
June 2004


Searching the Database

This database is searchable via both JewishGen's Holocaust Database and the All Poland Database.


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