Thousands of Poles searched for refuge in Iran in the course of World War II,but these days Poland has slammed the doorway on refugees.

Tehran – Taji, the companion parrot, went about freely in an apartment in central Tehran, occasionally emitting a scream.

“I don’t like to put him inside a cage,” Helena Stelmach, 86, explained to Al Jazeera. “I can’t stand imprisonment.”

Nearly 8 decades back, Stelmach learned her own lessons concerning incarceration, exile and the process of seeking refuge. In September 1939, German troops invaded Poland from the west and also Soviet soldiers occupied the nation’s east.

The Soviet Union’s Red Army deported more than one million Poles to Siberia, and Stelmach’s family was among those targeted. Soviet soldiers arrested and charged her dad within Poland, while eight-year-old Helena and her mom were forced to leave their house.

“It was midnight after they came out for us,” Stelmach explained. “First, these people sent us to some church, and after that to Siberia. All we took with us had been a suitcase with an old rug, some pieces of jewelry and family members photographs.”
In her own diary, self-published in Farsi in 2009 under the name From Warsaw to Tehran, the woman remembered how Polish refugees died every single day inside Siberia from the freezing weather, maltreatment plus sickness. Because of malnutrition, their own teeth sometimes fell from their mouths as they were talking.

The horror held up for for 2 years, until Germany attacked the USSR, forcing Joseph Stalin to change his stance towards Poles. In 1942, he freed these people to move south to Iran, and then to Lebanon plus Palestine.

Back in those days, hundreds and hundreds of Poles came to the Middle East looking for shelter. Today, however, Poland has slammed the door for a refugee influx going in the other direction.


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