On February 18, 1943, approximately 800 Jewish children from Poland reached safety in Palestine after traveling from Poland through the Soviet Union to Iran. A second transport of more than 100 children arrived on August 28, 1943. These nearly 1,000 children became known as the “Tehran Children” because of their stay at the camp known as the “Tehran Home for Jewish Children” in the area of Tehran, Iran.
After Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, thousands fled to the Soviet Union. In June 1941, following the launching of Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union), Jews were no longer safe in the western regions of the Soviet Union. Jewish children were sometime left at orphanages for safekeeping.
During the summer of 1941, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran to establish Allied trade routes to the Soviet Union. In 1942, a pact between the Polish government-in-exile and the Soviet Union allowed 24,000 Polish refuges to resettle in Iran. A large number of these refugees enlisted in the Polish army fighting on the Soviet side. They were known as the Anders army, led by General Wladyslaw Anders. The Jewish Agency for Palestine, a semi-governmental agency serving the Jewish community in Palestine, negotiated for nearly 2,000 Polish Jews to be included in the refugee resettlement. The majority of these refugees were Jewish children ranging in age from one to eighteen living in Soviet orphanages.
Between April and August 1942, the Jewish children and their adult companions traveled to Iran via the Caspian Sea. Representatives of the Jewish Agency for Palestine assisted with the resettlement process. Once the Jewish refugees reached Tehran, Iran, a camp was set up to take care of the children while they waited for immigration permits to enter Palestine. In January 1943, permits were finally issued for approximately 800 children and their caretakers. To reach their final destination of northern Palestine, the first transport of children had to travel through what is now Pakistan, then by boat around the Arabian Peninsula, and finally via train through the Sinai Desert. The second transport traveled overland via Iraq.
The transports of “Tehran Children” arrived at the Atlit refugee camp where they were welcomed by the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine). From the camp, the children were sent to collective farms and cooperative farming villages. The Youth Aliya, an organization aiding Jewish youth immigration to Palestine from 1933 to 1948, assisted the children in their resettlement in Palestine.
The miraculous rescue of these nearly 1,000 Polish-Jewish children was successful due to the combined efforts of many governments – Britain, Iran, Palestine, the Polish government-in-exile, and the Soviet Union; non-governmental organizations – Jewish Agency for Israel, Youth Aliya, Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; and the local Jewish communities in Iran and Palestine.
Sometimes rescue happened in one place via one person, at other times many people speaking many languages were required. The story of the “Tehran Children” can be examined as one type of rescue and as one aspect of children’s experiences during the Holocaust. Their rescue highlights the intricate web between governments, organizations, and communities that was sometimes necessary to rescue Jews. The “Tehran Children” may also be used to begin a discussion with students about immigration permits and quotas and how they affected Jewish emigration from Nazi-occupied Europe.