The first Soviet oil tanker listed as it steamed into the harbor at Pahlavi, Iran, (today known as Bander-e Anzali), on March 25 1942. Iranian and British officials had little idea as to how many Polish refugees were on board, what their physical state may be and what to expect in general, since only a few days earlier they had no idea that civilian women and children were among the evacuees. This tanker would be one of many grossly overcrowded ships making this run from March 24 to April 5, 1942 and then again from August 10 to August 30,1942. The two evacuations brought 115000 people, 60,000 recruits, 37,000 civilian adults and 18,000 children out of the Soviet Union, 7% of the number originally exiled. The Iranian Army provided 2000 tents, which stretched for several miles with a vast complex of bathhouses, latrines, sleeping quarters, disinfection booths, laundries, bakeries and a hospital. Even with the extent of this makeshift city, it was still inadequate.
Questions may come to mind as to how these refugees were able to get out from under the grip of Stalin, and how the Iranians and British were involved. At this time I would like to introduce a special historical figure into this narrative, Lt. General Wladyslaw Anders, who was appointed Commanding General of the Polish Army beginning in August of 1941, shortly after the amnesty. General Anders was a career soldier in the Polish Army and commanded a cavalry brigade when the war broke out. After being wounded in the September Campaign, he was arrested by the Soviets, jailed and ultimately tortured during his incarceration. After assuming command, General Anders was responsible for organizing not only the collection of returning Polish POW’s into an army but also fighting for the well being of civilian women and children who were able to leave the horrors of Siberian deportation. He created the Women’s Auxiliary Service because he knew a huge number of women and children were in prisons and concentration camps, and this was the only way to save their lives. Anders as well as General Sikorski met constantly with Soviet authorities as well as Stalin himself to make sure that all Poles were indeed released from incarceration. Stalin feigned ignorance when asked why thousands of Polish officers did not make it out of POW camps. His only comment was that they must have escaped to Mongolia. It would become obvious the longer these officers remained ‘lost’, that their fate was sealed. History would reveal that they were the victims of mass execution, the Katyn Massacre, ordered by Stalin.
Other former soldiers and civilians, in their efforts to get to the collection areas were delayed by the Russians, on technicalities, or their trains were diverted to other parts of the Soviet Union so they could not make it to safety. Many were left stranded in the steppes without supplies and without rations. They simply starved to death or as a result of being left there were forced to become Soviet citizens. Anders also fought for more rations for his soldier, as everyone returning from their Gehenna was starving and many were sick, primarily from typhus. He tried to get the rations increased for his soldiers so as to share them with the civilians that were coming by the thousands. His ultimate goal was to convince Stalin to move his men and the civilians further south into a warmer climate and closer to the British, so they could provide more physical support for his people. Stalin finally agreed to evacuate the Polish recruits beginning in March 1942 to Iran, which was the beginning of the Polish Army under the British Command, known as the Polish II Corps of the Polish Armed Forces in the West.
From my mother’s documents, I surmise that she would have been on one of the first transports leaving Krasnovodsk in late March 1942. Papers reveal that she moved on from Pahlavi to Teheran on April 1, 1942.