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Oral Histories from World War II Refugees in Iran

Stanley Kiersnowski


They drove us to Pahlavi and I saw stores with meat, with bread, with everything. I was sure it’s propaganda.  I said, it’s impossible.  I wouldn’t – I couldn’t believe that somebody has bread and food and meat in this store.  We didn’t believe it, you know?  It’s – you get so brainwashed, you know, it’s so easy.

Stanley Kiersnowski was born into a Polish aristocratic family on August 17, 1926, in Wilno, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania). His family was deported to Siberia by the Soviets in June 1941. Stanley, his mother, and sister were separated from his father. He later learned that his father died in a gulag. Stanley moved to a collective farm and was freed by the Soviet police. He followed the Polish army south, eventually to Tehran, Iran. He also traveled through Pakistan and Palestine. He eventually reunited with his mother and sister, who also spent time in Iran. His sister moved to the United States in 1946, and Stanley and his mother followed in 1948.

Witold Pawlikoski


Witold Pawlikowski: But absolutely adventurous, because we were – we were taken one time to visit the Shah’s palace. 

Interviewer: Oh wow.

Witold: And I also remember that we were returning one time, and I don’t know what – how – how was it, but we decided to walk. It wasn’t that far away, so we were walking on – on the road towards Tehran, and here comes the Shah. So we waved, you know, and all that stuff, and he – 

Interviewer: Was he in a motorcade?

Witold: Yes, in – in a limousine, you know, motorcades and all that kind stuff. So – and he must have realized that – who we are, because he wa – you know, waved back. So, you know, he – then – then we absolutely felt like free people.

Witold Pawlikowski was born on May 5, 1931, in Lódz, Poland. He was an only child. In 1939 Witold and his parents moved to Dolina, Poland. Witold's father was part of the Polish military, and when the Soviets occupied the country, he was arrested. He died in captivity. In 1941, Witold and his mother were transported by cattle car to Kazakhstan, where they spent time on a collective farm. After the agreement between Poland and the Soviet Union was signed, Witold and his mother were free to leave, and they followed the newly formed Polish army south. They spent time in Tehran, Iran, Lebanon, and Great Britain before immigrating to the United States in 1951.

Adam Szymel


Adam Szymel: On the middle of August, 1942, we were put on the train from the Karmana, from the camp, and taken to the port on the Caspian Sea. 

Interviewer: What was the name of the port?

Adam: Krasnovodsk. 

Interviewer: Krasnovodsk, okay.

Adam: Krasnovodsk. We were put on the Russian ship. They – we were loaded, standing room only, practically. 

Interviewer: Like sardines, huh?

Adam: Like sardines. My brother was on that ship, too. He was very sick. He had dysentery, which sometime it can kill you. 

Interviewer: Yeah.

Adam: But he survived. 

Interviewer: So it was you, your mother, your sisters.

Adam: Well, on the camp, there was on that ship there was just two of us. My mother stayed behind with my grandmother and two sisters. They left about two weeks later. We arrived in at that time was Persia, now it’s Iran. Port of Pahlavi.

Interviewer:Pahlavi , mm-hm. 

Adam: Pahlavi, we arrived there. Finally, we were free. We could really say we were free. 

Interviewer: What if – what kind of a feeling was it?

Adam: It’s like when the weight is dropped off your shoulders. That you could speak freely without, you know, looking if someone is watching you. That you’re your own master, you’re free.  I was 14 years old.

Adam Szymel was born on January 21, 1928. in Berezowiec, Poland (now Belarus). He was one of four children. His family was Catholic. His father was arrested after the Soviet invasion of Poland. He was never heard from again. A few weeks after his father's arrest, the rest of Adam's family was arrested and transported by freight car to Siberia. After the Polish-Soviet agreement, the Poles were freed from camps, and Adam and his mother, grandmother, and siblings left Siberia, eventually making it to the port of Krasnovodsk in Turkmenistan. They made it to Iran and from there traveled to Iraq. Adam and his brother went to Palestine to attend a Polish military school, and the rest of the family was sent to a refugee camp in India. Adam, his mother, and siblings all immigrated to England, and in 1954, his family immigrated to the United States. Adam's grandmother went back to Poland from India after the war.