World War II. Autumn of 1939. The Nazis occupied Poland and thousands of Jewish families escaped eastward, into the hands of the Russian army that exiled the refugees to the freezing weather, hunger and dreadful poverty of Siberia. After their liberation, many decide to go to south, to Samarqand in Uzbekistan where they hoped food was available.
Despite the milder climate of these lands, life was difficult and many died from hunger and epidemics. Some Jewish parents preferred to give their children a better chance for survival, and left them in local Polish orphanages, posing as Christians. The parents made their children swear never to forget their Jewish faith, and promise to live as Jews as soon as they reach safety.
In 1942, the Stalin-Sikorsky Agreement was signed between the Polish government in exile and the USSR government, calling for the recruitment of Polish refugees into the Polish army, to fight alongside the Allies. This army, known as the Anders Army, set out to the battlefields of the Middle East, through Teheran, which like Israel was then under British rule, and was the only route possible at the time.
Most of the Jewish families were not permitted to join Anders' Army's departure from Poland, but the Christian Polish orphanages were allowed to join the journey. The children were transported by cars and on trains to the port city of Krasnovodesk on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and from there, to Pahlevi in Persia. After a short stay in Pahlevi under extremely harsh conditions, the children were moved to Teheran and were crowded in tents, in horrendous sanitary conditions.
When word of the children's arrival in Teheran reached Palestine, the Jewish Agency sent three Israeli emissaries to care for them and to extract as many Jewish children from the Christian orphanages as possible. Several months later, in early January 1943, after intensive diplomatic efforts, the British authorities granted certificates to the children to enter Israel. 700 children and their escorts left Persia through the Karachi Sea to India, and from there, after several days of travel through the minefields of the Indian Ocean they reached Suez. On February 18, 1943, the train bearing the children from Teheran arrived in Gaza and continued from there to Rehovot and Atlit, where their arduous journey ended.
The Children of Teheran was first large group of Holocaust survivors to reach Palestine from occupied Europe. Youth Immigration activists, headed by Henrietta Szold and Hans Bate, welcomed the children at the camp established in Atlit.
The story of the Children of Teheran was branded in the history of early statehood as a demonstration of the heroic spirit of survival of the Jewish people during WWII. Many generations of Israeli natives were educated on this ethos, exemplifying the perseverance and tenacity of heroic rescue operations during the Holocaust.