How Iran Became a Home to Jewish Refugees from Soviet-Occupied Poland

In 1942, over 100,000 refugees of Polish origin made their way to Iran. Many had been in the eastern parts of Poland during the Soviet invasion, and were from there exiled by Stalin to Central Asia, whence they made their way to Iran. Others had been part of the so-called Anders Army, a Polish fighting force organized with the approval of London and Moscow to fight Germany. Among both soldiers and civilians were a large number of Jews; one of the officers, in fact, was the future Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Mikhal Dekel tells part of their story:

Three thousand, perhaps more, [of the refugees] were Jewish, including four rabbis and nearly 1,000 unaccompanied children who were taken from Polish orphanages in the Soviet Union. There were also several hundred Polish Jewish stowaways, recent converts to Catholicism, women who pretended to be married to Polish officers, and the like.

Christian and Jewish Polish citizens had been exiled by the Soviets together, first from Soviet-occupied Poland to the Soviet interior and later to the Central Asian republics. In Central Asia, they received aid that was collected by U.S.-based and international Jewish and Catholic charities and distributed by representatives of the Polish government in exile; in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic’s cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, Jewish and Christian children were housed jointly in Polish orphanages. And amid tensions and animosity—Jewish refugees received less aid, Jewish children were sometimes taunted and beaten in Polish orphanages—there had also been the intimacy of Polish-speaking citizens who shared a common fate.

These discrepancies only worsened in Iran, until assistance from the Jewish Agency for Palestine was able to provide some support. Then the story took another unexpected turn:

By early 1943, after rising bread costs spurred widespread demonstrations among the local population, the majority of Polish refugees—both Jewish and Christian—would evacuate Iran to India, Lebanon, and Syria. The largest number would be transfered to British-controlled Palestine. There, Jewish children would be raised on kibbutzim, at boarding schools, and with foster families as future citizens of a Jewish state, while Polish children would attend Catholic schools in Jerusalem and Nazareth, and mixed schools in Tel Aviv. . . . In Palestine, tensions between Christians and Jews subsided considerably. Most civilian Christian refugees stayed there until 1947, when the British mandate over Palestine ended.

Most of the Christian soldiers swiftly departed Palestine for Italy, where they fought alongside the British.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Menachem Begin, Poland, Polish Jewry, Soviet Union, World War II

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy