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Mikhal Dekel, Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey

Sunday, January 26   |   2:00 pm


McIntyre’s Books

“… intriguing story…” — The International New York Times

“… a highly personal, journalistic memoir and a valuable addition to Holocaust history… What makes Dekel’s study so valuable is not just its assiduous detailing of one family’s fate during the second world war, but how it also makes us reflect on our current era, with its mass migrations of desperate people fleeing conflict and hardship only to meet inflamed nativism and the desire to shift responsibility for their fate from one country on to the next.” — The Guardian

Most Polish Jews who escaped Nazi extermination survived as refugees in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Blending memoir, history and travelogue, Tehran Children follows their odyssey.

This story begins with one and a half million Polish Jews who by late 1939 find themselves living within Soviet borders, whether because their towns fell under Soviet occupation or because, like the author’s father, they had fled there from the Germans. It continues when up to a third of these are deported, alongside other Polish citizens, to gulags and “Special Settlements” in the Soviet Interior, where they suffer extreme deprivation and once “liberated,” journey to the Soviet Central Asian Republics.

Some Polish Jews were later evacuated alongside Catholic Poles to Iran, India, and Mandatory Palestine. Mikhal Dekel traverses the globe in these refugees footsteps, visits archives, locations and people in Uzbekistan, Poland, Russia, Israel and (through a proxy) Iran, meets with former refugees and current residents, and pieces together not only the story of her father and hundreds of thousands of survivors like him, but of the geopolitical shifts that their arrival had put in motion in the Soviet Union and the Middle East.

Along the way she converses with Polish nationalists, Russian oligarchs and human rights activists, Iranians, Korean Uzbeks and Israelis, painting a story of interlinked and divergent histories, of death and survival, of hospitality and cruelty, and of the politics of twenty-first century memory and historical amnesia.

Mikhal Dekel is professor of English at City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Tehran ChildrenThe Universal Jew: Masculinity, Modernity and the Zionist Moment, and Oedipus in Kishinev