Randy GrigsbyJun 6, 2023
A Train to Palestine
The Tehran Children, Anders' Army and Their Escape from Stalin's Siberia, 1939-1943
Vallentine Mitchell 2019
In October 1938, eight-year-old Josef Rosenbaum, his mother, and his younger sister set out from Germany on a cruel odyssey, fleeing into eastern Europe along with thousands of other refugees. Sent to Siberian slave labor camps in the wildernesses, they suffered brutal cold, famine, and disease. When Germany invaded Russia many refugees were forced out of Siberia to primitive tent camps in Uzbekistan, accompanied by the Polish army-in-exile previously imprisoned by the Soviets. Within weeks the commander of the army, General Wladyslaw Anders, received orders to relocate his army to Iran to train to fight alongside the British in North Africa. Instructed to leave without the civilians, Anders instead ordered all evacuees, including Jews, to head southward with his troops. Joe and the refugees were again loaded on trains, accompanied by the Polish soldiers, and sent to the port of Pahlavi on the Caspian Sea.
Then, transported by trucks over treacherous mountain roads, they finally arrived in Tehran, where they struggled to survive in horrifying conditions. In October 1942, the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem accepted responsibility for the nine hundred orphaned Jewish children in the camp, and by January 1943, the agency secured travel certificates for the Tehran Children to evacuate to Palestine. Joe and the other children, after five terrible years, finally reached safety at the Athlit Detention Camp, north of Haifa, on 18 February 1943.
Readers will find the story is one of the swift brutalities of war, and the suffering of civilians swept up in the maelstrom of fierce conflict. Randy Grigsby's book A Train to Palestine: The Tehran Children, Anders' Army and Their Escape from Stalin's Siberia, 1939-1943 (Vallentine Mitchell, 2019) recreates a remarkable, and little-known story of escape and survival during the Second World War.