Wednesday, 18 January 2012
Recently, in November, I learned for the first time that my mother's brother Henryk, who I had always thought died in exile in Russia with the rest of her family, had actually left Russia with my mother and her one sister, leaving with the Polish orphanage in exile attached to General Anders army. He had survived the long journey from Poland by cattle truck, Siberia, Kazahkstan, Uzbekhistan and the long escape, to finally arrive at Pahlevi (then in Persia, now Iran).
Pahlevi (now called Anzali) was the place where the ships which carried the Polish men, women and children escaping from Russia landed, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The boats were inadequate and wholly unsuited to the journeys they were making, and the people they were carrying were crowded onto the boats in completely unsuitable conditions; but General Anders was concerned to get as many polish people as possible out of Russia while the opportunity existed.
Sadly, Henryk was so depleted by hunger and sickness that he died not long after they landed. He was my mother's older brother, so she was around 11, and he was 13 or 14. She remembers his death in detail, with much sadness.
Conditions at Pahlevi were very poor, despite the very best intentions of all concerned and the British Red Cross who met the arriving refugees. They had no idea of the scale of numbers of people who were to arrive or their conditions. My mother remembers that water was rationed, and some people were so thirsty, they drank salt water from the sea.
My mother knew that Henryk had died in Pahlavi, but she didn't know what had happened to him after that.
Today, after a little investigation, I got confirmation from the Polish Embassy in Teheran.
Henryk Pepel, my uncle, is buried in the Polish Cemetery in Pahlevi/Anzali. He died 5 September 1942 on the shores of the Caspian sea, one of over 600 Poles who died and are buried in this cemetery.
This is the first ancestor who's resting place we have found. I feel very happy and also very sad.
Henryk Pepel 1938 - 5.9.1942 rest in peace