In a country with decades-long political conflict with the Israeli regime, the greatest Jewish community in the Middle East stands still amidst the head-to-head confrontations.

Iran (IMNA) - Jews who have been settled in Iran since about the eighth century B.C. used to be spread all over the country but are now greatly inhabited Tehran and other big cities like Isfahan.

Ancient evidence indicates that the first Jews were forced to move from the present-day land under the control of Israeli regime to the kingdom of Babylon, which was later conquered by the kings of ancient Persia.

The Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great, who founded the Achaemenian empire, issued a proclamation known as the Edict of Cyrus based on which Jews were allowed to return to Judah. Some Jews preferred to stay in Babylonia and made up the first Jewish population living in the Disapora.

Some notable geographers reported that the exiled Jews of Babylonia chose to settle in Isfahan, later called Yahudiya (the town of Jews). Ebn al-Faqih, the Persian historian and geographer, recorded a practice based on which the Jews escaping from Nebuchadnezzar brought a sample of the water and of the soil of Jerusalem with themselves, attempting to match them with their new-chosen residences. They did not take root anywhere unless their samples resembled their desired location of the settlement; the exiled Jews kept trying until they found Isfahan the perfect match. After that, they settled there and started a new life in Yahudiyah.

The story of Isfahan’s being an affable host to the Jews did not end here, as the city welcomed nearly 3,000 Polish orphans during World War II who sought shelter in Iran. They were doomed to a forced exodus as the Soviet Union invaded their homeland, so bunch after bunch of careworn Poles headed to Iran. All in all, approximately 300,000 Poles fled to Iran, many of whom were women and children who had no place else to go.

Isfahan; Paradise home for Polish Jewish children

"Throughout the entire years of captivity, we could not count the days and months, and all we could think of was death. We envied the people who died because they got rid of suffering and hunger; having a hot meal was the biggest wish of every Polish refugee, and entering Iran was the end of the sufferings for all Polish exiles," Maasume Goudarzi, Professor of Local History, quoted Helen Stelmach as saying. Helen Stelmach, the last Polish survivor of World War II in Iran, was among those children whose destiny was bound up with Iran.

"When we bunched up in Iran, we were welcomed by Iranians, and those harsh days turned into a bubble; however, the weeping and sighing of those tough times left a lasting impression on us. The city of Isfahan and its people made an enormous contribution to our inner peace."

"The large and luxurious garden mansion of Prince Sarem al-Dawlah, on the west side of Isfahan, was one of the centers dedicated to Polish children so that the enlivening atmosphere of the garden would boost their mental and physical health," Guderzi noted.

She went on to say that "the French Monastery of Nuns was chosen as the secondary residence for girls, and the Father Lazarus House was also provided to accommodate the boys. Such measures made Isfahan known as the city of Polish children."

Isfahan; Paradise home for Polish Jewish children

Special educational centers were opened upon the arrival of Polish children in Isfahan, and related textbooks and all educational materials were provided for them.

"During their stay in Isfahan, Polish immigrants had made a significant contribution in practicing enlightenment among people by publishing several uncensored newspapers," Goudarzi said.

Reza Nikpour, the firstborn of the late Helen Stelmach, told IMNA the story quoted from the Polish Deputy Minister of Economic Development regarding the hospitality of Isfahani people towards the Polish immigrants that reads as follows:

"One day the Deputy Minister of Development of Poland came to Iran with a regular passport, and no one had any idea who he was. He was staying in a hotel in Isfahan, and his tour guide bought him a package of Gaz [an Isfahan special souvenir] as an ordinary gesture of hospitality. After the tour guide handed the package to the deputy minister, he burst into tears and said that his mother was one of those children who took refuge in Isfahan during World War II, and now he came here to Isfahan to see if his mother's compliments of Iranians were true or not, and then the gift made him realize that she was right."

Paying tribute to the poles used to live in Iran and honoring Isfahan’s Cultural Week, the Municipality of Isfahan inaugurated a photo exhibition under the title of “The Trails of Hope” to revive the memories of those good old days.

Praising the generosity of Iranian towards Polish refuges, Zbigniew Rau the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland who was the special guest of the event noted, “Isfahan took the name of *The City of Polish children*, because it welcomed more than 2,500 Polish children, most of whom were orphans, who got the chance of going to schools and making friends with their peers."

Zbigniew Rau ended his speech by saying that "It is the best time to express our gratitude regarding the Iranians’ hospitality back in the day. I, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, am proud to stand with the people of Isfahan today. I hope that all the world's refugees would reach that paradise that Isfahan provided for Polish refugees 80 years ago,"

Isfahan; Paradise home for Polish Jewish children

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