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Mikhal Dekel: Tehran Children
November 1, 2019 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pmFree
Mikhal Dekel discusses her new book, Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey.
Praise for Tehran Children
“A revelatory history, a saga of flight and welcome, of death and head-down survival, a powerful narrative built for this moment. Dekel’s sweeping storytelling is marked by heartbreaking restraint and historical sensitivity.”—Charles King, Georgetown University, author of Odessa and Midnight at the Pera Palace
“Though their story is seldom told, most Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust did so by taking the road east, into the Soviet Union. In tracing the harrowing journey of her father’s escape, Mikhal Dekel provides a multi-layered and nuanced account. . . . Her exploration of the peculiar refugee world in 1940s Tehran — especially the tense relations between Jewish and Catholic Polish refugees in that city – makes the book an important and timely addition to the literature of the Holocaust and modern refugee history.” — Tom Reiss, author of The Orientalist and The Black Count
“In this brilliantly conceived narrative, Mikhal Dekel reconstructs her father’s and grandmother’s circuitous journeys by land and sea through Iran on the way from Poland to Palestine in the years of the Holocaust. Retracing their lives as she lives her own, in turn she illuminates a series of unexpected places absent from many maps of the refugee experience of the era. A striking book.”—Samuel Moyn, Yale University, author of Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World
About Tehran Children
Author Mikhal Dekel’s father, Hannan Teitel, and her aunt Regina were two of these refugees. After they fled the town in eastern Poland where their family had been successful brewers for centuries, they endured extreme suffering in the Soviet forced labor camps known as “special settlements.” Then came a journey during which tens of thousands died of starvation and disease en route to the Soviet Central Asian Republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. While American organizations negotiated to deliver aid to the hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews who remained there, Dekel’s father and aunt were two of nearly one thousand refugee children who were evacuated via Polish military transport to Iran, where they were embraced by an ancient Persian-Jewish community celebrating familiar rituals in unfamiliar ways. Months later, their Zionist caregivers escorted them via India to Mandatory Palestine, where, at the endpoint of their 13,000 mile journey, they joined hundreds of thousands of refugees (including over one hundred thousand Polish Catholics). The arrival of the “Tehran Children” was far from straightforward, as religious and secular parties vied over their futures in what would soon be Israel.
Beginning with the death of the inscrutable Tehran Child who was her father, Dekel fuses memoir with extensive archival research to recover this astonishing story, with the help of travel companions and interlocutors including an Iranian colleague, a Polish PiS politician, a Russian oligarch, and an Uzbek descendent of Korean deportees. The history she uncovers is one of the worst and the best of humanity, of fate and destiny, of hospitality and of cruelty, of love and hate. The experiences her father and aunt endured, along with so many others, ultimately reshaped and redefined their lives and identities and those of other refugees and rescuers, profoundly and permanently, during and after the war.
With literary grace, Tehran Children presents a unique narrative of the Holocaust, whose governing symbol is not the concentration camp, but the refugee, and whose center is not Europe, but Central Asia and the Middle East.