The Making of Cosmopolitan Tehran During WWII

After the Soviet occupation of Poland in September 1939, hundreds of thousands of Polish refugees spent more than a year in exile in Siberia before being relocated to Iran in 1941 by Allied forces. While many of the men joined Anders’ Army (the Polish volunteer army that fought under British command) to support the Allies, women remained in Iran and encouraged the development of Iran's nascent urban middle class culture. Those women engaged in diverse and broad range of business opportunities. They established dolls factory, beauty parlor, became personal fashion consultants, and more. Their visibility in wartime Tehran was crucial, and to a large extent their role in the development of war economy in Iran, and especially Tehran, was pivotal.

By examining the ways these Polish refugees negotiated their status, this paper analyzes Polish interactions with and integration into Iranian society. This paper argues that these migrants and refugees integrated into Iranian society and established cultural institutions, which in turn helped encourage Iran’s nascent urban middle class. Together with hundreds of thousands of Allied Armies personnel they transformed the urban society into a more ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse community and made a significant impact on the self-perception of Iran as a cosmopolitan society. This positioned minorities in the center of the nation-building process, away from the marginal position they had possessed before the war years.