Captivity on iranian soil
Alerted by the German Ambassador in Tehran (1939-1941), Erwin Ettel (1895-1971), most of the German expatriates, who had been living in various parts of the country, sought refuge together in the garden of the German Embassy's summer residence at Shemiran, situated in the north of the capital.
Of course, neither the English nor the Russians would care much about the fact that this ground had diplomatic immunity. But the Persian Government, in its own interests, should have honoured this status. Also, then as now, the German residence lay alongside that of Turkey. Ettel speculated that if the Allies did enter Tehran then the Colony could move to the grounds of the Turkish residence via a hole in the wall. Neither the English nor the Russians would want to upset the Turks.
Around 900 Germans camped there for about nine weeks. The large park with its old, shade-giving trees and rushing mountain streams was ideal for this.
"Fate then took its course. The Germans in Teheran took refuge in the summer residence of the German Embassy in Schimran: women and children were accommodated in the building and the men in tents in the grounds. We were told negotiations were taking place as to the repatriation of women and children and of men unfit for military service. Prospects for the latter were deteriorating daily... Beautifully furnished rooms were placed at our disposal and our excellent meals were served on the verandah. There was also a radio, the battery of which was almost exhausted. The beautiful park in its autumn colouring was a picture of utter chaos. Everywhere still stood the tents in which men, women and children had camped. In front of them, inside them and everywhere there were mountains of empty bottles, crockery, chairs, writing paper, tables, ladies’ hats, etc. etc. Everything was strewn around and all the lawns were covered with debris such as that left behind after a fair. All paths and clearings were littered with cars which had been brought into the Embassy compound for safety reasons and had then been abandoned."
Ettel negotiated with the British and Soviet forces, and with the Iranian government, to work out what was to happen with the German civilians in Iran. In the end it was decided that, despite the war, the German women and children (around 500) were permitted to leave the Embassy for Germany via Turkey. This arrangement depended on the condition that the single men did not escape and accepted being interned and sent to the British war camps in Basra, Iraq, for further interrogation. First, a convoy of British military trucks took the men from Shemiran to Basra for further interrogation, and then the women and children left the country.
"At 5 am in the morning the Embassy busses were already gathering in front of the Embassy property and at 6 am everything was ready to go from the main gate. The names were read again and the first internees had to say goodbye and go. The Embassy buses took the men to the train and with a Sieg Heil and the German anthem playing they left for the unknown farewelled by the Ambassador... Transports leaving with the women and children were set for September 17th... Our transport [women and children] colony was made up of 128 cars, 22 buses and 32 trucks. These were lent to us by the Iranian Government. Some of the vehicles were not usable for this job so at the last moment some of the German vehicles had to be used. The Iranian chauffeurs were on the whole very respectful and friendly, but some still wanted money from us."
Meanwhile, around eighty of the men who had sought refuge in the German Embassy were taken into custody by the Soviet army; their destiny remains unknown.
The remainder of the German civilians in Iran, including families who were detained by the British Army in their houses all around the country, or having been captured on their way to the borders, were sent to the Basra camp by train or other means of transportation.
"At 1 o’clock midday several English soldiers with officers, who had been driven in a car, came suddenly into our residence at the construction site in Kerend [Karind]. I was asked to present my credentials and when I explained that I was German this was apparently not news to the officers. All my papers were taken over, I was able to say goodbye and was then led to a car under guard. Two English soldiers went with me as my guards. I was led into camp together with Palier Adjinian, an Armenian with a Persian passport, and Schuer, a Hungarian bricklayer. First to the officers’ mess, then with an officer into his personal tent, and I was interrogated about my views... The discussion was held in English. Then I was taken to the camp commandant who spoke with me in German. Taken back to the mess, I was given tea, then taken back home by the officer who had first investigated me so that I could collect my things... In the evening a vehicle collected us again and we were able to drive to Kerend for our evening meal. I did not meet up with Elfriede."
To these should also be added all the non-civilian Germans (around 80) who were detained on the German navy and merchant navy ships stationed in the southern ports of Iran, especially those at Bandar Shapour.
Erwin Ettel in Golestan Palace 1938. © P. Khosronejad.
On board the Sturmfels in Bandar Shapour and on Iranian soil 1939 to 1941. © Böhmer Collection.
September 22th 1941.
September 12th 1941, from the personal notes of Gisela Barth (1908-1997) “The Escape with my Child Out of Iran, 1941”. She was wife of internee Hans Barth (R36386).
September 17th 1941.
June 22nd 1941, from the personal diary of Johann Friedrich Bambach (1883-1962), detained on August 16th 1941 in Isfahan, Iran. (R36428)
August 25th 1941.
August 30th 1941, from the personal diary of Rudolf Girschik (1910-1989), detained on August 30th 1941 in Karind, Kermanshah, Iran. (R36358)
© 2020-2023 Designed by P. KHOSRONEJAD
Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor
Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University
Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University