A finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the National Jewish Book Award, and the Chautauqua Prize
“Not simply another detail of the Holocaust but a matter of enduring existential, psychological and moral reflection.” —Johnathan Brent, New York Times Book Review
With a new epilogue and reading group guide featuring a Q&A and commentary with Tara Zahra, author of The Great Departure
Despite decades of outstanding writing about the Holocaust, the full story of roughly a quarter million Jews who survived Nazi extermination in the Soviet interior, Central Asia, and the Middle East is nearly unknown, even to their descendants. Investigating her late father’s mysterious identity as a “Tehran Child,” literary scholar Mikhal Dekel delved deep into archives —including Soviet files not previously available to Western scholars—on three continents. She pursued the path of these Holocaust refugees from remote Kolyma in Siberia to Tashkent in Uzbekistan and, with the help of an Iranian friend and colleague, to Tehran. It was there that her father, aunt, and nearly a thousand other Jewish refugee children survived the war.
Dekel’s part-memoir, part-history, part-literary-political reflection on fate, identity, and memory uncovers the lost story of Jewish refuge in Muslim lands, the complex global politics behind whether refugees live or die, and the collective identity-creation that determines the past we remember.
About the Author
Mikhal Dekel is professor of English at City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center. For this book, she was named a finalist for the 2020 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the National Jewish Book Award for Writing Based on Archival Material, and the Chautauqua Prize.
The story at the center of this book is the way contingency shaped so many destinies. It makes these Tehran children not simply another detail of the Holocaust but a matter of enduring existential, psychological and moral reflection.
— Johnathan Brent - New York Times Book Review
The backstory about how Dekel, now a professor of comparative literature in the U.S., began researching this project with an Iranian colleague, adds an interesting personal aspect to this work of excellent scholarship and a harrowing history illuminating both the specifics of the past and the universal aspects of the refugee experience.
— Dan Kaplan - Booklist
An engrossing narrative that seamlessly weaves together a moving memoir, a gripping detective novel, and an erudite social history; heart wrenching in describing the agonies of the Polish Jews, heartwarming in bringing to life their defiance and the hospitality they received in places like Tehran. While voices of rancor and rage are using stereotypes and shibboleths to simplify the complexities of our human condition, Tehran Children is a must-read for all hoping against hope to cherish our common humanity.
— Abbas Milani, author of The Shah
In this brilliantly conceived narrative, Mikhal Dekel illuminates a series of unexpected places absent from many maps of the refugee experience of the Holocaust. A striking book.
— Samuel Moyn, author of Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World
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, author of Odessa and Midnight at the Pera Palace
Tehran Children is a gripping account of Holocaust survival unlike any other. Blending the genres of memoir, history, and travelogue, Mikhal Dekel combines the empathy of a daughter with the insight of a scholar. This is one of the greatest, largely untold stories of the Second World War.
— Tara Zahra, author of The Great Departure
Groundbreaking...The strength of Dekel’s book is that it moves beyond the narrative binary of ‘warm hospitality’ and ‘abuse’ to show the grey spaces in between...it is hope that lies at the center of this moving, heartbreaking testimony...hope that untold suffering can, and sometimes does, come to an end.
— Arash Azizi - IranWire