Photo by Reuters

In the middle of Karachi, adjacent to the central road named after a benevolent Saudi Prince, lies “Gora Qabristan” literally translated to “cemetery of the white”. In the midst of encroaching buildings whose living seek to claim more and more of what belongs to the dead, of marauding swindlers and drug dealers who hide in its shadows, of the water table that creeps up to the top and the rain water are 58 graves. They are notable for their straight simplicity; white slabs of marble lying all together, in a row, unadorned and unafraid even if set in the soil of a foreign place.

The graves belong to 58 Polish nationals who came fleeing the pogroms and conflagrations of World War II and died in the momentary resting place that became a final one. Terrors of mass killings and fleeings took place in other places in those days, and for the victims Karachi was a place of refuge. Their journey was a long one, their story one of escaping the cruelties of a Polish homeland divided up between Germany and Russia in 1939. In the years that followed, the Russians embarked on an “ethnic cleansing” program that removed socially undesirable elements from the homeland they wished to ‘purify’ and 1.5 million were sent away to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The Russian plan was to enable an intellectual and cultural evisceration of Poland so that the architecture of its society would change forever.  It was from these camps that a Polish army in exile would be culled, but civilians who were barely alive were sent to camps in the Middle East, to Tehran and also to Karachi. Between 1942-1945, these starving, often sick, refugees, running from persecution, war and genocide came to the city by the Arabian Sea before there was ever a road as wide or a prince as kind to build it. The safely arrived were settled in refugee camps in the Malir Cantonment and in the area that is now the University Road. There were 30,000 of them; Polish refugees, living, eating, studying, worshipping in a Karachi where tolerance seemed as natural as the sand in its soil.

It is useful to recount their story in the Pakistan of today, when graves have to be denied to those wrongly killed, to make people pause and balk and weep at the injustice of their deaths. The Hazara of Quetta have buried their dead, but they know no peace and can expect no tolerance. It is useful to recount this story today, when for those who cannot command mobs and sway majorities, Karachi and Pakistan is a place to flee from rather than to flee to. It is useful to recount this story today, when the grains of hatred scattered by the preachers of loathing have germinated with such parasitic obstinacy that those who watch the innocent Shias or Christians or Hindus being killed wonder in silence, instead of exclaiming in protest. When the Polish came fleeing Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, many who lived here and who welcomed them could not have imagined that Pakistan would be a reality. Perhaps they could also not have imagined that such a Pakistan, where the different and the persecuted live lives wracked with such fear, was a possibility. The 58 graves of the Polish who sought refuge in Karachi tell the story of a different possibility, of a Pakistan of tolerance that was, and perhaps could still be.


Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times,  Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times, Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (50)

February 23, 2013 3:49 pm
@Khan, you have not explained the massacres of muslims by muslims in Pakistan IN your statement! These numbers will be a world record. 180 hazaras done to death in span of 3 weeks . Please enlighten us with your views. Please for gods sake do not bring india in your views.
February 22, 2013 2:11 pm
hi karachi at the time when these polish refugee lived ther was a pluralistic city with hardly a million people, and predominatly hindu the sindhi muslim were minorities and very tolerant, there were no mohajir majority not pathan population like now hence the polish catholic could live there, and remmember karachi was still under british then Richie
February 23, 2013 2:45 pm
Oh please grow up she is talking obout people of Karachi, I grow up in Karachi, people around me never care who you are or what religion you belong to.
February 23, 2013 1:41 pm
The writer did not say they came to Pakistan. She very clearly indicates they came to "Karachi." The writer is not intellectually dishonest, but it seems you cannot read the article without betraying your Indian bias. That is also a little dishonest.
February 23, 2013 3:22 pm
Remember when the Polish fled it was not Pakistan, it was India. The mess started after The Islamic Republic of Pakistan came into being.
February 23, 2013 12:11 pm
This is a petty comment.She is trying to motivate Karachiwalas.
February 23, 2013 12:44 pm
Like a dream
February 23, 2013 12:40 pm
i respect your article but the government is happy with this situation as we read in the news papers that the situation of pakistan is not bad then bahrin or other countries so the world even be come small for terrorist. ist is not just hazara but every tribes are suffering who came here 1000 before .
February 22, 2013 6:55 pm
It was India (Pakistan did not exist then) and it's tradition of tolerance and "Vishwa Kutumbkum" culture, a Sanskrit word that means the world is a family, which accepted these polish escapees and gave them shelter. This still prevails, Thank God, in India. Pakistan was created against every thing that connotates these two virtues and the result is now the foregone conclusion what Pakistan has become. I can not let go without saying that the author, Rafia Zakaria, is one of the honest, unbiased and courageous journalist of Pakistan and credit to her profession. I look forward to reading her articles which are well analyzed and substantative.
February 22, 2013 4:05 pm
February 22, 2013 11:47 am
It was because the majority of residents of Karachi were Hindus during that period.
February 23, 2013 10:55 am
From 1980 onwards Pakistan accepted over 3 millions Afghan refugees.Thats more than India will ever manage. So please dont give us lectures on accepting refugees.
February 23, 2013 10:40 am
As long as we had hindus in karanchi and sindh it was tolerant and peaceful...look what we have done to it now now after chasing them ..
February 23, 2013 9:46 am
very nice to know....
February 23, 2013 9:37 am
The majority of residents of India now are Hindus. Is India a tolerant place?
February 22, 2013 11:35 am
What an article...
February 23, 2013 6:22 am
India is a failed nation period! This is a great article.
February 22, 2013 10:02 pm
Thanks for the history. I always thought that was Britsh Raj's graveyard--literally.
February 22, 2013 10:31 pm
They thought they were coming to India? It was all India. And what difference does it make who was "ruling" India at the time. Its the same place as before and the same people (mostly).
umesh bhagwat
February 23, 2013 12:20 am
tolerance,compassion and fraternity!
February 22, 2013 4:47 pm
Rafia - The Karachi you're describing was a city run by the Sindhis, who have been extremely tolerant throughout history (the last few hundred, not just 65 years). It's too bad that this culture of tolerance is alien to those who have benefited the most from it.
paddy singh
February 22, 2013 11:19 pm
Rafia Zakaria has written a beautifully thought provoking article on Pakistan. Today’s self proclaimed minions of the Taliban and Al qaeeda who kill fellow Muslims by the thousands, stamp on minorities in the country and have no idea of what is required to be called humans, stand nowhere before the the greatest Muslim warrior who was respected by his foes. He never fought a ‘jihad’, never quoted the Quran, never murdered was none other than El Naser Salah el Dine. I doubt whether present day clerics who hide like rats in the darkness of cockroach and rat infested gutters have ever heard of him. Commonly known as Saladin, even King Richard respected his as a man of honour, for when the Crusaders were defeated at Jerusalem, they were allowed to withdraw - every man, woman and child – in safety with a Muslim escort to see nothing befell them. But the blame lies with the ‘father of the nation’, Jinnah, the ones who succeeded him and so called Muslim educationists who allowed Madrassas to flourish instead of setting up schools of standard that would teach secularism and allow it to be practised. A failed state, Pakistan, one can only ask ‘Quo Vadis’?
February 22, 2013 12:05 pm
Intellectual dishonesty. There was no Pakistan when the Polish came to Karachi. It was a Hindu majority city ruled by the British. Hence the tolerance.
February 22, 2013 12:04 pm
Criminals have niched out Karachi as the new 'lawless and wild West'. Sadly it has happened too soon when Karachi was up and coming as a hub of Pakistan's financial and cultural city. The tragedy is sadly lamented and compared to the death of a youth who was full of energy and vitality. RIP Karachi.
February 22, 2013 4:04 pm
Brith India to be exact. There was never anything called India.
February 22, 2013 11:44 pm
Why go so far back in history? The Hazaras came to Pakistan during the 70's to escape persecution in Afghanistan. What about hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, Kurds, Bangladeshis, Iranians, especially Bahais who fled the revolution. Pakistan has always been a destination for the persecuted, until now. So what is different now?
February 23, 2013 5:22 am
because as u r our neighbour, sometimes negitive energy from ur side cross the border to our side...
February 22, 2013 10:26 am
You are actually talking about India. Pakistan did not exist before 14/08/1947. Probably explains the acceptance of the refugees.
February 22, 2013 10:02 am
Thank you for lighting a candle of hope in an otherwise roiling media, emotion charging irresponsible journalism.
February 22, 2013 9:44 am
..............and this is why I always try and read you................brilliant.
February 22, 2013 10:22 pm
She is talking about Karachi full stop.
February 22, 2013 10:23 pm
They came to Karachi full sop.
February 22, 2013 10:23 pm
Why there is intolerance in Hindu majority India now in the form of communal riots against Muslims, Sikhs, Christians in place s like Bihar, Assam, Gujrat Delhi etc. why India rank 1& 3 position in communal riots in this century. Just google it.
February 24, 2013 5:07 am
Pakistan is at war with its own self.
February 22, 2013 3:33 pm
Do you think it might have been because it was undivided India and not Pakistan yet?
February 24, 2013 5:06 am
How true the saying for Pakistan! -- the sword raised against the head of the enemy -- is first raised against your own head.
February 22, 2013 5:07 pm
Your last line is the most telling. The only way Pakistan can/will return to tolerance and peace is when, in about three years, Islam has ceased to exist. There's no other way.
amit lunia
February 22, 2013 11:14 am
but they came to India......???
February 22, 2013 12:58 pm
They thought they were coming it India.
February 22, 2013 7:35 pm
karachi was a hindu majority city???
Shah Rukh Khan
February 24, 2013 5:56 am
How did Jinnah succeed Sultan Salahuddin? You are right about sultan but dishonest about Jinnah. Pakistan is a reality and accept it. Jinnah was intellectually superior to congress leadership, accept it. We all and the world knows very well who, when and how madressahs were promoted in Pakistan and for which purpose. Be honest and don't confuse unsuspecting readers.
February 22, 2013 5:19 pm
Indeed...it is brilliant.
February 22, 2013 12:30 pm
Good one.Apart from Karachi some Poles went to Gujarat -I think. India was undivided then.
February 22, 2013 6:33 pm
They came to Karachi because of few reasons. 1. It was ruled by british then. 2. Karachi was boiling pot of cultural/religious mix including sizable hindus. 3. It was still india then. 4. The majority population was not exposed to Arabic culture and hence tolerant of others. 5. The larger population of Karachi was tolerant.
February 23, 2013 5:04 pm
FRom where you got this statistics?
February 23, 2013 7:00 pm
Because so some traitors llive in India wants to destroy communal harmony of India..Hindus are generally tolerant and like diversity but also they are too busy making their living to feed their family so they dont have much time to hate others...Gujrat riots are the only time when they lost their tolerance because some innocent people were burnt alive...
February 23, 2013 10:24 pm
You need help. Schizophrenia does not get cured by itself. God bless you.
February 24, 2013 9:32 am
Yes. By and large Hindus are tolerant. And yes, India is a tolerant place. Occassional incidents of communal disharmony are only to be expected in country as big as India. They are only aberrations. That is why the %age of Muslim population in India has increased from 12% to 15% since 1947. Please compare it with the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan. From 21% in 1947, Hindus are down to 1% today.
February 24, 2013 4:01 am
India also did not exist before that date. And not Bharat either. The Sub-Continent was called Indian SubContinent but the country/place was called British Raj, or a state of the British Empire.
February 24, 2013 4:09 am
No. They came to the British Empire.
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