In the first months of World War II, Poles were displaced from their native sides and taken to distant corners of Soviet Russia. Resettled to small villages, they were engaged in forced labor. They lived in kolkhozes deprived of basic conveniences and livelihoods, without the possibility of returning to the country. Under the agreement of General Władysław Sikorski and Ivan Mayski of July 30, 1941, Poles could return to Poland or voluntarily leave the USSR and seek refuge outside of Russia. This is how a long journey of thousands of Poles began in search of a way to a new home.
The Siberians who left the USSR were accompanied by General Anders' army evacuating from Russia. Thousands of Poles went to the Middle East. They had to look for food and shelter on their own. In the port of Pahlavi, in the north of Persia, on the initiative of the Red Cross, a camp was set up, where the Poles could find medical and financial help. Healthy persons were redirected to Tehran and Isfahan. There, schools for children and youth were opened, and scouting teams were established. The authorities organized Polish children's trips to historic Isfahan buildings, provided visits to traditional baths and pool classes. Children, exhausted by nightmare of war and exile, were to be provided at least a scrap of a normal childhood in the Middle East.
It is estimated that from 1942, 20,000 Polish children left the Soviet Union. They were transported as far as possible from the outbreak of war and were sent to Mexico, Lebanon, Tanzania and India in transports organized by the Polish government in exile and Allied authorities. 733 Polish children were also sent to Pahiatua in New Zealand.
time when Poles were movingto the south of the USSR and the Middle East
for long weeks, in June 1943, the USS Hermitage vessel arrived in New
Zealand in June 1943 for a while, which brought an invitation of the
government for seven hundred Polish children from Iran to Mexico. They
were then visited by the countess Maria Wodzicka, wife of the then
consul of the Republic of Poland in New Zealand, K.A. Wodzicki. Seeing
the tragedy of the toddlers, she decided to create a place where they
could live until the end of the war. This idea was also suggested by her
to the wife of the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, Janet Fraser,
who supported Maria Wodzicka in these activities. The choice of location
was simple. Polish children were to live in Pahiatua, where from 1942
there was a camp for citizens hostile to the allies of the countries. At
the end of 1943, the internees were moved to Matiu-Somes Island, and
the camp began to rebuild the barracks and houses of volunteers from
Pahiatua. The New Zealand government invited Polish children and their
guardians to New Zealand.
In the summer of 1944, a series of lectures was organized for Polish children about the country to which they were soon to leave. Each of them was to take to New Zealand Polish books that they had in their possession. These collections were to create the nucleus of the Polish library in the Pahiatua camp. The children got small cardboard suitcases, to which they could pack the most necessary things.
The trip to New Zealand began on September 27, 1944, when 733 children and their 105 guardians left Isfahan by buses and lorries. The first stop was at the military base in Sultanabad (today: Arak), where American soldiers entertained the frightened and tired kids. After a short stop, the children went to Ahwaz, where they spent two days. On October 4, 1944, Polish convoys left for Chrramszachry at the mouth of the Tigris and the Euphrates, where the children and their guardians boarded the ship Sontay. After a six-day cruise, on October 10, 1944, they reached Bombay. There, they moved to the USS Randall transport. On October 15, the ship sailed from India to New Zealand. On the deck of a military ship, Polish children and the ship's crew played football. A few of the balls fell over board.
In the evening of October 31, 1944, the USS Randall sailed to the shores of New Zealand. In the morning of the next day, the ship reached the port of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, where it was welcomed by the orchestra and prime minister Peter Fraser.
From Wellington, Polish children went to Pahiatua, 160 km away. New Zealand children were released from the lessons to welcome Poles. They waved and sang standing by the road, which was followed by two trains with Polish children. After reaching Pahiatua, 33 trucks transported all of them to the town located on its southern borders, which was soon to become the Polish Children's Camp.
"There was neither horror nor fear here"
Since the children from Pahiatua after the end of the war were to return to Poland, the language and infrastructure of the camp were Polish. These were also the names of barracks and alleys. The operation of the camp was supported by the Polish government in exile (until the Allies have recognized it ... in April 1946), then the New Zealand army. The caretakers and teachers of the children were Poles, but some of the teachers were New Zealand teachers who taught Poles English and popular sports in New Zealand - rugby. Small Poles spent their school holidays frequently with New Zealand families who gave children a chance to experience a family atmosphere in a new country.
In the memory of the Adults of Pahiatua, the camp is described as a happy period. Despite the drama of the war and its consequences in the world, children could enjoy a normal, peaceful childhood with its usual problems - a burst of homework, matches, mischief on the playground, dances and scout meetings ...
Many New Zealanders were outraged
by the help, Poles received from their country. There were voices that
some New Zealanders cannot afford such good conditions in which Polish
children lived - free accommodation, free meals and no obligation to
work. The growing reluctance meant that the New Zealand Prime Minister
had to respond to these accusations on many occasions, stressing that
the Camp benefitted from the funds of the Polish Government in London
and maintained itself thanks to the work of Polish guardians.
The conference in Yalta (February 4-11, 1945) was not without
significance for the fate of the Pahiatua camp. After the territories
from which most of the children came were incorporated into the USSR and
Poland was under Russian influence, the government of New Zealand
wanted to assimilate Polish children. There was an idea for the
guardians to give their children up for adopting families in New
Zealand. The Polish guardians objected strongly to this, it was
important to them that the children were still brought up in the spirit
of Polishness. Prime Minister Fraser was of the opinion that a difficult
decision about their future life should be left to the children
themselves. An agreement was reached between the Polish camp authorities
and the staff, the New Zealand church and the government, under which
the Polish Children's Camp became Little Poland.
After 1948, children were sent to boarding schools. The boys were sent to the Bursa of Polish Boys in Hawera, and the girls - to the Polish Girls' Dormitory in Wellington. Young people who started their professional lives lived in workers' hotels, some of the youngest children went to foster families. Some of the children from Pahiatua decided to stay in New Zealand and build a new life here. Some decided to return to Poland with the hope that they would be able to rebuild what was left there. The Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua was officially closed on April 15, 1949.
For three years after the closure of Little Poland, there was a camp for stateless displaced people from forced labor centers in Germany. After its closure in 1952, the area became a farm, where the only trace of the former Polish Children's Camp functioning here was a grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The book "Two homelands" tells the story of Children from Pahiatua and the fate of the camp. It is the result of the work of the Children of Pahiatua: Stanisław Manterys, Adam Manterys, Halina Manterys, Stefania Zawada and Józef Zawada.
Upload: HERE (in Polish)
Fragments of interviews are part of a full-length documentary film about the fates of Children of Pahiatua "Deceit destiny" directed by Marek Lechowicz.