The Invited - by Krystyna Skwarko
A life time of teaching and the care of children makes the author, Mrs Krystyna Skwarko, well qualified to write this book. She was not only deeply involved with the education of the young Polish refugees when they were first gathered together in Southern Russia and the old Persian capital of Isfahan during the early part of the Second World War but accompanied them in 1944 on the long journey to a permanent home in New Zealand.
She was a schoolteacher in Poland for a number of years prior to the outbreak of the war and during this time was seconded by the Polish Ministry of Education to France where she taught her native language to the children of Polish migrants for three years. In 1931 she returned to her birth-place Sokolka, in Eastern Poland, with her lawyer husband, Mr S. Skwarko, to resume teaching in her homeland.
It was from there 10 years later that first her husband and then she and their two children were arrested and deported to Siberia when the Russians overran Poland. In 1941 the Russians proclaimed an amnesty for Poles held as prisoners or working as forced labour on collective farms in the Soviet Union and Mrs Skwarko and her two children made the difficult journey south to Guzari in Uzbekistan where she took charge of an orphanage attached to the Polish Army. She moved with the orphanage when it was later transferred across the Caspian Sea to Isfahan in Iran. Her husband was to join her there.
When the decision was made to bring more than 700 of the Polish orphans to New Zealand, Mrs Skwarko was appointed principal of the Boys' Primary School and helped to care for the children on the long sea voyage to this country in an American troopship. She was one of the dedicated band of people who nurtured the children and guided their education during the time the refugees lived at the Polish Childrens Camp at Pahiatua.
The closure of the Pahiatua Camp in 1947 meant a move to Wellington for Mrs Skwarko and her family and for some years she worked for several government departments. She and her husband moved to Hamilton in 1962 when she retired.
She has been back to Poland twice since her forced departure in 1941 but after each visit has returned to New Zealand-the country of her adoption and the place where she can be near the once-young Polish orphans who are now New Zealanders. *)
*) Mrs. Krystyna Skwarko died in May 1995 and is burried in Canberra, Australia, next to her husband. [note added 1999]
The author is grateful for the help and information she received from many people during the writing of this book but in particular would like to thank Dr E. Czochanska, Miss T. Czochanska, Dr K. Wodzicki, Mrs S. Sondej, Mrs K. Tomaszyk, Mrs W. Ellis Dr S.K. Skwarko, Mrs V. Van der Linden, Mrs 1. Tucker-Herbert, Mr C. Carte, Mrs W. Schwieters and Mr F. Stefanski for their exceptional co-operation.
One of the most humanitarian deeds of the Second World War was the decision of the New Zealand Government to bring out, care for and educate several hundred Polish refugee children.
As head of the Boys' Primary School, Mrs Krystyna Skwarko was one of the staff who took care of those children. Using her own memoirs and some official material she has traced the history of the children from 1939 to the present time.
In my opinion the most interesting chapters are the final ones, where we learn that the social work in the Polish community is gradually taken over by the capable young hands of the former children of the Pahiatua Camp. Many of them achieved high educational qualifications and are now holding responsible positions. But whether they're in professions, working as tradesmen, office workers or mothers dedicated to the task of bringing up the new generation, all of them are contributing to the development of New Zealand's economy and culture.
Chairman of the Polish Historical Society in Australia
In the historical invitation extended to the Polish Consul-General, Count Wodzicki, on December 23, 1943, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Right Honourable Peter Fraser wrote:
"My Dear Count Wodzicki,
With the reference to our discussions concerning the reception of Polish refugee children in New Zealand and the meeting held in my office on Tuesday, the 14th December, 1 have to inform you that the New Zealand Government would be very willing to afford the hospitality in New Zealand to a total number of persons including staff, of say 500 to 700, whichever number your Government considered more convenient. Our whole conception of the scheme is that it should cater for the largest number of children and we would, therefore, wish that as many children as possible should be included within the total number who might come to New Zealand. We recognise, of course, that it is essential that sufficient staff should accompany the children and we would be willing, if the Polish Government so desired, to receive, within the total number of 500-700, a number of mothers of the children . . ."
All the events described in this book are factual and are about real people.
1 have revised and enlarged it since it was first published in the Polish language edition in 1972 under the auspices of the Polish Historical Society in Australia.
The translator of the present edition, Stefania Sondej, is herself an ex-resident of the Polish Childrens' Camp at Pahiatua.
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