Part 3B - In New Zealand
In spite of all the worries and uncertainties about the future there were many gay and happy occasions in our life at the camp.
There were the scout activities organised by the Chief Scout, Mrs S. Kozera. These included singing by the camp-fire, parades, the taking of the scout oath, and the blessing of the flag.
Then there were the commemorative concerts, the Christmas plays and other shows put on by the teachers. The "Choinka" on Christmas Eve was popular not only with the children at the camp but with the local population as well. In 1944 all the children and the staff had presents sent to them through the Red Cross from numerous private people and firms.
The boys played mainly cricket in 1945 and 1946 but by 1948 rugby and basketball had caught on in the camp. It did not take the children long to learn that though they should play to win it was the game that mattered rather than the result.
In their first year of play they did so well at rugby that they had a series of triumphs.
Sporting activities brought them into constant and happy contact with New Zealand children on Saturday afternoons and during the inter-school matches. The enthusiasm arising from hard-won victories and the training in team work coupled with their association with New Zealand boys and girls benefitted them physically, morally and socially.
The Red Cross Society in Pahiatua arranged a few entertainments and quite a lot of outings for the children.
Often on Sundays the young people gathered together in the recreation hall for games, table tennis, singing and dancing, accompanied on the piano by the lovable and tireless Mrs Watson from Pahiatua.
The visits from hundreds of New Zealanders continued during the weekends. In order to help the children get acquainted with the New Zealand way of life and to tighten the bond of friendship the Catholic hierarchy and the New Zealand Army collected 830 invitations from New Zealand families for the Polish children and adults to spend two weeks' holiday with them in August, 1945, and in January, 1946.
So the Poles dispersed over both islands where they formed many close friendships that frequently continued to last to the present day.
I especially remember the kindness of Mr and Mrs J. Rogers of Turakina, Mr and Mrs T. Cotter of Pahiatua, Miss F. McGrath of Wellington, and Mr and Mrs W. Jacques of Palmerston North who, ever since that first holiday, treated the three Holender children, Jozek, Janek and Henia, as their own children.
With their unselfish kindness and hospitality the New Zealanders won the hearts of the Polish people and gained their appreciation for being in New Zealand. The Poles were soon to learn that the friendly New Zealanders were resourceful, not afraid of hard work and always ready to help their neighbours in need, whether at home or in another less fortunate country.
At the beginning of the new school year in 1946, after a long period of indecision, a second group of children left for convent schools in various towns and cities. It consisted of thirteen girls and five boys who had already completed the first grade of the Polish High School.
At the same time another group of boys and girls left to learn a trade. There were four girls (two for nursing, two for hairdressing), and nine boys (two for tailoring, two for shoemaking, four for carpentry and one for hosiery-making).
It was no problem to find board for the boys in Auckland, Masterton and Palmerston North, but it was not so easy in Wellington. It was for this reason that Father Kavanagh set up a boys' hostel at Island Bay, which could accommodate thirty boys. Mrs Olga Laszkiewicz was put in charge of the hostel when it was first set up and the Ursuline Nun, Sister M. Aleksandrowicz, took over a few months later.
The Polish Government's new Delegate, Mr S. Zaleski, arrived from South Africa with his wife and daughter on April the 2nd.
During his term of office the camp continued on its way towards a slow liquidation but it remained the Polish Centre until 1948. During their holidays the children would flock to it from the various schools as they would to a real home. They knew they were welcome there and that the adults would greet them like their own children.
The Prime Minister and Archbishop O'Shea paid another visit to the camp within a short time.
In his speech, Mr Fraser again confirmed that all the inhabitants of the camp could stay in New Zealand for as long as they wished and he guaranteed work for the adults and education for the children. He also promised that the New Zealand Government would pay the travelling expenses of those who wanted to return to Poland.
Towards the end of 1946, the new Polish Government in Warsaw sent a special envoy, Mrs Zebrowska, to the camp in Pahiatua. She was to inspect the living conditions of the Polish children in the camp and in the New Zealand schools.
After inspecting the camp Mrs Zebrowska left for Poland completely satisfied with the conditions and without any attempt to persuade the orphans to return to Poland.
In the meantime some of the Polish ex-servicemen from Britain began to arrive in New Zealand. They were fathers, brothers and sisters of the children as well as husbands of some of the women working in the camp. Altogether there were about 122, and their arrival at the camp brought a great deal of joy.
After two weeks' rest the new arrivals were found jobs outside the camp except for Mr J. Bialostocki and Mr Kozlowski. They were employed as supervisors of the boys because there was a need for a man's hand in bringing up the growing youngsters.
As the number of children in the camp decreased so did the number of staff. First to leave were those who preferred to work in the cities. They were followed by the wives of the ex-servicemen from Britain. Also released from their duties were the wives of men who were required to continue working in the camp until it closed. The remainder of the staff was released when the camp finally closed down.
The first to leave New Zealand were three women who returned to their families in Poland. Then Father M. Wilniewczyc left for Syria and after completing his doctorate there returned to Poland.
Everybody regretted Father Wilniewczyc's decision to leave the camp, especially as the children were very attached to him. The only things left to remind the children of him were fond memories of happy times spent together and a stone grotto containing a statue of the Virgin Mary, which the boys and girls had built under his guidance and where they frequently prayed together.
The Polish Government appointed Father Dr. L. Broel-Plater, the former chaplain to the Polish President in London, to take his place.
Towards the end of 1946, twelve more teachers left for Poland with seven of their own children and about thirty-seven other children who were recalled by their parents. Those who had been promised a free return had their fares paid by the New Zealand Government.
Then another four teachers and two children left for Britain and the United States.
The remainder of the staff decided to stay and share their fate with the children who they had brought to this country.
The Polish High School was closed in August 1946 and the students dispersed to convents throughout both islands.
From the same date Mr J. Bialostocki was placed in charge of the boys' dormitories and in February, 1947, Mr S. Zaleski took charge of the Boys' School, now reduced to half its original number. Mr McKinnon was appointed Inspector of Schools.
At long last 1 was able to devote my time entirely to my own family and begin to look for somewhere to live in Wellington.
Another large group of children left the camp with the beginning of the new school year in 1947. Some went to convent boarding schools, others boarded privately, while attending the same schools.
It was becoming more and more difficult to find private accommodation for the girls. The problem was solved in 1947 when Father Kavanagh-who was still in charge of the Polish children in Wellington--bought a beautiful large property at Lyall Bay in the capital and transformed it into a hostel for girls. He bought the property on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy with the help of a Government subsidy and it became known as the Polish Girls' Hostel.
Originally there was enough accommodation for 60 girls, but eventually the hostel was enlarged to such an extent that after the closure of the Pahiatua camp in 1949 it took 120 girls.
Sister M. Aleksandrowicz was in charge of the Girls' Hostel. Three other Ursuline nuns, two of whom had come from Italy, carried out the domestic duties and Sister Brennan acted as an interpreter. Mrs W. Rudnicka was appointed as head of the Boys' Hostel at Island Bay.
The slow and difficult process of closing down the camp which lasted a couple of years, the gradual integration of the Polish children into New Zealand schools, the releasing of the camp staff, together with the continual responsibility, took their toll of Mr Zaleski's health.
He came from South Africa because, as he put it at our first meeting, he was enchanted with the invitation to work for the Polish children. As a result of this hard work and much to everybody's grief, Mr Zaleski died suddenly in Wellington on September 2, 1946. He was the last delegate nominated by the Polish Ministry of Social Welfare in London to work in New Zealand.
His wife, Mrs Ellinor Zaleska, was appointed Officer-in-Charge of Polish Affairs and took over the administration work at the Pahiatua camp. Her office did not end with the closure of the camp because by appointing Mrs Zaleska to her position the New Zealand Government ensured the children would have a dedicated and understanding guardian.
It was to her that the young people scattered all over New Zealand brought all their problems either in person or by letter. When they left school and wanted to do further study, when they were looking for work or accommodation, when they were undecided about their careers-in all their problems, even the most personal, they all came to her for advice or a blessing.
Madam Zaleska continued working for the Polish children with the Child Welfare Branch of the Department of Education right up to April, 1956. When she left for Australia, Mrs Olga Laszkiewicz took over her work.
The last group of children left the camp on April 15, 1949. It consisted of 45 boys and 45 girls.
The girls went to the Polish Girls' Hostel at Lyall Bay and the boys were taken to a special hostel in Hawera. Mrs Tietze was in charge of the boys' hostel and Mr R. Tietze was its housemaster.
Although the camp was closed the Polish community continued to work for the young people. In 1948 the Association of Poles raised funds to buy a "Polish House", first in Wellington and then another in Auckland.
Young and old each offered a week's wages for the purchase of the "Polish House". This was a real sacrifice for all of us in those difficult days as most were trying to save for a house of our own.
The Association endeavoured to keep the Polish people in touch with the rest of the Polish community and to preserve the feeling of one big family. It tried to make the "Polish House" a place where the young people could come freely for either a social chat, dancing in the evening or just to change a book in the library.
There was no lack of willing people to work for the younger generation. Mrs Michalik taught Polish language and history at the Girls' Hostel in Wellington and Mrs Tietze at the Boys' Hostel in Hawera. Father Plater gave several lectures on Polish history.
Eight teachers taught at the Saturday Polish schools at first scattered through the Wellington suburbs. There were also five in Auckland and three in Hamilton.
The hostel for boys at Island Bay remained open until 1951 and the hostel in Hawera until 1954. The Polish Girls' Hostel at Lyall Bay was closed in March 1958 when the Ursuline Sisters left for Poland. The Association of Poles tried to obtain nuns of another order from either Australia or America but their efforts proved fruitless. As a result the New Zealand Catholic hierarchy took over the mansion for other purposes and the girls moved out to board privately or to flat.
Although the young people did not meet with any difficulties when shifting first from the camp to the hostels, then from the hostels to private board, they left with regret as they had become attached to their teachers and supervisors. But they accepted the new changes with understanding and prudence like everything else that was inevitable in their lives.
None of them lost touch with the rest of the Polish community. They continued to meet either in the Polish House or at church services for the Polish people or in private homes. They always had so much to reminisce about with the people who shared the same experiences.
A year after the closing of the girls' and boys' boarding houses Father Dr L. Broel-Plater, the Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in New Zealand, left for Europe.
His place was taken by a Dominican priest, Father S.L. Huzarski, who had moved down to Wellington from Auckland where he had been living for a couple of years.
In 1967 he was transferred back to Adelaide. As a result Father Bronislaw Wegrzyn M.A., the only one of the Polish refugee children to join the priesthood, took on some of the pastoral work. But he was appointed to a New Zealand parish after finishing his studies in Italy and the immense amount of work in his own church did not leave him much time to work among the Polish people. Yet he managed to say Mass for the Poles in Wellington once a month, to hear confessions and to visit the Polish families in other cities and towns twice a year.
After the departure of Father Huzarski a Committee for Pastoral Affairs was formed consisting of the representatives of all the Polish organisations in New Zealand. Dr Wodzicki, frequently referred to as "the spiritual leader of the Poles", was elected chairman.
The Committee appealed to Cardinal McKeefry in Wellington to establish a Polish chaplaincy for New Zealand. This was agreed by the New Zealand Bishops.
When Bishop W. Rubin visited New Zealand in April, 1966, he promised to ask the Polish Primate, Cardinal Wyszynski, to designate a priest.
The long-awaited visit by Bishop Rubin lasted only a few days-three in Wellington, two in Hamilton and two in Auckland. Nevertheless the contact, speeches and conversations with him brought new life to the Polish community and confirmed that the effort to retain the Polish language and traditions was both necessary and worthwhile.
The Bishop kept his promise. In June, 1970, Father W. Lisik of the Order of Christ arrived in New Zealand to begin full-time pastoral work among the Poles.
The Polish Community in New Zealand is not a large one. It consists of only about 3,600 people, but it is a lively and closely-knit group.
The largest group is in Wellington which has about 3,000 people. Auckland has about 300 and Hamilton a third of that number. New Plymouth has 50, Napier and Christchurch about 40 each, and Dunedin about 30.
The New Zealand Government had kept its promise as far as the education of the Polish children was concerned. Every orphan student who really wanted to continue with secondary or higher education was given the opportunity to do so. The Government gave generous allowances to pay for the board, clothing and education of these students.
However, not all the children wanted to study. After a couple of years of secondary education some of them left to find jobs, attracted by the idea of earning high wages. It was only after attempting to work for a living without any qualifications that they enrolled for night classes to get School Certificate or to learn a trade. But many of the young people not only completed study at secondary and technical schools but went on to university as well.
As was to be expected, those best equipped for successful careers were the children who entered New Zealand schools as early as possible. This was proved by the success of boys from the Hawera hostel. They were the youngest of the Polish children to go to New Zealand schools and their results are the best.
Second place must go to the boys in Auckland where Father Delargey did not allow any of the boys in his care to go to work until they were qualified in some trade or profession.
Of the girls who arrived in New Zealand as Polish high school students and stayed until they finished school very few received any tertiary education. Only two of the 55 girls completed university studies. The main reason for this seems to be that they lost two years of school time when they were deported to the Soviet Union and the changeover to New Zealand secondary school came too late for them.
The most popular careers with the girls were shorthand-typing, clerical work, teaching, nursing and dress-making. A few took on modelling, hairdressing, cosmetics work and some found work in various factories. A number earned university degrees and some showed exceptional talent in music and painting.
Nearly 55 percent of the girls married boys whom they had known in the Pahiatua camp and the remainder married New Zealanders.
Most of those who married had to leave work because of family commitments but some are still continuing with their careers.
Many of the boys who came to New Zealand in 1944 obtained university degrees. They are now doctors, architects, engineers, scientists, chemists, accountants, teachers and surveyors in the community.
Others became bank tellers, insurance staff, mountain guides, photographers, builders, electricians, salesmen, fishermen, freezing workers, gardeners, plumbers, printers and bookbinders, tailors, train drivers and factory workers.
Whatever field they are working in, the young Poles have earned the reputation of being conscientious, dedicated workers contributing to the growth and development of their adopted country. One finds young Polish people holding responsible positions in every sphere of employment.
Working side by side with the rest of the New Zealanders the Poles who settled here are subject to the same laws, enjoy the same privileges and share the same fortunes and misfortunes at work.
Krzysztof Dziegiec died of a fall from a scaffolding while working on the construction of a building at Victoria University.
Jan Trukawka died in a mine disaster with 1 7 other co-workers near Greymouth.
W. Wojtowicz drowned with nine other crewmen of the freighter Mauranui.
Andrzej Dudek was burned to death when there was an explosion while he was working on the railway in New Plymouth.
Two others, A. Niziol and L. Zyzalo, were killed in a car accident while returning from work.
At this stage it is worth considering some general statistics about the Polish refugee children who came to New Zealand.
|Original group who arrived on November 1, 1944
|Group who arrived later
|Died in New Zealand
|Returned to Poland or left for other countries
|Number of former children remaining in New Zealand
|Those with parents in other countries
|Those with parents in New Zealand
|Obtained School Certificate (43 girls, 32 boys)
|Obtained University Entrance (27 girls, 29 boys)
|Obtained university degrees: Girls
|Obtained university degrees: Boys
Men's occupations up to 1.1 0.1 973
|Builders and Carpenters
|Primary school teachers
|Radio and television mechanics
|Secondary school teachers
|Doctors of Medicine
|Upholsterers and carpet layers
|Joiners and cabinet makers
|Wharf, abattoir and fact. work.
|Officers in charge of Departments
|Scientists in Agriculture
|Manageress of shop
|Working in shops and factories
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