Pacific Scoop

70th Reunion of the arrival of Polish Children to NZ

Press Release – Joint Press Release

The first invited refugees who arrived in New Zealand on 1 November 1944, The Pahiatua Polish Children will commemorate their arrival and life in New Zealand, together with their families at the 70th reunion events being held in Pahiatua and …70th Reunion of the arrival of Polish Children to New Zealand

The first invited refugees who arrived in New Zealand on 1 November 1944, ‘The Pahiatua Polish Children’ will commemorate their arrival and life in New Zealand, together with their families at the 70th reunion events being held in Pahiatua and Wellington from Thursday 30th October until Sunday 2 November 2014.

The reunion will mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of 733 Polish refugee children and 102 adults from war-torn Poland.

Pahiatua Day trip ‘back home’ – Thursday 30 October, 2014
The District of Tararua, hosted by his Worship, Mayor Rolly Ellis and chairperson from the Pahiatua Organising Committee Louise Pickering, will welcome 180 Polish children and their families back home to Pahiatua on Thursday 30 October 2014, to mark their arrival 70 years ago on 1 November 2014.

Along with the New Zealand Red Cross, The Polish Embassy in Wellington and a delegation of Polish Parliamentarians, the Polish community will be departing Wellington railway station at 8:15am, traveling in a convoy of coaches and private cars to attend the scheduled day trip where the township of Pahiatua will welcome the community with a official ceremony at the Pahiatua town hall at midday.

70th Reunion of the arrival of Polish Children to New Zealand – Sunday 2 November
The 70th reunion committee are honored to host at the official reunion program on Sunday 2 November 2014 New Zealand Parliamentarian; Attorney General, Hon Christopher Finlayson. Polish Parliamentarians; Deputy Marshall of the Polish Senate, Ms Maria Pańczyk-Pozdziej, Chairperson of Polish-New Zealand Parliamentary group from the Polish Sejm, Ms Ligia Krajewska, Head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression Mr Jan Stanisław Ciechanowski. Local government will be represented by her Worship Mayor Celia Wade Brown along with Archbishop John Dew and Rev.Fr Ryszard Glowacki from Poland.

The Polish children endured years of hardship after the ethnic-cleansing of their homeland, witnessing loved ones perish; mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and extended families, the deportation in cattle trains to Siberian gulags and eventual forced labor. They ‘walked to freedom’ to Iran, where they were invited by Sir Peter Fraser and New Zealand’s wartime government to recuperate and be kept safe in New Zealand for the duration of the world war two.

The remaining children who were invited to settle in New Zealand will be giving thanks to their adopted homeland together with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Pahiatua Day trip ‘back home’ – Thursday 30 October, 2014
7:30am Meet Platform 9 – Wellington Railway station
8:15am Buses and cars depart for Pahiatua
11:30am Assembly point at Post Office Hotel, Pahiatua Polish community to parade down main street, welcomed by the township of Pahiatua.

Midday: Welcome ceremony, hosted by his Worship the Mayor, Rolly Ellis.
• His Worship the Mayor, Mr Rolly Ellis.
• His Excellency, Polish Ambassador to New Zealand, Mr Zbigniew Gniatkowski
• Representing the Polish Pahiatua Children’s group, Mr Joseph Zawada
• Chairperson, Pahiatua Organising committee, Louise Pickering
• President, Pahiatua Museum – Gilda McKnight

3pm Depart Pahiatua for Wellington

70th Reunion of the arrival of Polish Children to New Zealand – Sunday 2 November
12:00pm-1pm Jubilee mass – Sacred Heart Basilica, Thorndon
1:10pm Official Pahiatua Polish Children photo – Basilica, Thorndon
1:30pm ‘From Poland to Pahiatua’ photo exhibition – Private viewing for 70th reunion dignitaries- Museum of City and Sea

2:15pm Jubilee Lunch – Shed 6
• Deputy Speaker from the Polish Senate -Ms Maria Pańczyk-Pozdziej
• New Zealand Attorney General, Hon Chris Finlayson

Background to the Polish Children in New Zealand
As the American troopship, the “General Randall” sailed into Wellington Harbor in the early evening of 31st October 1944, 733 Polish children and 102 Polish adults could hardly believe their eyes. The hills were lit up like a Christmas tableau, twinkling in the spring twilight.

The ship was full of excitement and anticipation, the children were smiling and equally excited were the adults who felt it was a lifetime they had sense a feeling of peace and stability. The was Wellington, New Zealand. This was their new home. The painful journey was over.

1st September 1939 was the day when Germany attacked Poland and marked the start of World War two. On 17 September the Soviet Union attached Poland from the east without declaring war. Poland was enduring the full brunt of two powers imposing their dominance. One third of the educated elite were liquidated by the invaders and in all six million Polish citizens lost their lives.

Not only were people killed but approximately 1.6 million Polish citizens in eastern Poland in the period from 17 September 1939 to 22 June 1941 were ethnically cleansed and deported to Russian labour camps in Siberia (the gulags) on the authority of Josef Stalin.

The ethnic-cleansing and deportation was barbaric. Russian soldiers stormed villages in the early hours or the morning and families were shot if they didn’t’ follow orders to leave the home. Village after village was raided and Polish citizens were shunted into thousands of cattle trains to be deported to Siberia. In these inhumane conditions, ,people froze, were violently ill and many perished. Some were discarded in the face of death and the survivors were told to toss the victims out onto the tracks. This was hell on earth. And many Polish children were witnesses to this horrific event.

In Siberia, Polish parents were forced to work in forests so they could ‘earn’ food to survive. School-aged children were forced to attend school for the Russification programme. Many people perished in extreme weather conditions with meagre food to distribute.

With the German attack on Russia on 22 June 1944, the Polish people were given amnesty under the pretense that the Polish Army would ally with the Soviet Union to fight the advancing German Army. Because of the state of health of the Polish deportees, many had to be evacuated to a dafe haven in Iran. Again, many people perished on their ‘walk to freedom’ and for most of the Poles it took over eighteen months to cover the distance. Many Poles were also left behind in the Soviet Union; the ones that reached Iran were the fortunate few. In total 100,000 made it to Iran – less than ten percent of total deportees.

The Polish people stayed in Iran for over two years and there was nowhere for them to go.

Urges on by the Polish Government in Exile in London, the League of Nations appealed to its members to accommodate the Polish civilians for the duration of the war.

when a ship carrying 706 Polish refugees traveling to Mexico anchored at Wellington, the wife of the Polish Consul in New Zealand, Countess Maria Wodzicka, visited them and conceived an idea with Mrs Janet Fraser, the wile of the Prime Minister Mr Peter Fraser to so the same. That idea became a reality when the government offered hospitality to 733 Polish Children and 102 adults.

the journey from Iran to New Zealand took one month with stopovers in Ahwaz in southwest Iran, Basra, Bombay, Australia and finally New Zealand. in the Pacific Ocean there was constant danger of Japanese mines and submarines and the “General Randall” together with its sister ship were escorted by a convoy of four destroyers and navigated a zigzag course.

On 31st October 1944 the children arrived on the morning of 1st November, the Prime Minister together with the Polish Consul and the New Zealand media boarded the ship.

After formal proceedings the children were then transported on trains to their final destination in Pahiatua. They were farewelled from Wellington Railway Station by hundreds of Wellington school children waving New Zealand and Polish flags. There were also a big welcome at Palmerston North and Pahiatua and all along the way there were groups of children waving to the arrival.

33 army trucks transported the arrivals from Pahiatua station to the old internment camp that was now to be called ‘Polish Children’s Camp in Pahiatua’. At last this is where they could call home.

When the war had finished it was assumed the children would go back to Poland. But this was not to be. Poland had become a coutry under the control of the Soviet union ratified by world leaders at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Most children never saw their surviving families again.

Consequently the New Zealand government invited all the Polish children to settle in New Zealand. This was a true gift and finally a place where the Polish children could restart their lives, raise families and become Polish-Kiwis. This is the reason for the reunion: to commemorate the arrival in New Zealand and most importantly to give thanks.


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