On 1 November 1944, 733 children, mostly orphans and half orphans, arrived in Wellington Harbour. Some 102 adults – teachers, doctors and administrators – accompanied the group to Pahiatua where a camp was established to give a temporary home for the children.
The entrance to the new home read “Polish Childrens Camp in Pahiatua”. As far as the children were concerned this was their little Poland.
Over the years a number of books have been written about the children of Pahiatua, the first published book, “The Invited”, was written by their teacher and the Principal of the Boys’ Primary School Krystyna Skwarko, and is located on this web-site through the kindness of Krystyna Tomaszyk, the daughter of Krystyna Skwarko. See Below.
It is interesting to note that in 1947 and again in 1948 the Warsaw regime (the Communist regime dominated by USSR) demanded that the children be returned to Poland, but the New Zealand Government refused. Prior to the request, the Consul General, Dr K. A. Wodzicki, in co-operation with the Polish authorities in London (the then Internationally recognised seat of the Polish Government) and the New Zealand Government had formed Guardianship Council for the Polish children in New Zealand. This council which comprised of three New Zealanders and five Poles was approved by the highest court in New Zealand in May 1945. The council was presided over by Dr J. P. Kavanagh, Bishop of Dunedin.
Following formation of the council, the children were prepared for their permanent life in New Zealand. The teaching of English was intensified and some were given the opportunity to enter private Catholic schools in New Zealand Accommodation was provided in boarding houses in Wellington and Hawera.
Now in 1999, 55 years after their arrival, the Pahiatua children can look back with pride at their significant achievements. From personal knowledge and observation it is my view that:
- They all retained their Polishness, their language and sense of their history – truly a remarkable achievement.
- They all retained their Catholic religion with special devotion to Our Lady, the Queen of Poland
- They all retained a special bond and concern for one another – one large family.
They all became good citizens of New Zealand, contributing significantly to the development of economic, cultural and religious life of the country, more than repaying the people of New Zealand for their generosity in 1944.
The Pahiatua children, in reality, were not immigrants to this country. They were guests, invited for a short but undetermined period of time in 1944.
The plan was for them to go back home to Poland, but because that part of Poland where the children had come from, Eastern Poland, was incorporated into the USSR following the Yalta Agreement, they had no home to go back to. Their homes and possessions were confiscated, their families were either murdered or transported to Russia, so there simply was no point going back to a place that had ceased to exist. The New Zealand Government gave the children permanent residency and many became N.Z. citizens.
(known in Pahiatua Camp as Jan Wojciechowski)
Auckland, New Zealand