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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children


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This book developed from a wish to record for posterity a unique episode in New Zealand's history – the arrival of the first refugee group in 1944 and its successful integration into New Zealand society. This group consisted of 733 Polish children (most of them orphans) and their 102 guardians who arrived on 1 November 1944 as invited guests of the New Zealand Government.

More than 100 personal stories are included here by the former refugee children, their descendants and New Zealanders who had contact with them in those earlier years. The book was written, produced and published by the former children and their descendants, and is therefore an accurate and inside picture of the group.

Their integration is a success story. It is the success of an unintentional experiment by New Zealand's wartime Government to accept refugees into a then very insular society. It is the success of the refugee children who made this country their home and positively contributed to it. It is a success made even more remarkable by the odds stacked against them – a childhood defined by wartime exile, horror and refuge.

New Zealand's wartime Prime Minister Peter Fraser believed that Poland's loss was New Zealand's gain. His humanitarian gesture was instrumental in giving the children shelter in a society that was strange to them and not always welcoming.

This book was published as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the children's arrival in New Zealand. It presents the subject from their own perspective, and is open to further research from archival materials and sources shown in this book.