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

The beginnings

The beginnings

The recorded history of Poland began in 966 when its ruler accepted Christianity and joined the community of European nations. The country's name derives from "Polanie"–one of the Slavonic tribes who lived on the Central European Plain. It is bordered by Germany in the west, Belarus and the Ukraine in the east, the Carpathian mountains in the south, and Lithuania, Russia and the Baltic Sea in the north.

In the 15th and 16th centuries the Polish kingdom, in a union with Lithuania, was the largest and most powerful country in Europe. After the last hereditary monarch died in 1572, the nobility elected all future kings – some of them foreigners with little interest in the country's welfare, thereby exposing it to external aggression.

Poland soon found itself in the rare position of having several powerful neighbours squeezing its borders at the same time and being at the mercy of four emerging empires. Within a short period, it was forced to repel invasions from Sweden, the Mongolian Golden Horde, and the empires of Prussia, Russia, Ottoman Turkey and Austria. Its borders were in constant flux.