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

Giving back to the country

page 95

Giving back to the country

After the deaths of my younger sister Izabela and my father Stanislaw in Turkmenistan in the USSR, my mother Stanislawa was left alone with three children without any means of support. She had to make a choice for us – stay together and die, or send us to an orphanage in the hope of our survival In November 1942, she sent her two younger children to an orphanage in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. My elder sister remained to look after her.

I will never be grateful enough to my mother that she made the choice to send me and my brother to the orphanage. I will also always thank God for the wonderful caregivers in Ashkhabad, Iran and the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua for the care and love they showed to us. They helped me and my brother Czeslaw to find a new life in beautiful New Zealand, my new "motherland".

The camp became my first real home since my family's deportation to Siberia. How did I repay my new country and its people? I studied very hard, first in high school at Baradene Girls' College in Auckland and later in the Auckland Business College from which I graduated with good grades and became a business secretary, working in two well-known firms in Auckland.

Sometime later I married Frank Power, a New Zealander of Polish descent. We went to the US in 1954 where Frank taught school. While there, I gave many lectures and talks about life in New Zealand. I also spoke to numerous groups about Poland and the experience of the Polish people during World War II. Upon our return in 1955, my husband and I decided to adopt a child. We adopted four children in all. Unfortunately, one died in infancy. We gave them a good home, love and education.

When my husband died, leaving me with three very small children, I had to carry on alone bringing up three little New Zealanders. When they were older, I went back to work. I served the country and the community at large by working with younger people. For 20 years I worked as a secretary at St Peter's College for boys in Auckland. My duties were many and varied. I was a secretary, nurse, mother to the boys and helper to the teaching staff. Besides work, I joined local groups, such as the Catholic Home Makers and church committees.

For more than 50 years, I served the Polish community in Auckland. More recently, I taught English to the new immigrants from Poland, helping them page 96to settle in New Zealand. It is 60 years since I came to New Zealand. All my children have achieved much – they have good professions in education and business. I also have four step-children, 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and am very close to them. I wonder if I have done enough to say thank you to the New Zealand people and this wonderful country which I call my home now. I will always pray and thank God for all the wonderful graces He has bestowed on me.

Wanda Ellis (Pelc) received this award in 1996 for many years of community service at St Peter's College in Auckland

Wanda Ellis (Pelc) received this award in 1996 for many years of community service at St Peter's College in Auckland