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

My long-lost sister

page 132

My long-lost sister

While on the train during our flight from the Soviet forced-labour camps with my mother, and sisters Maria and Helena, Maria got off the train to buy some food and the train subsequently left without her. We later learnt that she went south along the main escape route which we were following and tried to catch up with us. But she didn't find us because we had already been evacuated out of the Soviet Union and our mother had died. So she became stranded in Russia.

When Helena and I arrived in New Zealand as child refugees in 1944, we thought we would never see her again. Then in 1968, we received a communication from the Geneva Red Cross advising us that Maria, who had remained in Russia after our evacuation, was looking for us and wanted to give us her address. Helena was sceptical, because she just couldn't believe that Maria was still alive. She kept saying that it must be someone else. So to make sure, we asked our "newfound" sister which arm I had broken at the beginning of the war. The correct answer came back and we were overjoyed.

The story was that a man from Poland was visiting his family in Russia and Maria told him about us. He made inquiries and eventually found us. In 1973, I went to Poland to meet her and was offered lodgings with the man's family. I arrived and waited for Maria.

When we met, I could only recognise her from the photographs she had sent me. She could not speak English and I could not speak Russian, and we did not always understand one another when we spoke Polish. Russian had become Maria's first language. Fortunately, we had this kind man, who had found Maria for us, to do the interpreting when needed.

She told me later that even though she had never given a reason to the Soviet officials (which was mandatory at the time) for wishing to travel to Poland, a policeman came to her office one day and told her that her papers were ready, and that she could travel to Poland to see her sister from New Zealand. Under the censorship of the time, all my letters must have been opened by the Communist authorities.