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

Fostered to a Russian family

Fostered to a Russian family

My mother came to know Anna, a Russian bookkeeper, who took me home to look after her newborn baby. She also hired another woman for laundry and cleaning. She treated me as her own daughter – we went to her private steam bath, wore good clothes and had plenty to eat. Her husband was a Secret Police agent and was the terror of the town. But I was allowed to speak freely on any subject in their home. In private, they did not support Stalin's rule of terror, but in public, fearing for their jobs, they terrorised their neighbours and subordinates.

In their bedroom, hidden behind flowerpots, they placed an icon of the Blessed Mary of Perpetual Help and a beautiful picture of Jesus was hung behind the door of the pantry. The pantry was filled with an ample supply of provisions, because as members of the Communist Party they received not only a high wage, but also three-monthly supplies of flour, porridge and sugar. page 50It was all done in secret and supplies were locked away in chests. This woman preferred to throw away the old supplies than distribute them to the needy – I couldn't understand that.

The Party members were afraid to speak openly to each other. They all had home stills for making vodka and on free days would get drunk. When my employer's husband was drunk, I would lock myself in my room and did not believe Anna's assurances that he was harmless. Though I now lived comfortably and was treated well, I felt unhappy at not being able to help my family who went hungry while food here was being wasted.

After a few months of my stay there, the baby fell ill. We took her to the doctor whose suggested cure didn't work and this beautiful child died at the age of 10 months. This was the woman's tenth child to have died from the same disease and none of them survived more than two years. She loved children, but was left only with her nine-year-old son. I secretly christened the child before she died. The woman told me that she took each newborn child 500km to Sverdlovsk where she had them secretly baptised by a Russian Orthodox priest to avoid punishment by the Secret Police for doing so. After the child's death, I was asked to stay on and look after the house. One day she asked me if I prayed. When I said I did so in secret, she ordered me to continue like I would have done at home, though I was Catholic and she was Russian Orthodox. We said our prayers together each day and sang religious songs, longing for public worship which was forbidden by the State.