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

In Kazakhstan's collective farms

In Kazakhstan's collective farms

After four weeks, we got transferred from the train into trucks. Some of the soldiers were mere teenagers trying to show their heroism by manhandling women, children and old people. My father was 70 at the time and worried what fate awaited my mother and me if something happened to him. Most of our group were middle-aged women.

Our family was taken to a Russian house in a kolkhoz (collective farm) of Nova Pokrovka on the treeless, open steppe of Kazakhstan. The houses were made of turf, consisting of one room and a kitchen with a large oven, behind which people slept in the winter. Every week the floor in the house was painted with diluted cow's manure. It made the place look clean and free of dust – but the smell! To enter the house, one had to pass through a shed where the animals were kept – usually a cow, chickens, ducks and pigs.

The owners of the house we were to invade were in their late 30s with a young girl of five. They were very polite and offered us their best room, while they stayed in the kitchen. The communist officials forced the local Russians to give up their modest accommodation to the Polish families, and there was no way they could protest or disagree with the decision. In a way, the Russians page 62of Nova Pokrovka were as badly off as we were. They had to do what they were told or be arrested. The local peasants were simple and kind people. They were curious about what news we had and how the war was progressing. There was no electricity or newspapers. Food in our kolkhoz was shipped out to the war effort, leaving us just with roughage from wheat, which was only suitable for porridge or flat bread.

Men and women were put to work in the fields behind combine harvesters or driving bullock wagons, and the work was very hard. The people were paid in kind from the produce of the harvests. But because my parents did not work, they had to exchange items of clothing for food. It was fortunate that my father took a glasscutter with him when we left Poland, as he could cut glass for the local Kazakhs who paid him with flour or potatoes.

We then realised that Russia was fighting Germany. Every day for weeks we saw planes flying towards the west. There were thousands of them. One day, I saw a long dark object flying low, almost above me. It reminded me of the submarine pictures I saw in my father's book back in Poland.

The object was approximately 15 metres long and dark in colour, gliding very quietly only 30 metres or so off the ground. At the back, I saw two long tubes similar to exhausts which were discharging bluish flame as the object moved forward, as if it had a combustion engine. I could also see someone inside dressed in dark clothes. We took for granted that it was one of the new Russian inventions. However, years later when I was in the US, my husband asked an air force official what kind of aeroplanes Russia had developed that looked like submarines. He made enquiries and told us that there are no such aircraft in the world, and what I saw in Russia must have been a UFO. Apparently, they were spotted over North and South America during World War II, and were called the "cigar-shaped UFOs".